Before Tuesday night’s monumental upset of Syracuse, hearing Pirates fans complain about first year men’s basketball head coach Kevin Willard was as common as finding Bobby Gonzalez browsing through the men’s handbag section of a department store.
The Pirates’ first victory at the Carrier Dome, and against the Orange, since 2005-2006, is Willard’s first big win as head coach. It was also the perfect way to quickly forget the Hall’s loss to Rutgers on Jan. 22, the team’s first since the 2007-2008 season.
After multiple games where the Pirates fell short against ranked opponents, including five point losses to No. 23 ranked Georgetown, No. 5 ranked Pitt. and, at the time, No. 4 ranked Syracuse, Willard hate mail was at its highest point.
I was lucky enough to help WSOU broadcast the 80-75 loss to Georgetown. On the postgame show, Hall Line, caller after caller, including students and alumni, blamed the Pirates’ misfortunes on Willard.
Willard came to Seton Hall this year after turning around an Iona College team rather quickly. After two sub-par seasons from 2007-2009 in which the Iona finished seventh in the MAAC, the Gaels went 21-10, finished third in their conference, and made it to the quarterfinal round in the MAAC tournament.
Pirates fans need to be patient.
The Hall’s current roster is full of Gonzalez’s recruits. Maybe that explains why the team that played so well for Gonzalez is not playing particularly well under Willard’s system.
Gonzalez went out and recruited players he thought would react well to his style of coaching and the kind of play he expects on the court; off the court is another story.
Fans should not have expected Gonzalez’s recruits to instantly react and gel perfectly into Willard’s more conservative style of coaching.
Senior guard Jeremy Hazell’s wrist injury and the shooting incident he was involved in on Christmas did not help Willard’s case. Gonzalez never had to deal with not having his star player on the court against some of the best teams in the country.
If you were to ask any player who the leader in the locker room is on the Pirates, nine out of 10 times the answer would be Hazell. Not only was he out for13 games, but Willard admitted that he only practiced twice during his recovery, meaning he was not around the team much.
Also working against Willard is the fact that the always powerful Big East is putting together what may be the best conference in recent NCAA history. Currently, seven conference teams are ranked in the Top 25; four are in the top ten. ESPN’s bracketology expert Joe Lunardi has 11 Big East teams dancing in March. If correct, that would be the most any conference has ever sent to the NCAA Tournament. Even in the case of a miracle that the Hall one the rest of their games, they would still be on the bubble at best.
Even PJ Carlesimo, who coached the Pirates to their only NCAA Championship game appearance in 1989, did not start off his career well, either.
Not until his fifth season as head coach did Carlesimo’s Pirates finish above .500 (15-14 in 1986-1987). The rest, as all Seton Hall fans know, is history. His teams went on to be some of the best in the program’s history.
Carlesimo’s overall record in his twelve years as head coach is 212-166. Not bad for someone who did not have a winning season until halfway into his tenure.
Willard is going to turn this basketball program around eventually; he had the guts to come to Seton Hall at arguably the lowest point in the University’s history. He knew he was replacing the laughing stock of the Big East, and ultimately he wanted to come here and make Pirates fans proud.
When Willard finally has a team full of his own recruits, every miserable memory Pirates fans have of Gonzalez, players committing crimes and NIT bids will be erased.
Nicholas Parco is a junior journalism major from Hazlet, NJ. He can be reached at email@example.com.