The last two seasons, the Seton Hall men’s basketball team has made its mark on the Big East as a force to be reckoned with, defined by the team’s overwhelming physicality and relentlessness on defense. However, as the midpoint of the Big East schedule approaches, the Pirates are struggling to recapture their mojo from the previous season and sit at just 3-5 in conference play.
Leading into play against Xavier on Feb. 1, this year’s Pirate squad is giving up 69.5 points per game, up from last year’s mark of 67.8.
However, the small change in defensive efficiency is not what has held these Pirates back. This year the Pirates are struggling to share the ball on the offensive end. Collectively, they are averaging 12.4 assists a game. It is not as if this team had it solved before, as it only averaged 13.4 assists per game last year. The difference was that last season’s team had current Brooklyn Nets guard Isaiah Whitehead to bail them out.
Last year’s team averaged 74.2 points per game, while this year’s team is averaging 74.5. However, last year the team put up 74.9 points per game in Big East play, whereas this year they are only putting up 70.5 points per game. That number goes up to 73.5 if one excludes the Pirates’ awful beating at the hands of Villanova (76-46) in January. Regardless, it is clear this year’s squad has had its share of struggles on the offensive end since the beginning of conference play.
On the surface, the SHU offense looks like a balanced unit. Junior guard Khadeen Carrington has paced the Pirates with 17.2 points per game thus far, with junior swingman Desi Rodriguez close behind with 16.1. The Pirates two other double-digit scorers, junior forward Angel Delgado and freshman guard Myles Powell, are averaging 14.6 and 10.2 points per game, respectively. The Pirates’ best distributer thus far has been senior guard Madison Jones, averaging 3.6 assists per game. The team’s assist/turnover ratio has been just 0.9, meaning it has had more turnovers than it has assists.
Since Big East play began, the Pirates are undefeated in games in which they shared the ball better than their opponent. In each of the Pirate’s three Big East wins, they have had more assists than the opposition. In each of their losses, their opponent finished with more assists. Now that the midpoint of the Big East schedule has arrived, it is easy to see a pattern in the Pirates’ offensive struggles.
However, it’s not as if they are incapable of sharing the rock. In a smooth win over St. John’s, they finished with 19 assists. In a win against DePaul, they finished with 20. Coach Kevin Willard sees the potential in his offense too.
“I’ve been been happy with the way we’ve been passing,” Willard joked following a Jan. 25 loss to Butler. “We actually get a lot of assists – just to the other team,” Willard said.
If the Pirates are going to make the NCAA Tournament, their ability to share the ball must improve. While it is encouraging to see high assist totals against St. John’s and DePaul, it is important to know those teams were picked to finish eighth and 10th in the Big East Preseason Coaches’ poll. Those are teams they expected to beat, not wins to boast about. If the Pirates fail to make the tournament, it will be easy to see why. Their ability to share and take care of the ball will be crucial the rest of the season, and will be the ultimate reason why the Pirates either make or miss the tournament.
Andrew Lombardo can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Anlombardo8.