Defense wins championships, but Seton Hall’s defense isn’t the same as last year’s Big East Championship team.
The team has taken a dip in one key area: blocks.
Entering Wednesday’s game with Xavier holding a 13-7 record, Seton Hall ranks last in the Big East in both blocked shots per game (2.6) and total rejections (51).
Twenty games into last season, with a 14-6 record, SHU averaged 4.3 blocks per game with 86 total, both ranking fourth in the conference.
A factor in this drop in performance comes from the absence of former Pirate and current Brooklyn Net Isaiah Whitehead. He averaged 1.11 blocks per game at this point last season and finished the year at 1.4 per game with 49 total.
One player whose blocks have declined this year is Ismael Sanogo. Regarded as one of the best defensive players in the Big East, Sanogo went from averaging 1.1 blocks per game last season to 0.8 this season.
In addition, Angel Delgado’s blocks per game have dropped from 0.8 last season to 0.2 this season. Meanwhile, Desi Rodriguez’s rejections per game have gone up from 0.2 to 0.3 and Khadeen Carrington has risen from 0.1 to 0.4.
Still, while the team has largely made up for Whitehead in terms of point production, the gap he left on the defensive end is widening.
Blocks are a combination of skill, timing and opportunity. Players like Whitehead have a knack for them and he’s seen that skill transition to the NBA. But for Seton Hall, blocks have been an underperformance, as the team ranks last in swats in the Big East and low nationally.
Every block in a game does not come with a guaranteed change of possession. Some blocks come with steals, fast break points and opportunities, but most importantly a blocked shot takes a team out of rhythm on offense. A blocked shot also means no easy buckets.
Seton Hall has allowed more open looks this season.
Along with the low block numbers come SHU’s turnover problem. The Pirates rank last in the Big East in turnover margin (-1.4) and giveaways per game (14.4). At this point last season, the team had a 0.4 turnover margin and averaged 13.9 turnovers per game.
This is where teams successfully double-teaming the top rebounder in the country, Delgado, comes in.
Not only is Delgado a rebounding threat, but he has stepped up his offensive presence this season. For this reason, many teams have trapped him, forcing him to pass out of trouble.
While Delgado has had success passing out, averaging 1.9 assists per game, he has averaged a team-worst 2.8 turnovers, up from his 1.9 per game last season.
The team is also not forcing as many turnovers as last season, which puts the Pirates in the minus for turnover margin. After forcing 14.25 turnovers per game at this time last season, SHU is forcing 13 per game this season.
Reduced blocks and forced turnovers, as well as increased turnovers per game, are minimizing Seton Hall’s opportunity in games this season. As players point out after each game, every Big East contest is expected to be close because it is a talented and competitive conference. If Seton Hall can’t take keep up with blocked shots and can’t control turnovers, opportunity has to come from somewhere.
That opportunity came from defense last year. More swats this year can help bring that defense back to the championship level it was and needs to be this season to rise from eighth place in the conference and to the NCAA Tournament.
Elizabeth Swinton is a broadcasting major from Linden, N.J. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @eswint22.