On Oct. 18, players, coaches and media members from the Big East gathered where the conference left fans last spring, inside Madison Square Garden.
The Seton Hall men’s basketball team garnered a lot of the media attention, partly because of the program’s proximity to the Garden, but also because of its high expectations heading into this season.
Here are a few of our key takeaways from the event:
Seton Hall ranks second in the Preseason Big East Coaches’ Poll
Seton Hall men’s basketball ranks second in this year’s Preseason Coaches’ Poll, falling behind first-place Villanova and ahead of third-place Xavier.
— #BIGEASThoops (@BIGEASTMBB) October 18, 2017
When asked about whether there was any pressure felt about being picked to finish second in the Big East in the preseason coaches’ poll, Khadeen Carrington said the ranking is in line with the team’s attitude going into the season.
“It’s excitement,” Carrington said. “We don’t really put pressure on ourselves.”
Seton Hall received one first-place vote in the poll from Providence coach Ed Cooley.
Cooley on the Pirates: "They have a lot of veterans and they've won before. They have a lot of versatile players and a great coach too."
— The Setonian Sports (@SetonianSports) October 18, 2017
Carrington and Angel Delgado were also named to the All-Big East Preseason First Team, while Desi Rodriguez was named an honorable mention.
The Pirates want another Big East Championship
Both Carrington and Rodriguez referred to their senior seasons as “the fourth time is the charm.” In that, they both want another Big East Championship ring.
For Rodriguez, winning the league championship ranks at the top of his list of expectations for this season.
“That’s the No. 1 goal, I think we need that Big East Championship to give us a lot of confidence going into the [NCAA] Tournament,” Rodriguez said. “I feel like winning that will be big for us.”
Carrington agreed that a Big East Championship win is something this team has its eyes set on.
“I feel like we can win a Big East Championship, I feel like we have enough talent for that. I feel like we have enough talent for a deep run in the [NCAA] Tournament,” Carrington said. “I definitely think we can do that as long as everyone is on the same page, listening to each other, listening to coach and just playing hard like we usually do.”
One NCAA Tournament win is not enough
Winning a game in the NCAA Tournament would be one big step for Seton Hall after exiting in the first round the past two years, but with the confidence around the team this season, one win is just a stepping stone for what it wants to accomplish.
“I feel like we can take it all, I just want to be humbled by it and work hard,” Rodriguez said. “I think it will come, it will show that we put in a lot of work. Definitely, my expectation is to make it out of the first round. We haven’t done that in the past two years, so this year make it out of the first round then go as far as we can.”
Carrington won’t be happy unless the team advances in at least three or four rounds of the tournament.
“No, I don’t think winning a game is enough,” Carrington said. “I think making a deep run, at least three, four games. Not that that’s gonna be enough, I think that’s where we need to set our level and just achieve from there.”
For Delgado, it’s all or nothing.
“This team has a lot to prove,” Delgado said. “Winning a game isn’t enough. Only a national championship will be enough.”
Delgado’s return to Seton Hall
Delgado fielded many questions about his decision to return to Seton Hall for his senior season. The big man stated that Willard was the first person he made aware of his decision to return and that the decision was one made to ensure that he finished what he started with his fellow seniors: Carrington, Rodriguez and Ismael Sanogo.
“I called coach, I said ‘Coach, I can’t leave,'” Delgado said. “‘I want to come back and finish my senior year with these guys because we came together and we leave together.'”
Willard added that Delgado’s decision to return was an “educated” one, rather than an emotional decision. If Delgado enrolled in the draft, he was projected to be picked around the 50’s of the second round, according to Willard. By returning, Delgado is able to give NBA scouts another year to analyze his game and prove to be one of the best players in the country.
Delgado went on to say when asked about high expectations that he does not think the team right now is nearly as good as it could be.
“I still think that we’ve got a lot to improve; to show people what we can do,” Delgado said. “I think this team is a really good team, but they need to work harder than we’re working right now. And we going to prove ourselves. Right now, for me, we’re not that good.”
Kevin Willard being candid
In a long discussion with the media, head coach Willard discussed how he does not want his players to feel the weight of needing to achieve something this year, but rather to experience the joy of playing what will be for most of his core players, their final collegiate season.
“I thought to myself [last season], ‘why was I a better coach.’ Then I realized, the pressure I put on myself, I was putting on my players,” Willard said. “So I don’t put that pressure on myself, because, I don’t want them to have that pressure. I want them to enjoy playing for me, and I want to enjoy coaching them.”
On the other side of Pirate basketball, the women’s basketball team held media availability in the afternoon. With a lot of new faces, coach Tony Bozzella and a few of the women’s players gave their thoughts for the upcoming season:
Pirates will be guard heavy
Bozzella called this team the most talented he has coached thus far at Seton Hall. Of the 13 players, eight are guards, and all of them will be competing for minutes. Last year’s starting backcourt consisted of JaQuan Jackson, Kaela Hilaire and Kaity Healy, who are all back. Jackson was named to the preseason All-Big East team and will lead the Pirates on the offensive end.
“She is honestly the best shooter I’ve coached in many, many years,” Bozella said on Winters.
Joining the four backcourt incumbents are transfers Nicole Jimenez, Inja Butina, Donnaizha Fountain as well as redshirt freshman Tyeisha Smith. Bozzella went as far to say that Fountain was the best transfer in the country.
Bozzella mentioned the ongoing competition for the starting backcourt spots.
“We have the third leading scorer in the Big East and she’s competing to start,” Bozzella said. “That’s not because she hasn’t played well, but because the rest of the kids are really good.”
Experience is abundant
Despite last year’s difficult season, it gave the young squad a chance to learn. As previously mentioned, last year’s starting backcourt is back. They will be joined by the three transfers who all have college basketball experience.
Although the Pirates have five newcomers, only two of them are true freshman: Kimi Evans and Selena Philoxy. Of the three transfers, Fountain, in particular, is a fifth-year graduate student from Temple University, making her the most experienced player on the team. Jimenez and Butina both come from junior college, where each had successful careers.
The frontcourt will be led by sophomore Jayla Jones-Pack, who Bozzella said has improved more than anyone else since last season.
“She is going to be one of the best, if not the best defensive player in the league,” Bozzella said.
Redshirt sophomore Taylor Brown, who transferred from Western Kentucky and sat out last season, will join Jones-Pack. Bozzella is excited about Brown’s potential after sitting out a year.
“In my opinion, Brown could be the best player in the Big East, she is that good,” Bozzella said.
Depth will not be an issue
Bozzella called the current roster his most talented thus far at Seton Hall and said that each player could step on the floor in Big East play.
“The two freshman have acclimated themselves and worked very hard, Selena and Kimi, and the other 11 all have experience playing at the college level,” Bozzella said.
Bozzella confirmed that his rotations and lineup were far from a finished product, but that he most certainly would use multiple starting lineups throughout the season depending on the matchup.
“Top to bottom this is the most experienced and talented team that I’ve had,” Bozzella said.
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