Despite the relative success Seton Hall men’s basketball has had the past two years, the preseason expectations and excitement never stretched far beyond South Orange. This season, however, the Pirates are ranked No. 23 in the AP Preseason Poll and were picked by Big East coaches to finish second in the conference. Providence coach Ed Cooley even had the confidence to give his first-place vote to the Pirates, affirming their place as a bonafide Big East power.
The biggest reason for the excitement surrounding the Pirates is the return of senior Angel Delgado. A first-team All-Big East selection last season, Delgado averaged 15.2 points and 13.1 rebounds per game, the latter being the most in the country last season. His season of superlatives prompted him to test the NBA Draft waters, but after months of uncertainty, Delgado decided to take up his final year of collegiate eligibility.
In the buildup to his senior season, Delgado is on many preseason player of the year award lists, including the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award Watch List and the Oscar Robertson Trophy Watch lists. Most importantly, Delgado’s return means that the Pirates will have the only roster in the country with three active 1,000-point scorers in him; Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez are the other two.
The Pirates have not been featured in preseason polls since 2000, when they were ranked No. 10 after reaching the Sweet 16 the prior year. Despite that team’s initial hype, the 2000 Pirates were a letdown as they failed to make the NCAA Tournament with a 16-15 record and got bounced out in the first round of the lesser NIT.
The obvious advantage this year’s Pirates have over the 2000-01 squad is experience. Seniors Delgado, Carrington, Rodriguez and Ismael Sanogo have all had rollercoaster college careers, but it’s their experiences that have come with the ups and downs that make the Pirates possibly the most experienced team not just in the conference, but in the country.
That experience is also helping the Pirates stay humble amid the preseason hype and accolades. Over the course of the past four years, the senior class has earned their preseason rankings by building the program each season. Carrington is personally still enjoying the excitement while staying grounded.
“The hype is good because everyone is watching. But you can’t let it get to your head too much because that’s when things start going downhill,” Carrington said. “We need to stay focused on the goal at hand.”
Coach Kevin Willard could care less about any preseason awards or projections and is just excited to get the season started.
“I think it’s awesome from the standpoint that some individual players are getting attention, but everything else I just don’t care about,” Willard said.
Willard knows, ultimately, the projections will prove meaningless in the heat of competition that lies ahead. He also knows that he does not need to temper his player’s excitement because he believes that his upperclassmen will keep the team grounded and humble.
“I think as freshmen it’s cool and you care about it, but after a year you realize how tough this league is,” Willard said. “Going into sophomore, junior years, you realize that stuff is irrelevant it’s what you do on the court that counts.”
In the end, all that will count is whether or not the Pirates can make noise once March comes around, and Carrington agrees.
“If we can’t win then what is a ranking going to do for us?,” Carrington said. “We just need to stay humble and keep winning games.”
Andrew Lombardo can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @lombardo_andrew.