Out of Seton Hall’s three 1,000-point scorers in Khadeen Carrington, Angel Delgado and Desi Rodriguez, just Carrington and Delgado were named to the preseason all-Big East first team on Oct. 18. Xavier’s Trevon Bluiett, Creighton’s Marcus Foster and Butler’s Kelan Martin rounded out the first team roster.
Rodriguez fell not to a second team selection, but to a preseason all-Big East honorable mention. Six games into the season, Rodriguez has proved to be an X-factor for Seton Hall, leading the team with 17.8 points per game on 51.9 percent shooting from the field.
Rodriguez’s impact on the roster goes beyond the numbers. His ability to both shoot from distance and finish at the rim makes him a dual threat. He has struggled a bit from three this season, making a third of his shots (9-27) through six games, but his efficient 61.5 percent (32-52) shooting on two-pointers has shot his scoring ahead.
After a strong junior season that resulted in a 2017 All-Met second team selection, Rodriguez has taken a step up for his senior year. If Rodriguez follows his scoring pace, he is projected to finish the regular season with about 553 total points. Rodriguez finished last season with 519 total points, and that included the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. According to the Seton Hall record book, a 553-point season would put Rodriguez at 1,665 points for his career, good for 11th in Seton Hall’s all-time leading scorers and landing behind ’72 Ken House’s 1,670 points. Carrington and Delgado’s production will be right in that range as well.
For Seton Hall, Rodriguez is as versatile a player the roster hold and proves to be a mismatch for his opponents.
“Desi is an elite player,” coach Kevin Willard said after Rodriguez dropped 19 points in an 82-53 win over NJIT on Nov. 18. “He has put the work in, he has the confidence. He is scoring in so many different ways. He is playing at a very high level.”
Rodriguez recorded his game-high in his most recent game this season in a 27-point performance vs Vanderbilt on Nov. 24, with his low point being a nine-point outing against Monmouth on Nov. 12. Rodriguez’s 27 points were key for the team’s 72-59 win, as Carrington scored just one point that night and Rodriguez helped fill the void.
The Vanderbilt game was not the first time this season Rodriguez stepped up. Rodriguez has shown he can deliver against high profile opponents, as he put up 23 points on 8-12 shooting against Indiana on Nov. 15.
While Rodriguez improves his game for his teammates, his success does not come without the chemistry formed with his teammates. Carrington and Delgado have been two players that have set up Rodriguez for plays, and when Rodriguez is having an off night, teammates like Myles Powell step up, as he did with his 18 points that paced the Pirates on Rodriguez’s off game against Monmouth.
While he has earned Big East weekly honor roll recognition this season, what makes Rodriguez an all-Big East first team candidate is his aggression on the court. When he does not put his effort in an emphatic dunk, Rodriguez is aggressive in helping his teammates in whatever is needed.
“I’m very aggressive,” Rodriguez said after Seton Hall’s win over Vanderbilt. “When you call a post-up play for me, I’ll get aggressive with that. Even when I’m on the outside and don’t have the ball in my hand, I make smart plays.”
One person who did not agree 100 percent with Rodriguez’s statement was Willard, who interjected from the side of the interview room.
“I wouldn’t say smart,” Willard bellowed. “You make plays.”
Rodriguez laughed at the comment and went on to rephrase how he goes about his effort on the court each game.
“I try to make the best play that I can,” Rodriguez said. “I’m just happy that [Willard] trusts me with the ball in my hands, and I’m happy for that.”
Willard has called Rodriguez one of “the best players in college basketball this season,” and with his coach’s support, Rodriguez has been flourishing.
To enter the all-Big East first team this season, Rodriguez still has some work left to do. Currently, he stands at eighth in the conference in points per game (17.8) and seventh in field goal percentage (51.9). Players ahead of him in those categories include preseason all-Big East first team players Bluiett and Foster.
Rodriguez is currently ahead of the aforementioned Martin in those categories, his direct competition at forward in the first team lineup. Martin has averaged 16 points per game on 38.3 percent shooting, so he is not far behind.
Six games through the season, an all-Big East honorable mention for Rodriguez seems low. With the stiff competition in the Big East, the final vote will come to consistency, improvement and team role. Currently, Rodriguez is on an upward trend and has been the go-to Pirate on this season’s roster.
A second-team selection may be in the cards for Rodriguez as other players ramp up their play through the season but right now, he is among the elite in the conference. If he can keep up his production and on-court impact as Seton Hall’s schedule continues to get tougher and progresses into Big East play, Rodriguez looks like he could be first-team Big East bound when it’s all set and done in 2017.
Elizabeth Swinton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @eswint22.