It took Seton Hall a couple of games to figure it out, but the Pirates finally hit their stride in the Wooden Legacy tournament and brought home a championship.
After dropping two consecutive games to Nebraska and Saint Louis, Seton Hall hit the west coast over Thanksgiving break and a handful of uncertainties followed. The Pirates lacked an identity on offense and inconsistent play on both ends plagued a team that was still learning how to play together.
In the first game of the tournament, Seton Hall did little to ease those uncertainties. It took 40 points from Myles Powell to knock off mid-major Grand Canyon, as the Pirates struggled to find offense elsewhere. Myles Cale’s shot was off throughout the night, others struggled from the field and Seton Hall nearly succumbed to its woes at the free throw line. The Pirates weren’t much better defensively, as constant miscommunications left Grand Canyon shooters wide open. A win is a win, but it was not an inspiring one.
Following the victory over Grand Canyon, next on the slate was a Hawaii team that managed to upset Utah the previous night. Already posed with the challenge of recovering from a late start the night before and an even later start time – 11:30 p.m. EST – against Hawaii, it remained to be seen if Seton Hall would be ready to go. The Pirates did not get their typical contribution from Powell on offense, but they stepped it up on both ends of the floor and put together a true team win. With nearly everyone contributing, Seton Hall held a Hawaii offense that put up 90 points the previous night to 54. On offense, the Pirates had three players in double figures, two others with eight points and spread the wealth with 12 assists on 23 field goals.
Even with two wins in the tournament under their belt, taking on an undefeated Miami team in the championship game posed a new set of challenges. A perennial NCAA Tournament team, the Hurricanes were challenged by Fresno State in the semifinals and escaped with a 78-76 victory, but still featured dynamic 5-foot-7 point guard Chris Lykes and multiple knockdown shooters on the wing.
Seton Hall needed to bring its A-game in order to defeat Miami and Kevin Willard’s team answered the call. Sandro Mamukelashvili opened the game with five consecutive points, Jared Rhoden provided quality minutes off the bench, Taurean Thompson turned in his best game as a Pirate and Michael Nzei scored a career-high 21 points en route to a thrilling 83-81 victory.
Winning the tournament was not only a morale booster for a Seton Hall team that desperately needed one, but it also provided the Pirates with a blueprint moving forward. It’s clear that while the offense will always run through Powell, Seton Hall doesn’t need him to score 30 points per game in order to win. By utilizing the inside-out game and getting out into transition, the Pirates have a handful of players who can hold their own on the offensive end. Defensively, Willard’s zone press has wreaked some havoc and has also prevented teams from getting into their offensive sets comfortably.
Where Seton Hall goes from here still remains to be seen, but the Pirates took steps in the right direction out in California. Assuming Seton Hall continues to build on its Wooden Legacy success, the outlook of the season becomes brighter than it was a couple of weeks ago.
Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.