Early season tune-ups like the one Seton Hall had against Wagner on Tuesday night are paramount when it comes to working out kinks before the level of competition heats up.
In past years, the Pirates have used non-conference cupcake matchups to perfect their offensive sets and make their operation a seamless one. With ball dominant guards like Isaiah Whitehead, Khadeen Carrington and Myles Powell, focusing on ensuring the offense didn’t become to perimeter-oriented and isolation-based was a point of emphasis for coach Kevin Willard.
Offense won’t be the point of emphasis as Seton Hall prepares to take on Michigan State on Nov. 14, though. This year, it is the defense that needs to be perfected.
The Pirates defeated Wagner by 34 and limited the Seahawks to 5-23 shooting from three, but the stats do not tell the whole story.
Wagner had far too many open looks in the first half and hung around far longer than it should’ve as a result. Seton Hall held a 52-37 lead at halftime, but that would not been the case against a team with a better roster and deeper stable of shooters.
“We didn’t really play Seton Hall defense tonight,” Myles Powell said after the game.”
Ike Obiagu helped turn the tide for Seton Hall defensively with a handful of thunderous blocks and hot-altering challenges at the rim, which was an encouraging development for the Pirates after he looked rusty in the preseason.
“That’s what I do,” Obiagu said of his status as a rim protector. “I think it gives our team the boost that we need.”
With Obiagu leading the way, Seton Hall locked in and played up to its defensive potential in the second half, showing what it’s capable of when firing on all cylinders.
“I thought our defense was much better [in the second half],” acting head coach Grant Billmeier said. “Give Wagner credit. They hit a lot of tough shots. We tightened up in the second half.”
Seton Hall has one more tuneup against Stony Brook on Saturday before it enters the thick of its conference schedule. That doesn’t leave the Pirates with much in-game action to test any adjustments made in practice throughout the week. With that being said, this is a team that has the pieces to be a very good team defensively when it’s all said and done. Quincy McKnight is a legitimate contender for Big East Defensive Player of the Year, while Obiagu reinforced what he brings to the table against Wagner. Romaro Gill possesses a similar skillset in the paint, while Myles Cale has the length on the wing to develop into a defensive stopper.
The personnel is in place, but that alone is not enough for Seton Hall to come together defensively. It’s going to take a bit of work, but the Pirates are going to have to do whatever it takes to get their defensive sets in order for when it matters the most.
“We have a lot of things to work on,” Billmeier said. “The good news is that it’s November, but we’re not playing as well as we need to be defensively.”
Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.