His ankle rolled and his departure slowed by a limp, Myles Powell shouted a four-letter expletive as he left the Walsh Gymnasium court for the final time on Nov. 9. Every Seton Hall fan, player and coach had to be thinking the same thing.
As Powell trekked back to the locker room to undergo treatment, the once-lively crowd descended into dormancy. The product on the court suffered as well, as the Pirates struggled to find their way against Stony Brook with Powell on the trainer’s table instead of on the floor. At one, point the Seawolves built up a six-point lead; and the boo birds briefly surfaced.
Seton Hall was completely lost for 15 minutes. The offense became stagnant. Even Kevin Willard, with his knack for adjusting on the fly, was admittedly out of sorts as he searched to find a rotation that worked.
“I screwed us up more than anything in the first half with the rotations,” he said.
As the misses piled up, it became harder not to wonder if this is what the Pirates are if they don’t have Powell.
No team is ever fully prepared to play without its star player. Take Cassius Winston away from Michigan State and it’s safe to assume the Spartans would stumble. The same applies to Markus Howard and Marquette, Jordan Nwora and Louisville, or any other team with a Preseason All-American.
Truly elite teams figure it out, though. The teams that make deep runs in March are the ones that can function without their star, whether he is out of the game due to injury, foul trouble, or simply having an off night. In that sense, Powell not being on the floor for 37 minutes against Stony Brook and his pending absence against Michigan State and beyond could serve as the most valuable lesson Seton Hall learns all season.
Pretend Powell’s ankle sprain occurred in the first round of the NCAA Tournament with the season on the line. Based on what transpired against Stony Brook, the Pirates likely would have succumbed to ineffectiveness on offense on their way out of March Madness.
Seton Hall’s offense is built to revolve around Powell. That’s not a shot at Sandro Mamukelashvili, Myles Cale, Quincy McKnight or any other player on the Pirates’ roster. Powell is an All-American who accounts for attention from multiple defenders both on and off the ball. As defenses are keyed in on stopping him, Mamukelashvili, Cale and McKnight have more space to operate. Without Powell, the dynamic changes. Teams can play straight up man-to-man without having to worry about getting burned by an elite scorer.
With Powell sidelined, Mamukelashvili, Cale, McKnight and company will be forced to create their own shots, ensure spacing is proper and essentially facilitate the offense. This is a role all three players can execute. They just haven’t had to do it with Powell in the mix. The same goes for Jared Rhoden and Anthony Nelson, who are now thrust into major roles – if only temporarily – maybe a bit sooner than Willard would’ve liked. Again, roles both players can thrive in, just one they are unfamiliar with at the collegiate level.
Willard will also have to dabble in uncharted waters. He has not coached a game without Powell in any capacity since the 2015-16 season. Not only do Seton Hall’s rotations change without Powell, but so do Willard’s substitution patterns. Players aren’t the only ones going through a learning experience in this situation. The coaches are as well. Willard is going to have to go out of his comfort zone and get a bit more creative with his offensive sets without No. 13 to turn to on any given play.
Nothing good comes of not having Powell on the court, at least not right away. Not only is it hard enough to replace 27 points per game in the blink of an eye, but Powell is also Seton Hall’s emotional leader. When things get tough, someone is going to have to step up and be the one the team turns to for guidance. As difficult as it’s going to be without him, the show must go on. Whether they like it or not, the Pirates are likely going to have to play without the Trenton native.
Powell’s prognosis is a two or three-game absence, but don’t discount what can be learned during that period. If there’s any sort of silver lining in this situation for Seton Hall, it’s that players are going to be forced to step up and contribute in roles that may be initially uncomfortable to them. That will only help the Pirates once the postseason rolls around. Stars typically carry their team through March, but it is the role players that do the little things to make an operation flourish.
Powell’s absence – however long – will hurt the Pirates in the immediate future. The long-term, though? Well, this bout with adversity could be a blessing in disguise for a program with dreams of a deep postseason run.
Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at email@example.com. Find him on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.