In a year where both analysts and fans thought that the Seton Hall men’s basketball team was on the rise and one thatcannot be overlooked, the Pirates ended the year on as bad of a foot as last year, if not worse.
Head coach Bobby Gonzalez preached to the media all year that his team would surpass Pirate squads of the recent past and do what no team has done in the Gonzalez era, and that is to make the NCAA Tournament.
“We felt we were close,” Gonzalez said at Seton Hall media day in October, referring to last year’s team. “That feeling is good and bad. It’s good because you’re like ‘we’re almost there,’ but it’s bad because you’re not there yet.”
Yet, after another year, the Pirates were close but could not make the necessary push to gain an NCAA Tournament bid.
On the season, the Hall was 0-4 in overtime games. In three of those four losses, the Pirates had late leads they were unable to hold on to, with the exception being to the then No. 6 West Virginia Mountaineers.
In that game, Seton Hall was down 10 points with under one minute to play and managed to tie the game with six seconds left on a deep three pointer from junior Jeremy Hazell. In overtime, however, the Pirates failed to match the 13 points that the Mountaineers had scored.
In their final overtime game, an 84-83 loss to Marquette, the Pirates had a late lead and could not hang on, and, similar to the West Virginia loss, the Hall could not score efficiently in overtime.
Many media outlets who saw this game as a play-in game for the NCAA Tournament. considered this loss to be the one that ended the Pirates’ chances at joining March Madness.
However, Seton Hall’s failed attempt of making the NCAA Tournament is a sidebar compared to the negative events that happened during the course of the season.
While Gonzalez’s transfers brought much attention and hype to the team, their play on the court is almost forgotten when you consider their off-the-court problems.
Gonzalez brought in junior Keon Lawrence to be the second shooter to Hazell.
Lawrence shot just 29.6 percent from the floor in the season following an eight game suspension.
Lawrence was suspended four days before the start of the season following a late night accident on the Garden State Parkway. Police reportedly said at the time Lawrence was driving under the influence of alcohol and on a suspended license.
After the Pirates 87-69 loss to Texas Tech, Lawrence would admit that his off the court issues effectedperformance.
“It was an up and down year for me,” Lawrence said. “I was still trying to go through it and my teammates stuck with me through it, coaches and everyone helping me through it.”
Sophomore Herb Pope was brought in to be the big man who will replace graduating senior John Garcia.
“We have a guy in Herb Pope that is probably one of the best rebounders I have ever coached,” Gonzalez said at Seton Hall media day in October.
Pope would live up to Gonzalez’s words, as he led the Big East in rebounds with 10.7 boards per game.
However, he would miss the Hall’s biggest game of the season due to his on-court antics.
In the Pirates’ opening round NIT game with Texas Tech, Pope was ejected for commiting a flagrant foul with 14:19 remaining in the first half.
ESPN’s video replays showed that Pope hit Red Raider forward Darko Cohadarevic in the groin in two consecutive plays.
Pope played just six minutes and had no rebounds in the game.
He was not made available for comment after the incident.
Then, there was Robert Mitchell’s dismissal.
After the Pirates’ Big East Tournament loss to Notre Dame, Mitchell openly criticized Gonzalez’s player rotations.
On March 14, Mitchell was removed from the team just hours before the Pirates made the NIT.
A day following his dismissal, Mitchell was arrested and charged with kidnapping and robbery in the first degree, burglary in the third degree and weapon offenses in the second and third degrees.
Mitchell was the team’s second leading scorer last year, averaging 14.6 points per game while playing 36.1 minutes.
This year, with a deeper bench, Mitchell saw his minutes and points diminish drastically. He averaged 21.3 minutes per game, with most of those coming during Lawrence’s suspension, while scoring just 8.8 points per game.
The biggest news of the season, though, came just hours after the Hall’s loss in the NIT, when University President Msgr. Robert Sheeran announced Gonzalez’s termination.
Gonzalez has not spoken to the media since the announcement.
Seton Hall Law School Dean Patrick Hobbs, who is currently overseeing the athletics department, said that this move “was not a basketball move.”
The Pirates are currently in a transition period, as the search for a new head coach is underway.
Whoever the new coach is, he will not only have to turn around a program with multiple off-the-court issues, but also lead a team that can compete for not only a Big East title, but an NCAA Tournament bid as well.
Tim LeCras can be reached at email@example.com.