With expectations surrounding Seton Hall at an all-time high heading into the 2019-20 season, coach Kevin Willard has put together a monster non-conference schedule that will test his team and put them in a position to control its own destiny once the NCAA Tournament rolls around.
Even before the blockbuster addition of likely preseason No. 1 Michigan State in the Gavitt Games at the Prudential Center on Nov. 14, Seton Hall’s non-conference slate was already loaded. Beginning with the Battle 4 Atlantis, the Pirates will be put to the test against a field that features Alabama, Gonzaga, Iowa State, Michigan, North Carolina and Southern Mississippi. Michigan is rumored to be Seton Hall’s first-round matchup, but regardless, the Tournament will be an early litmus test for the Pirates.
Upon returning from the Bahamas, Seton Hall will hit the road to take on defending Atlantic-10 champion St. Louis. The Billikens defeated the Pirates at the Prudential Center last season, but are in for a rebuilding year after losing four starters to graduation. Travis Ford-coached teams are always tough, though, and having to play St. Louis on the road in the back end of a home and home series is not going to be easy.
The inaugural Big 12/Big East alliance will also put Seton Hall to the test, as the Pirates will travel to Ames to take on Iowa State. This could be Seton Hall’s second meeting of the season with the Cyclones, as there is a chance the two teams could face off in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Iowa State is one of the toughest places in the country to play and this trip resembles last season’s trip to Nebraska. Unlike the Nebraska game, however, Seton Hall will bring an experienced and battle-tested team to the floor.
Seton Hall closes out its non-conference schedule with two tough Big 10 opponents in Rutgers on the road and Maryland at home. A trip to the RAC in the Garden State Hardwood Classic is never easy and the Pirates found that out the last time they took a trip to Piscataway. Maryland, likewise, will pose a strong challenge as the Terrapins come to Newark in search of revenge after last season’s defeat.
This schedule may seem like a lot, but this is exactly how Willard wanted it. Why? Because he knows he has a team that can handle it.
With Myles Powell returning, Seton Hall has the star power to go toe-to-toe with any team in the country. The rest the Pirates’ starting five and their group of key reserves also have the skill and toughness to knock off any team who stands in their way. Factor in Florida State transfer Ike Obiagu and the arrival of top-100 Class of 2019 forward Tyrese Samuel, and you have a team that is primed to do some damage.
Seton Hall’s non-conference schedule also puts the Pirates in a position to avoid being poorly seeded in the NCAA Tournament as they have been the past couple of years. With plenty of chances for signature wins throughout the non-conference slate, odds are Seton Hall will be a much higher seed at season’s end and the days of the dreaded 8/9 matchup in the first round of the Tournament are over.
If Seton Hall can lock down a high seed, odds are they will be playing close to South Orange in the first weekend of the Tournament. If the Pirates wind up in the East region and make it to the Sweet 16, games will be played at Madison Square Garden. With the non-conference schedule that Willard has put together, all of this has gone from a pipe dream to a realistic possibility.
This upcoming season has the makings of a special one. Before any magic can occur, the Pirates must navigate their rugged non-conference slate. They have the team to compete on a nightly basis. Now, they must put the pieces together and string together some wins before Big East play kicks off.
Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.