Heading into the Seton Hall and Michigan State affair on Nov. 14, all eyes were on preseason All-Americans Myles Powell and Cassius Winston.
After Nov. 9, however, the rhetoric has changed. Powell is likely sitting out the contest against the No. 3 Spartans due to an ankle injury suffered in the early stages of the game against Stony Brook. Powell stepped on the Seawolves’ Andrew Garcia’s foot driving to the hoop and then subsequently landed hard on it after coming down from the rim. Powell exited the game with the team trainer and did not return, and the initial prognosis from Kevin Willard was not good for his star player.
If Powell is unable to go on Thursday night, Seton Hall will turn to other players to try and get them past powerhouse Michigan State. Although the Spartans are without Joshua Langford until January, they still have Winston, arguably the best player in the country.
In a 69-62 loss against Kentucky on the opening night of the college basketball season, Winston dropped 21 points in 32 minutes of action. The loss knocked Michigan State out of the top-ranked spot in the nation, but it also served as a confirmation that he can keep up with the best of them. Seton Hall will undoubtedly have its hands full with Winston, but will need to contain him if it wants to bring home a win at the Prudential Center.
Guarding Winston is one thing, though. Scoring at the other end of the court is another and it is where Seton Hall will struggle the most in the matchup.
When Powell went down with an injury against Stony Brook, the Pirates looked out of sorts. It was the first time in a while playing without a key presence on the court, whether it be Powell or successors such as Khadeen Carrington, Angel Delgado or Desi Rodriguez.
It took a while to snap out of the funk without Powell, which was evident by the Pirates trailing at halftime in front of a nervous Walsh Gymnasium crowd. Still, the Pirates were able to come home with a comfortable 17 point win.
The team’s depth was on display throughout the night, with Quincy McKnight and Shavar Reynolds, among others, playing key minutes and hitting important shots. It was pseudo-big-man Sandro Mamukelashvili, though, who led his team to victory without its star player.
If Seton Hall wants to beat Michigan State, that will have to be the same.
Mamukelashvili finished with 34 minutes against Stony Brook, which was tied with McKnight for the team lead. He also finished with a team-high 17 points. His five rebounds was lower than his average, but it proves that he has the adaptability to play multiple roles. He was also one of two Seton Hall players, the other once again being McKnight, to hit two three-pointers.
After a dominant run at the end of last season by Mamukelashvili, including a dominant 12-point, 18-rebound game against Villanova in Big East play, Willard will need him a similar effort against the Spartans.
Seton Hall simply will find it difficult to win if Mamukelashvili is not on his game. He has seemingly leaped Myles Cale as a secondary scoring option behind Powell, and now is his time to shine. If he plays his cards correctly, the game could turn into a national viewing party for him rather than Powell.
Mamukelashvili has always had the build to succeed in college and beyond, but now it is time to prove it. For the first time in his collegiate career, it will be him leading the charge for his team, and it comes with a No. 12 rank against one of the best teams in the country.
Kevin Kopf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @KevinKopfHWH.