For the Seton Hall men’s basketball team, the 2020-21 season promises to be yet another competitive battle across Big East conference play and a shot at making the NCAA Tournament for a fifth consecutive year.
Despite the significant losses of Myles Powell, Romaro Gill and Quincy McKnight, the Pirates welcome the return Sandro Mamukelashvili for his senior year and the arrival of Harvard graduate transfer Bryce Aiken to South Orange.
Myles Cale, Shavar Reynolds, Jared Rhoden, Ike Obiagu and Tyrese Samuel are the other returning players this year. Canisius transfer Takal Molson will also be eligible after redshirting last season as well as a trio of promising freshmen—Jahari Long, Dimingus Stevens and Jeff Ngandu.
Though the Pirates return a host of talented players ahead of the new season, their Big East competitors are as primed to make every conference game a dogfight. UConn’s return to the conference after a seven-year hiatus, while both Villanova and Creighton look as strong as ever heading into this season.
Who else looks primed for a conference title race with Seton Hall? Looking at their current rosters, the impact of players lost from last season and incoming recruiting classes, this is how the Pirates stack up against their Big East rivals entering the 2020-21 season.
Seton Hall’s biggest and most obvious challenge will be replacing McKnight and Powell’s offensive production. He and McKnight combined for 52.6% of the Pirates’ total points last season as well as 55.4% of the team’s assists.
Aiken and Mamukelashvili are capable replacements with Rhoden and Cale filling in as their supporting cast, but there are question marks lingering over two of those players. Will Aiken be back to 100% and how he will look on the court coming back from the sprained ankle that kept him out of most of last season?
Kevin Willard believes he can be Seton Hall’s best point guard since Isaiah Whitehead, but he will have to be healthy and back to his best for that to come to fruition.
There are also questions surrounding Cale and which version of himself he will be this season. Will it be the clutch shooter from sophomore year or the inconsistent junior who struggled to find his shot at times?
Villanova and Creighton return much more assured teams with the likes of Collin Gillespie, Justin Moore, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Jermaine Samuels for the Wildcats and Marcus Zegarowski, Mitch Ballock and Christian Bishop for the Bluejays. UConn retained Akok Akok and James Bouknight among others, but it cannot be understated how challenging the readjustment to Big East basketball—especially in a COVID-ridden season—could be for that group.
Defensively, Seton Hall loses McKnight and Gill, but gains improved defensive players in Rhoden, Cale and Reynolds. Both Rhoden and Cale finished last season with over 30 steals, and Rhoden led the Pirates in both defensive rebounds (149) and overall rebounds (193). Ike Obiagu impressed in flashes for the Pirates last season, but the starting center role is still up for grabs.
Villanova and Creighton benefit from returning nearly untouched starting fives heading into the new season regarding managing turnovers. Seton Hall ranked fifth among its Big East peers in total turnovers (396) last season while UConn (439) and Xavier (446) ranked ninth and tenth respectively as they struggled to iron out those minor mistakes.
The addition of R.J. Cole alongside Bouknight in the backcourt may help iron things out for UConn, but it will be interesting to see how Cole fits into Dan Hurley’s team after sitting out of the 2019-20 season.
A trio of freshmen have jumped on board for the Pirates heading into this season, but what do their odds of seeing significant time on the court look like this season?
Long faces some stiff competition for the stacked guard positions, and Stevens’ minutes on the wing will likely be limited by Willard’s preference to shorten the rotation in conference play.
Likewise, Ngandu will be up against it for time at center with Obiagu on the roster along with the versatility of Samuel and Mamukelashvili to fill the position when needed. Given the team’s depth in the forward positions, however, Willard would probably be more inclined to give Ngandu a shot at filling in for Obiagu rather than unnecessarily shifting players out of position.
Players like Dwon Odum of Xavier and Dawson Garcia of Marquette will likely be starters from the jump, but that should not take away from the potential long-run impact that Stevens, Long and Ngandu can have on the Pirates. They will be competing for minutes in one of Seton Hall’s most well-rounded rosters over the last three years.
Setonian Sports 2020-21 Big East MBB Preseason Power Rankings
The Pirates face some uphill battles in certain parts of their game this season, but Willard’s been through enough transitional years at Seton Hall to know how to get the best out of his squad heading into the 2020-21 season.
Once again, it looks like Villanova and Creighton will be the biggest competitors in chasing the conference title. Providence and Xavier looked chalked up to be the teams capable of upsetting that trio of programs at the top of the Big East while UConn’s remains a wildcard.
Without any game having been played yet, Seton Hall sits third in our power rankings for now. That’s due to the talent Mamukelashvili, Aiken and Cale have all shown in previous years as well as the potential for Rhoden, Samuel and Molson to kick on at any point this season. The full preseason Big East power rankings look like this:
- Seton Hall
- St. John’s
Justin Sousa can be reached at email@example.com.