Our tour of UConn’s new home in the new Big East continues. As we preview the state of the conference’s men’s basketball teams, we wrap things up with the Big East’s 2020 regular season champions, Seton Hall.
Head Coach: Kevin Willard
2020 Record: 21-9, 13-5 Big East
NCAA Championships: None
Big East Tournament Championships: 1991, 1993, 2016
Big East Regular Season Titles: 1992, 1993, 2020
Home Court: Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey
Average Home Attendance: 10,328 in 2020
What UConn fans have missed
Outside of Villanova, no school has improved more in the new Big East than Seton Hall. After making the NCAA tournament just twice from 2000-2015, the Pirates have made every NCAA tournament since and would have been locks in this year’s field if it weren’t for the COVID-19 pandemic. While Seton Hall only has one NCAA tournament win in that span to show for it, head coach Kevin Willard and star guard Myles Powell helped this program ascend from a middle of the pack Big East team to one that can contend for the conference crown every year. During the Huskies’ seven-year absence, the Pirates won a Big East tournament title in 2016 and claimed the regular season crown in 2020.
Head Coach Kevin Willard
Outside of Jay Wright at Villanova, Ed Cooley at Providence, and Dave Leitao at DePaul (if you count both go-arounds), Willard is one of the longest-tenured coaches in the conference. Over his first few years at the helm, things were bleak. The Pirates barely cracked the Top 25 on two occasions and failed to go above .500 in conference play from the start of Willard’s tenure in 2010 through the 2014-15 season.
After that, things started to click, starting with a 25-9 season in 2015-16 during which Seton Hall won its first conference tournament in more than 20 years, taking down eventual champion Villanova on the backs on Isaiah Whitehead and Kadeem Carrington. That season kicked off a streak of five-straight 20-win seasons for Willard and the Pirates, a streak they manage to extend this year despite a pandemic-shortened schedule.
With consensus All-American and 2019-20 Big East Player of the Year Myles Powell playing the best basketball of his career, the Pirates were a lock for another tournament berth and had potential to make some serious noise during March Madness before coronavirus canceled everything.
Outlook for 2020-21
UConn fans know better than almost anyone that it’s basically impossible to replace a program-defining guard like Powell. But the Pirates did the absolute best they could by landing arguably the top guard-transfer product on the market in Bryce Aiken. Throw in the addition of Canisius transfer Takal Molson, who is now eligible after sitting out last season, and the transfer duo might make the blow of losing Powell and Quincy McKnight easier to stomach. Guard Jared Rhoden will be returning and Seton Hall fans hope Sandro Mamukelashvili does as well, after he initially declared for the NBA Draft. Having all of these roster pieces would give the Pirates a solid core that should send them dancin’ and in contention for a Big East title once again.
Potential Starting Five
Guard: Bryce Aiken, R Sr.
Aiken may not be the second coming of Powell, but he’s pretty darn close. Aiken played just seven games before suffering a season-ending foot injury, ending his time at Harvard. In his last full season in 2018-19, Aiken averaged 22.2 points, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steals per game for the Crimson, leading them to the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament. Simply put, Aiken might be undersized at 6-feet, but can score in almost any way imaginable and will likely be the Pirates’ best deep threat after shooting 39.8 percent from three in his last full collegiate season. He’s got big shoes to fill, but will fill them well enough to make Seton Hall as dangerous as ever.
Guard: Takal Molson, R Jr.
After sitting out last season, Molson should slot right in the starting lineup and be the Robin to Aiken’s Batman. Molson was an All-MAAC selection at Canisius in 2018-19, where he averaged 16.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. While the MAAC is nowhere near the level of the Big East in terms of competition, Molson should be able to contribute immediately after spending all of last year practicing against one of the top teams in the conference.
Guard: Jared Rhoden, Jr.
Rhoden is a versatile swing player at 6-foot-6 that could see time either out on the wing or as a stretch four depending on how the game flows. He’s a good enough 3-point shooter to keep teams honest, shooting 33 percent last season, but is much more efficient inside the arc where he shot 52.4 percent. The Baldwin, New York native was also the Pirates’ leading rebounder at 6.4 per game, and his versatility to play and guard multiple positions makes him an ideal counterpart to Mamukelashvili.
If Rhoden plays more at the four, expect Samuel to come off the bench and either Myles Cale or Shavar Reynolds to take his place.
Forward: Sandro Mamukelashvili, Sr.
Mamukelashvili is a skilled 6-11 big man with inside and outside touch, and is probably the best big man in the conference. While he missed some time due to injury last season and only played 20 games, he still managed to average 18.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game for the Pirates. He doesn’t shoot the three ball often, but was effective when he did, shooting 43.4 percent on 53 attempts. Mamukelashvili declared for the NBA Draft earlier this year, but didn’t sign an agent and still could return. If he does, he figures to be a matchup nightmare and likely contender for first or second team All-Big East.
Center: Ike Obiagu, Sr.
With senior big man Romaro Gill graduating, Obiagu or Tyrese Samuel will likely round out the frontcourt alongside Mamukelashvili. Obiagu appeared in 30 games last season, starting four, and brings legitimate size at 7-foot-2. While he’s not quite the shotblocker that Gill was, Obiagu is a good shotblocker and should be able to alter plenty of shots on defense. He’s not much outside of a dunker offensively, but should be able to help out on the boards on both ends and be a formidable replacement to Gill in a similar role.