Rothstein Files: Kevin Willard And Seton Hall Ready To Start New Era
By Jon Rothstein
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The 2012 NBA Draft came and went with neither Scott Machado nor Jordan Theodore being selected.
They’re both point guards who had productive college careers at Iona and Seton Hall respectively, and they’re both a big reason why Kevin Willard had two of his best seasons as a head coach.
Willard won’t have a point guard nearly as good as Machado or Theodore during the upcoming season at Seton Hall — and the position, which has been such a big part the coach’s success when he’s had good teams, is a virtual unknown.
The Pirates return sophomore floor general Freddie Wilson and also add Tom Maayan, a pass first player who underwent ACL surgery five months ago. Seton Hall is also hopeful that Texas transfer Sterling Gibbs will receive a hardship waiver from the NCAA to play immediately next season without sitting out — but there are no guarantees.
A reason of concern? Possibly.
A reason to panic? It doesn’t appear that way.
Willard, who carries himself more like he’s preparing for his 13th season in the Big East rather than his third, is perfectly fine with sorting out his point guard situation as time moves along. He isn’t fretting about the uncertainty like most coaches would.
“No matter who becomes our starting point guard next season, no one is going to be Jordan (Theodore),” Willard said Monday after a workout at Seton Hall. “It takes time for any point guard to earn trust under me. I didn’t give Jordan carte blanche during my first year here and I didn’t give Scott (Machado) free reign during his first year at Iona. That comes with time.”
Without a go to play maker in the back court, Seton Hall will look to use a balanced attack, highlighting different pieces of the Pirates’ roster which could go 10 or 11 deep.
“It expands your playbook” Willard said of starting a season without a defined floor general. “I love having great point guards but I also feel like I have really good people on the wings and a person I can throw the ball to inside with Eugene Teague.”
Teague, a 6-foot-7, 280 pound monster, sat out last season after transferring from Southern Illinois. His girth should give Seton Hall a threat to score the ball in the low post and open up their outside shooting —- which ultimately might be this team’s greatest strength.
Similar to Michigan coach John Beilein’s old teams at West Virginia, the Pirates have the personnel to space out opponents all across the floor and extend defenses with their shot making ability.
“We have older shooters,” Willard said. “We’re not going to depend on freshman to make shots.”
Georgia Tech transfer Brian Oliver sat out last season after two seasons in the ACC and has all the requisites to be a double figure scorer in the Big East.
“I learned by coaching Jeremy Hazell what a great shooter can do for you,” Willard said. “Brian’s stroke could be a great weapon.”
The 6-foot-6 Oliver possesses tremendous strength for a guard and could even be used in situations as an undersized power forward. Veteran wings Fuquan Edwin and Haralds Karlis also return as well as Willard’s former sharpshooter at Iona Kyle Smyth, who will be eligible to play immediately because he’s in his fifth year and pursuing a graduate degree.
The most impressive member Seton Hall’s perimeter though may be sophomore Aaron Cosby. As a freshman, the 6-foot-2 combo guard averaged 7.9 points per game, a number that is surely to increase in 2012-13.
Sporting a tighter handle with an upgraded in-between game, Cosby appears more than ready to create opportunities for himself off the dribble rather than just being a standstill shooter who can knock down an open shot.
“He’s working like he’s ready to have a breakout year,” Willard said of Cosby. “He knew what he needed to improve on. He needed to develop a handle he could really rely on.”
Don’t count out Cosby as a potential option at point guard if Gibbs doesn’t receive his waiver and Wilson and/or Maayan aren’t ready for major minutes.
Meanwhile up front, bouncy forward Brandon Mobley is also a threat to score the ball with his face up game and skilled big man Patrik Auda is a capable high post option.
There’s no superstar on this Seton Hall team and the most important position on the floor is still a bit of a mystery but the combination of Cosby, Edwin, and Oliver should put points on the board, and Mobley is capable of becoming a regular mismatch if he can stay healthy.
The Pirates will take a trip to Spain in August which should help with chemistry and role allocation. It will also give Willard opportunities to experiment and mix and match different lineups to find out what works and what doesn’t.
“We set up the trip to Europe before our third year for a reason,” Willard said. “We knew we would have no seniors and we wound up having four guys sit out last year. I’d like to have probably another long athletic wing but I’m happy with the 13 guys we have on our roster. We’ve got depth, we’ve got balance, and our guys complement one another well. I know where we’re going and I think our fans are starting to see it by how hard we play. The best college teams are usually the ones that are the most consistent. That’s what we’re aiming for.”
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