It’s been five long, hard years since the Seton Hall Pirates were last seen at the NCAA Tournament.
During that time, there has been plenty of turmoil and drama in South Orange that has resulted in only one appearance in the NIT.
Could this be the year that the Hall returns to the glory days of the 1990s?
The following slideshow gives the Pirates faithful five reasons to believe that their beloved team can make it back to the Big Dance.
The leading rebounder in the Big East in 2009-10 looks like he’s back to his old self again.
Pope had a successful offseason working out with John Lucas in Houston where he honed his skills and built up his endurance. The Pirates will depend on him a lot this season.
So far, Pope hasn’t disappointed.
He has posted a double-double in four out of the first five games, scoring a career-high 32 points against Northwestern in the final of the Charleston Classic.
Dominating against weaker, non-conference opponents is a good way to gain confidence, but as we all know, Big East games are a whole different animal.
If Pope can play at the same level he’s shown thus far, don’t be surprised if the Pirates knock off a few ranked teams in the conference and gain some national attention come March.
Last season was supposed to be the breakout year for Theodore following the departure of Eugene Harvey, but his game never took off.
While he managed to average 11 points per game, Theodore didn’t seem comfortable running the point for the Pirates.
However, this year, he already looks like a completely different player. Playing in his last season at the Hall, Theodore has fully embraced the role of team captain. He’s become a leader on and off the court, especially during practices where he’s known to bring the best out of the younger players.
In addition to his leadership, Theodore is already putting up some stellar numbers. His best game of the year came against St. Joseph’s; he almost had a triple-double with 18 points, 10 assists, and seven rebounds.
He’s played well so far and knows this is his last shot to make a run at the NCAA Tournament. Look for him to give 110 percent every night; it will give the Pirates something to rally around, game in and game out.
If you take a look at Seton Hall’s schedule, you’ll notice that there are a number of games where the Pirates can gain some national attention.
Specifically, they play three top-10 teams in Syracuse, Connecticut (twice), and Louisville. If they manage to pull off a couple upsets and win against teams they should, such as DePaul, they could build a pretty solid resume for the tournament committee to look at.
The non-conference schedule is not that strong, and taking into account the loss against Northwestern, the Pirates will most likely have to win the rest of their games leading up to Big East opener against West Virginia.
In addition, the Big East Tournament in March always offers up a chance to make a run and shock some powerhouses, so the opportunities are definitely there for the Hall.
There hasn’t been much talk about head coach Kevin Willard since his arrival in South Orange last year, but considering what happened during the Bobby Gonzalez era, that’s probably a good thing.
Willard goes quietly about his business in getting the team prepared for each matchup and it looks like those years under Rick Pitino have paid off.
Last year, although they finished with just 13 wins, the Pirates were able to blow out both No. 10 Syracuse and No. 15 St. John’s, and while a lot of that credit goes to the players, you know that Willard had his team ready for those crucial Big East games.
This year, Willard has shown a lot of confidence in his team, while being generally realistic about the goals he expects them to achieve. Additionally, he’s been spot-on with his in-game decisions, such as switching to zone defense against Yale, which sparked a 15-0 run for the Pirates.
Although he’s still dealing with Gonzalez’s players, the team has shown they believe in Willard and I think that the majority of the fans do as well.
If this team is going to make it to the Big Dance this year, it’s going to take some great coaching, which the Pirates definitely do not lack.
While everyone knows that Pope and Theodore are the go-to guys, it will be the support that the two seniors get that will be key in securing an NCAA Tournament bid.
Sophomore Fuquan Edwin is expected to have a breakout year and is already looking good in the first five games, scoring about 15 points per game. Edwin will be sorely needed to score if either Pope or Theodore has an off night.
Patrik Auda, another sophomore, started the season slow but has begun to pick it up and should be another player to keep an eye on. His versatility down low and around the perimeter can wreak havoc for teams if his game is on.
The Pirates are also loaded with a ton of freshmen who will get to see a lot of playing time, especially when Big East play begins.
The two most notable first-year players are Aaron Cosby and Haralds Karlis. Both are extremely athletic and have great shooting skills, but their defense ability is questionable.
If the supporting cast can log some quality minutes and provide some added scoring, the Pirates will be able to win those close games against big-name opponents that have eluded them in recent seasons.
In turn, that can give them a shot to get an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.