Making Note: Juggling Freshman Rotations at Seton Hall, Rutgers & GW

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on December 9th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

For any program other than Kentucky, how to best use a squad’s freshmen is always a tricky dilemma. When it comes to the Atlantic 10, George Washington head coach Mike Lonergan has used mostly the same starting lineup and rotation during the past three seasons because his juniors represent his first class at the school. Two of last season’s starting spots were vacated by forward Isaiah Armwood and guard Maurice Creek, but Lonergan has tabbed the junior guard duo of Joe McDonald and Kethan Savage along with senior John Kopriva as starters for the Colonials’ first eight games.

Mike Lonergan has had to find the right mix for his freshmen this season at George Washington. Two other coaches in the A-10 face similar dilemmas. (George Washington Athletics)

Mike Lonergan has had to find the right mix for his freshmen this season at George Washington. Two other coaches in the A-10 face similar dilemmas. (George Washington Athletics)

Working 6’8″ freshman forward Yuta Watanabea — a Kagawa, Japan, native by way of St. Thomas More Prep in Connecticut — into the rotation has been a challenge. Watanabe leads a heralded five-man class (two guards: Paul Jorgensen and Darian Bryant; and three forwards: Watanabe, Anthony Swan and Matt Cimino) that could make Foggy Bottom fans quickly forget the departed Armwood and Creek. Even though the Colonials are off to a so-so 4-2 start behind those juniors, Lonergan has been reluctant to experiment with his rookies, as a recent game with Seton Hall confirmed. In the four-point loss, Lonergan played Jorgensen, Bryant and Cimino a combined 11 minutes, eight minutes fewer than Watanabe. The freshman made 1-of-2 from the charity stripe after taking a charge from Pirates’ freshman Kadeem Carrington, later connected on a critical three to tie the game, and rotated with Kopriva as the defensive choice in an offense/defense substitution scheme. The other freshmen sat, waiting and watching.

Meanwhile, second year Rutgers head coach Eddie Jordan has a different challenge in Piscataway. His Scarlet Knights, in their first season in the Big Ten, are rebuilding after the dramatic departures of former head coach Mike Rice and athletic director Tim Pernetti. Jordan recruited a six-man class that includes two guards (Mike Williams and Jake Dadika), a center (Shaquille Doorson), two forwards (Ibrahima Diallo and D.J. Foreman) and a wing (Ryan Johnson). After a 35-minute, 11-point performance in Rutgers’ 68-65 win over Vanderbilt, Jordan paired Williams, a 6’2″ graduate of Bishop McLouglin High School in New York City, with senior playmaker Myles Mack. Given Kadeem Jack’s ongoing offensive struggles, Jordan has turned to Doorson and Foreman for a spark. Dadika, along with juniors Bishop Daniels and Kerwin Okoro and senior Malik Kone, gets minutes when Mack or Williams rest. In Rutgers’ 81-54 loss to Seton Hall in the inaugural Garden State Hardwood Classic on Saturday, Jordan experimented liberally, playing the four non-starters a combined 54 minutes. Do not be surprised if Doorson, who scored six points and grabbed eight rebounds in 12 minutes, gets quite a few longer looks this season.

Faced with circumstances similar to Rutgers (but a freshman class more talented than GW’s) Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard has put the members of his seven-man freshman class into immediate duty. Willard had to replace 60 percent of his starting lineup, which, along with the departed rotation players, provided 59 percent of the points and 63 percent of the rebounding for last season’s 17-17 club. His freshman class, rated as the best entering group in the Big East, supplied two of the missing starters this season. Willard has moved sophomore Jaren Sina into Fuquan Edwin’s shooting guard spot in the starting lineup, and started 6’4″ Isaiah Whitehead, a McDonald’s All-American and graduate of Abraham Lincoln High School in New York City, as the third guard. Senior Brandon Mobley moved up to start at the power forward slot, and a second freshman, 6’9″ Angel Degado, stepped into Eugene Teague’s spot in the low post.

Installed in the starting lineup from the first game of the year, neither Whitehead nor Delgado has disappointed. Whitehead averages 12.6 points per game through seven contests, leading the Hall in assists (26) and steals (11). Delgado averages 10.1 rebounds per game and has logged three double-doubles in the Pirates’ first seven games. Desi Rodriguez, Kadeem Carrington and redshirt freshman Rashaad Anthony have all secured spots in the rotation as well, averaging 14.3, 17.0 and 12.0 minutes per game, respectively. Whitehead, in particular, scored 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting (4-of-5 from beyond the arc, 3-of-4 from the free throw line), dished five dimes with no turnovers, and grabbed three steals in 21 minutes of play. Tabbed the preseason Freshman of the Year in the league, Whitehead set the bar with last Saturday’s performance, but for Willard’s squad to beat their projected sixth place finish, Delgado, Rodriguez and Carrington will have to continue to progress.

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