Is Seton Hall Better Without Isaiah Whitehead?

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 5th, 2015

Before being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his foot, Isaiah Whitehead was Seton Hall’s second-leading scorer and team assist-leader. As a result, many pundits thought that the team, now lacking its most dynamic all-around playmaker, would flounder in its upcoming Big East tests. Instead, the exact opposite occurred. Without Whitehead available last week, Sterling Gibbs stepped up to put on two electrifying performances against St. John’s and Villanova, contributing a combined 45 points, 12 assists and just three turnovers in a pair of wins. Moreover, the team’s best offensive performance of the year (points per possession) came against St. John’s, and its defense held Villanova to its worst of the season. To be clear, nobody is doubting Whitehead’s talent or his ability to play at the next level, but with the team’s recent string of rather unexpected Big East victories, the question needs to be asked: Does Whitehead’s presence on the floor do more harm than good?

Seton Hall is Playing Better Without Its Star Freshman (USA Today Images)

Seton Hall is Playing Better Without Its Star Freshman (USA Today Images)

Against St. Johns, the Pirates notched 18 assists on 23 made baskets for a whopping 78.3 percent assist rate — both season highs. Freshman Angel Delgado, a force on the offensive glass, logged 13 points and 12 rebounds, with Gibbs adding 25 points and eight assists of his own. Sophomore Jaren Sina also gave his best performance of the season, shooting 4-of-8 from deep en route to 14 points. The Seton Hall offense looked incredibly fluid throughout — both in transition and in the half-court — with Gibbs and Sina knocking down outside shots in rhythm. This was in stark contrast to the team’s performances against Georgia and Wichita State, when the offense often fell stagnant and became overly reliant on Whitehead’s demonstrated ability to get to the rim.

Against Villanova on Saturday, the Pirates snuck by with a victory in overtime in spite of a poor 35.5 percent shooting effort. This time, it wasn’t lights-out shooting but a defensive effort that forced the Wildcats into 15 turnovers and chilly 31.0 percent shooting. Freshman Khadeen Carrington emerged in Whitehead’s absence, exploding for 17 points off the bench. “When [Carrington] has [the ball] in his hands, it’s natural,” Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard said after the game. “He’s the one guy that really benefits from Isaiah’s injury.” The 6’3″ guard had not spent much time handling the ball this season — usually deferring to Gibbs or Whitehead — but the latter’s injury provided the young player with an opportunity to shine. Shining in this case meant hitting a spinning layup in overtime to put the Pirates up for good, adding two free throws, and forcing a turnover to seal the victory. Needless to say, various Seton Hall players had to step up in Whitehead’s absence in order to start 2-0 in this balanced league.

It remains to be seen how Whitehead will perform against the physical backcourts of Villanova and St. John’s, but he will have his chance in coming weeks. What we learned, however, through the Pirates’ two opening conference games is that the team can excel in his absence. Gibbs can shift to a full-time point guard and distributor role while also creating shots for himself, and a number of the other freshmen, namely Delgado, Carrington, and Desi Rodriguez, will be given opportunities to prosper. The results from last week speak for themselves: two marquee victories over Top 25 teams, and Seton Hall playing its best basketball of the season.

Justin Kundrat (175 Posts)

Villanova grad, patiently waiting another 10 years for season tickets. Follow Justin on twitter @JustinKundrat or email him at

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2 responses to “Is Seton Hall Better Without Isaiah Whitehead?”

  1. Jay Bilas says:

    Are you an idiot?

  2. MrNewYears says:

    You must be a prophet. After the Sina and Gibbs departures you couldn’t be more right. SHU would be better off without Whitehead.

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