Seton Hall Defense Driving Early Success

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on December 21st, 2015

Wichita State’s self-described “Redemption Tour” broke up Saturday afternoon in Newark as the Shockers fell to Seton Hall in overtime. It did not, however, start out quite that way for the Pirates. Through the game’s first 13 minutes, the Shockers scored 33 points on 22 field goal attempts, going 5-of-7 from beyond the arc and 9-of-15 from closer, scoring 14 points on turnovers and runouts. “Actually, it was my fault,” said Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard after the game. “I had too much time to watch film and I tried to be creative. I was trying to confuse them [Wichita State, with a zone defense], but I ended up confusing our guys. We got back to being real simple.” Real simple for the Pirates meant a physical man-to-man defense that shut down the lane and planted taller defenders on wings Ron Baker and Evan Wessel. Wichita State shot 12-of-42 for the rest of the game, and the defense that shut down the Shockers should put perimeter-oriented teams like Creighton and Villanova on notice — the Pirates are developing answers.

Desi Rodriguez scored a team-high in the Pirates' big win over the Shockers. (Saed Hindash/NJ Advance Media)

Desi Rodriguez scored a team-high in the Pirates’ big win over the Shockers. (Saed Hindash/NJ Advance Media)

Physical defense has been a trademark of Willard’s last two squads, especially with the additions of center Angel Delgado and forward Desi Rodriguez in the 2014 recruiting class. But this season is different given the progress of fellow sophomore Ismeal Sanogo and redshirt freshman Michael Nzei Willard providing options at the two forward spots. Willard’s move of Rodriguez to the small forward spot, where he used his size and athleticism to limit Wichita State senior Zach Brown (who fouled out the first time this season) to three points on 1-of-3 shooting, was a very good strategy. Having Nzei and Sanogo inside adds a physical dimension to the Pirates’ defense. “Since I’ve been here we have had very skilled four men — Patrik (Auda), Brandon (Mobley) — Ismael and Mike are the complete opposite of Brandon and Patrik, much more junk yard dogs, athletic,” Willard explained after the win. “Ismael uses his athleticism really well. He can get above the rim and rebound. They have been — I keep saying this — the two of them have been the best surprise, and they worked hard, they are the best surprise by far this season.”

When Sterling Gibbs transferred to Connecticut, Willard handed the ball to the centerpiece of his outstanding 2014 recruiting class, sophomore Isaiah Whitehead. Willard credited the burgeoning star for keeping up with the senior Baker (who scored 16 points in 40 minutes of play), but gave a big nod to fifth-year transfer Derrick Gordon‘s defense down the stretch: “Derrick Gordon was the key to it — he took the first step defensively. His defense was phenomenal on [Wichita State point guard Fred] VanVleet. When he picked up his defense we picked up our defense.” Gordon logged 34 minutes of action, staying in for much of the second half and overtime period as Willard alternated Whitehead and junior shooting guard Khadeen Carrington at the other guard spot. This backcourt rotation crowded the Shockers’ perimeter shooters as they found a tall double team with active hands waiting when they penetrated. The Pirates forced 15 turnovers after halftime, with Sanogo, Rodriguez and Nzei credited for a combined six steals.

Seton Hall and coach Kevin Willard, like the rest of college hoops, have had to adjust to the new rules. (Getty)

Kevin Willard made adjustments at halftime and rode those strategies to victory. (Getty)

Seton Hall’s resume now includes a neutral court win over Ole Miss to go with two home wins over Georgia and Wichita State. Its head coach noted a change in attitude that could spell trouble for opponents come Big East play. “In the past we’ve been knocked down and we run to the hills,” he said. “[Wichita State] came out and they knocked us down and knocked us down. What I saw is guys taking a step towards the fight. We didn’t run to the hills. And to me that’s as important as anything else. Even if we had lost this game that would have been a big step forward for us.” If that sort of teamwide attitude carries into conference play — the Pirates open at Marquette on December 30 — the Big East may be close to finding its fifth or sixth bid come March.

Share this story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *