Seton Hall Surging Despite Offensive LimitationsPosted by Mike Knapp on December 13th, 2016
Seton Hall may have put together a dream season in winning the Big East Tournament last season but the Pirates relied upon the playmaking prowess of super sophomore Isaiah Whitehead and a top-10 defense to get there. That team’s Achilles Heel often came on the offensive end of the court, as ball movement sometimes had a tendency to stagnate. The Pirates assisted on just 51 percent of their makes — 203rd in the nation, per KenPom — while relying heavily on the all-Big East guard for the majority of their playmaking. As a result, there were two competing schools of thought about Kevin Willard‘s team coming into this season. One was that the Pirates’ offense would flow better without a ball-stopper — even a gifted one like Whitehead — in the lineup; the other was that they would stagnate even more offensively with their only true playmaker now in the NBA.
Seton Hall may be 8-2 and in the midst of a four-game winning streak that includes close wins over California and previously-unbeaten South Carolina, but the Pirates have been an even more imbalanced offensive unit through the first month of the season. That troubling assist rate has dropped even further to an incredibly low 39.8 percent (345th nationally) and the Pirates do not boast a single player with an individual assist rate over 20 percent (the only Big East team that can claim that distinction). Still, given the makeup of his current roster, Willard’s focus on isolation leading to one-on-one attacks on the basket may not necessarily be a bad thing. Junior wing Desi Rodriguez and junior guard Khadeen Carrington are particularly adept at getting into the paint and drawing fouls, and Angel Delgado, who currently ranks 21st in the country in offensive rebounding percentage at 15.7 percent, is one of the top glass-eaters in college basketball. The downside of a team that ranks 25th nationally in earning its share of points from driving the ball is that Seton Hall leaves much of its efficiency on the table as one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country. The Pirates convert just 62.5 percent (311th) of their tries from the charity stripe, with only one regular hitting at 80.0 percent (Myles Powell).
Although Seton Hall’s defense has regressed this season, last night’s win over South Carolina shows that the Pirates still have a chance to become a very good team. Willard has one of the more experienced starting lineups in the Big East that knows how to play to its strengths. The Gamecocks, for example, pride themselves on finding offensive rebounding opportunities, but Seton Hall held its defensive backboard in check last night by limiting South Carolina to only 27.9 percent of its opportunities — well below its season average of 36.4 percent. And while freshman marksman Powell has proven to be a revelation off the bench, the offensive core of Rodriguez, Carrington and Delgado know that they are most effective taking the ball to the hole — the trio takes nearly five times as many twos than threes as part of the offense. The meat of its non-conference schedule now complete, Seton Hall will look ahead at a Big East slate that looks very strong at the top and is filled with teams that already know the Pirates’ tendencies. It will be interesting to see how the new year goes for this surging team.