"We're Dogs and We're Ready to Play": Is Seton Hall Better Than We Thought?
Jared Rhoden/Josh Adams, collegehoopsdigest
Let's get this out of the way quickly. I realize it's a two-game sample size.
But, I have covered Seton Hall for close to ten years and I cannot remember a Pirates team that has this much variety in their rotations. There's so much talent for Kevin Willard to mine on his roster this season and you have the feeling that he is playing coy on how good he thinks his team is.
The 2021-22 Pirates have size, shooting, veteran leadership, and play with a chip on their shoulder. The way they shoved around a really not bad Yale team today should serve notice to the rest of the Big East and upcoming top-flight opponents Michigan and Ohio State. The Pirates may have lost some NBA-level talent in the past year in Mamukelashvili getting drafted by the Bucks but they have reloaded not rebuilt this season. With the additions of Alex Yetna, Jamir Harris, Tray Jackson, and Kadary Richardson from the transfer market making significant contributions in the first two games, there's reason to believe that this team has been underrated by both the prognosticators at the beginning of the season and maybe have a chance at a Big East title. Its depth and defense as the theme of this season and so far, the Pirates are exceeding the expectations of their fans
"We're trying to make a statement to everybody. We're dogs and we're ready to play", senior captain Jared Rhoden told me after I asked him if these past two games and the upcoming games against Michigan are a chance to make a statement to the rest of the country. With nine players getting 18 minutes or more against Yale, this team has the depth to compete against the top teams in their non-conference schedule. With both newcomers Yetna and Richmond leading the Pirates respectively with 15 and 13 points today in the blowout against Yale it's a good omen moving forward that everyone is quite comfortable wearing a Pirates uniform in this young season.
"Kadary has been phenomenal, his attitude has been off the charts and as he gets more comfortable I can envision more nights where he has nine assists and two turnovers," Willard said about Richmond's performance today.
As this Pirates team looks towards a date with #6 Michigan before a sold-out crowd in Ann Arbor on Tuesday, there was quiet confidence about how good the Pirates could be from both the players and their head coach. Win or loss, it will be a learning experience for the Pirates going into a hostile environment early in the season. "It will provide a blueprint for December," said Willard about Tuesday's game against the Wolverines.
What today showed against Yale is that the transfers have bought into the program lock, stock, and barrel. Rhoden is the closest player they have to be an All-Big East player and he's happy enough to take a backseat as long as the team succeeds. There's a dog mentality that's prevalent in the locker room. It's guys like Cale and Rhoden who know success, want to carry that forward, and transfers that have the attitudes of players who have something to prove. Maybe Richmond wants to prove to Syracuse that they should have played him more? Maybe Harris wants to prove he can play at a high major program and put up similar numbers that he had at a mid-major school?
There's a big IF here and that's IF Willard can hold this team and this team-first mentality together through the dog days of January and February. All it takes is one player to complain that they're not getting enough minutes to poison the well. I've seen it happen before.
However, these past two games against FDU and Yale are better results than any one of us could have foreseen. This team could be really, really good. Tuesday against Michigan and the following game against Ohio State will be true tests moving forward. If the Pirates win one of those two there's going to be a whole lot of people who will start seeing what I'm seeing. These "dogs" are hungry and they have a pack mentality. Underestimate them at your own peril.