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By Raphielle Johnson

ralphieralph@netscape.net

March 29th, 2006

 

Seton Hall Basketball: State of the Program

Things wont be easy for new head coach

   

On Friday, new Seton Hall athletic director Joe Quinlan pulled the trigger on a move that many have been expecting for months now: he fired head coach Louis Orr. The fact that Orr was let go is not a surprise at all; many considered his job to be in jeopardy before the season even began. But true to his character, Orr ignored the speculation and led the Pirates to a record of 18-12, and 9-7 in the Big East. Quinlan said many times that he would wait until the end of the year to fully evaluate the program, but was Coach Orr really given a fair chance?

 

Trouble began back on July 2, 2005, when a story appeared in the New York Post entitled “Pirates Looking to Buy out Orr”. This followed a 12-16 year in 2004-05, a disappointing season for all parties, and the resignation of then AD Jeff Fogleson. What ensued in the aftermath of the NY Post article was a level of uncertainty that Orr’s program could not combat in the end. Recruits backed away, leaving next season’s cupboard bare. But what direction is the Seton Hall basketball program headed in? This question must be answered before a new coach is hired. And to be frank, maybe the prospective candidates should demand an answer before signing on the dotted line. Here’s a breakdown of the Pirate program, and some possible candidates for the position.

 

The Positives

 

-  Location.

 

Being located a short drive from New York City certainly has its advantages. You have access to the nation’s largest media market, which is also a breeding ground for some of America’s top basketball talent. You also have some of the more successful high school and AAU programs within your reach, both in New York as well as the home state of New Jersey. It was the inability to tap these areas that ultimately led to the end of the Louis Orr era. Having access to this area is essential to the long-term success of the Seton Hall program.

 

- The Big East Conference.

 

When the Seton Hall program was down on its luck back in the early 80s, they were able to sell playing against the best talent in America to the core of recruits who would lead the Pirates to the 1989 NCAA championship game. With the expansion and subsequent resurgence of the Big East, they can once again do so. With no recruits slated to come into the program next season (you have to imagine that the new coach will be able to get a couple of late signings), this is an advantage that the program will have to sell to recruits. With the loss of seniors Donald Copeland and Kelly Whitney, the next year or so will be tough for the Hall, which is the downside of playing in the Big East. Rebuilding projects don’t run smoothly, so patience will be required of the fan base.

 

The Big East is also a selling point when looking to find a new head coach, especially if they come from a non-BCS league. In the MAAC, for example, Seton Hall’s 9-7 league record would have put them in the position of having to win four games in four days to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. In the Big East, the seventh place finish was one of the major factors in the Pirates receiving an at-large bid. The schedule is tougher, but if you can get to .500 in league play while navigating a good non-conference schedule, the ultimate reward is usually a trip to the NCAAs.

 

The Negatives

 

- Playing in an off-campus arena.

 

The Pirates currently play their home games in the Continental Airlines Arena. While the arena is a short drive from campus, it’s not a drive that fans look forward to making. It’s not exactly in the most appealing area from an aesthetic standpoint either, which is part of the reason why for most home games the arena is only about half full. Yes, more seats sell for the likes of Rutgers, Connecticut and Syracuse, but the majority of those seats are purchased by fans of those teams, canceling out the small home court advantage that the Pirates usually enjoy. There has been talk for a few years now of an arena in Newark. While this would certainly help matter with the games being even closer to campus, that’s pretty much been talk for now. Recruits want concrete proof of the improvements being made, and empty promises will do nothing but see you to the door that much quicker.

 

- The compromising of last off-season’s recruiting efforts has left the cupboard empty.

 

The leading returning scorer for the Pirates next season will be guard Jamar Nutter, who scored 12.1 points per contest in 2005-06. Role players such as Paul Gause, Brian Laing, and Stan Gaines will be counted on for more scoring. And a post presence will be required from the likes of rising senior Grant Billmeier, David Palmer, and Marcus Cousin. The Pirates leaned heavily on Whitney and Copeland this past season, so recruits were needed in order to pick up some of that slack. But the story in the New York Post effectively ended their hopes of landing a solid recruiting class.

 

Three players of note visited the school between September 20th and October 24th, according to scout.com. Guards Brian McKenzie (Xaverian HS, Brooklyn), Ruben Guillandeaux (St. Patrick’s, Elizabeth, NJ), and Lazar Hayward (Notre Dame Prep, Fitchburg, MA) all made visits, and none will become Pirates. You have to think that the coaching situation played a role in this. It may seem drastic to say that Seton Hall could replace South Florida at the bottom of the league standings, but the Pirate program will have a tough time capitalizing on their recent NCAA Tournament appearance due to the coaching situation.

 

- Expectations may be unrealistic.

 

“Keeping up with the Joneses” is the way of the college basketball world, and that of sports in general. Seton Hall is a private Catholic institution. And while it would be tough to compete year in and year out with a public institution like Connecticut, Villanova finished tied for the regular season title in the Big East. This brings the inevitable comparison…if they can do it, why can’t we? There’s nothing wrong with this type of thinking, so long as people are realistic about the resources at their disposal. To use Villanova as an example, they have an on-campus facility where they play the majority of their home games, with the big games from a competition and monetary standpoint being played at the Wachovia Center. Seton Hall doesn’t have this luxury. Marquette plays in the Bradley Center, but the campus is only blocks away from the arena, making it easier for the students to get to home games.

 

Seton Hall has had great players throughout the history of the program, but the first NCAA Tournament appearance for the school was in 1988, when the Hall was led by Mark Bryant. 1989 was a magical year, and the Pirates won Big East tournaments in 1991 and 1993, but this has been a middle of the pack program in the league for the most part. It will take a lot of hard work and handshaking to get Seton Hall consistently into the upper echelon of the Big East; this is by no means a quick fix.

 

 

Well, who could end up with this job?

 

The leading candidate for the job, Hofstra’s Tom Pecora, just signed a five-year contract extension to remain in Hempstead, which takes him out of the running. Coaches who will get a look include Iona’s Jeff Ruland, Manhattan’s Bobby Gonzalez, Davidson’s Bob McKillop, Florida Atlantic’s Matt Doherty, and Pittsburgh assistant Marry Rohrssen. These five have New York area connections, and can also work the room when it comes to appeasing the area high school and AAU coaches, not to mention the boosters. This was an area in which Orr was criticized. This shouldn’t have an impact on whether or not a coach gets to keep his job, but this day in age money is nearly as important as the wins and losses.

 

 

 

 

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