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BIG EAST: 2006-07

College Preview Big East Message Board

By Eric Silver

August 30th, 2006


Big East Basketball Preview: Seton Hall

Former Seton Hall coach Louis Orr got as much as he could have last year out of a team with limited talent and very little depth.  Yet I don't disagree with the decision to dismiss him and hire Bobby Gonzalez. The latter will breathe life - and breed renewed optimism - into the program. The most important addition to the Pirates’ program is Gonzalez, but it's going to take awhile to pump sufficient BE-level recruits into the program to make it truly competitive again.

The Pirates lost their two best players from last season in Kelly Whitney (15.2 ppg and 7.9 rpg) and Donald Copeland (16.1 ppg, 4.5 apg, and an assist to turnover ratio of 1.9/1.0). Copeland's improvement over his junior year was one of the major surprises in the conference.

Two other contributing players transferred following Orr's dismissal - power forward David Palmer, who averaged 3.0 ppg in 9.7 mpg, and center Marcus Cousin, who averaged 2.1 ppg and 3.5 rpg in 13.1 mpg. Though their stats don’t show it, both losses are important.  Palmer showed flashes of his potential late in the year, and he added some needed athleticism and height (6'9") to the front line.  He would have been in the hunt to take over the starting 4 spot from Whitney. Cousin's departure also hurts as he, too, would have been a big body (6'10"). The Pirates are now dangerously thin on the interior.

One other player - 6'8" Mike Pilgrim, who is related to Orr, - also transferred.  He appeared in only one game last year after becoming eligible second semester following his transfer from Cincinnati, but that's another frontcourt player who said au revoir.

So who's left up front?  Grant Billmeier (6'10") will start at center.  He averaged a meager 3.8 ppg and 3.5 rpg in 17.6 mpg last season. He kind of redefines "slow," and he's not very athletic. There are questions about his effectiveness on both ends of the court, but he’s the primary option - actually the only real option - at the 5.  If Billmeier gets into foul trouble, not an unlikely possibility, power forward Stanley Gaines will probably have to fill the bill in the middle despite being only 6'7".

Gaines will start at the 4. He missed seven games last season due to injury but averaged 23.1 mpg in those he did play. He's not much of a scorer (4.8 ppg), or shooter (40.5% from the field). However, he is a quality defender, and he will battle on the boards (3.9 rpg). Gaines would be a solid back-up on a team with decent talent, but next year he'll be counted on to play at least 30 mpg since the only other option up front is 6'7" Mani Messy who played a total of 5 minutes last season as a junior. Enough said.

On the wing Brian Laing returns.  He was a Top 100 RSCI recruit (#95) in the class of 2004. He averaged 5.8 ppg in 23.1 mpg last season. He shot 39% from the field and only 31% on treys.  More of a slasher than a shooter, he will have to score  in double figures this year, especially since neither Billmeier nor Gaines has much of an offensive game.

The most productive returning player is Jamar Nutter, who came on strong last season, averaging 12.1 ppg and shooting 38% from behind the arc.  He is the Pirates' only legitimate perimeter threat.  Nutter is not a great athlete, and he sometimes struggles on the defensive end against quick, athletic guards, but he'll be the Pirates’ main man on offense this season.  He could easily end up being among the conference’s leading scorers.  How well he responds to being the primary focus of opposing defenses rather than being the third option (after Whitney and Copeland) is a major question mark.

The final returning player is 5'10" point guard Paul Gause.  He's a bundle of energy, and he can score, especially in transition, but he's more of a back-up caliber point guard than a starter.  He's not a very good shooter - 37% overall from the field and 24% from behind the arc. His average of 1.0 apg illustrates that he’s really more of a 2 guard stuck in a 5'10" body.

Fortunately for Pirate fans, Gonzalez brought in three guards in the Class of '06.  Eugene Harvey, will start at point.  He was ranked #73 on RSCI.  At St. Benedict (NJ) he earned a reputation as a solid ball-handler and playmaker, but he's not much of a threat from the perimeter.  He'll have to grow up quickly and do more than bring the ball up the court for SH this season.  He’s going to have to show he can score.  If he can, that will take some of the pressure off Nutter.

Another freshman, Larry Davis, can play all three perimeter positions. After initially committing to North Carolina State, he was released from his LOI after Herb Sendik left to coach at Arizona State.  He’s a nice athlete with decent skills, but perimeter shooting isn't at or near the top of his list of attributes. He's not a consensus Top 100 recruit, but he'll get quite a few minutes next year backing up Nutter and Laing.

The third recruit is Kashif Pratt from Rice High School in NYC. He's a 6'3" wing who brings a solid defensive mindset to the court. 

One player who could have an extremely positive impact is 6'9" John Garcia, the top recruit in Orr’s 2005 class.  However, recurring knee problems caused Garcia to miss part of his senior year in high school and to redshirt last season.  If fully recovered, he could start at the 5 and provide the low post scoring and the rebounding the Pirates desperately need.  However, at this point SH fans seem resigned to another season without him, and, even if he is relatively healthy, Garcia will have to shake off nearly two years’ worth of rust.

Overall, it's not a pretty picture. A starting lineup of Harvey, Nutter, Laing, Gaines, and Billmeier will not strike fear into too many teams. There is a lack of inside scoring as well as quickness and athleticism on the interior, and not much perimeter shooting, except for Nutter. There is virtually no depth at the 4 or the 5.

It will take a miracle for Seton Hall to make the Big East Tournament. The only reason I'm not picking them for 15th or 16th in the conference is that two teams actually return less talent than the Pirates. It'll be baptism by fire for Coach Gonzalez.

- Predicted Finish: 14 of 16

? Connecticut

? Georgetown

? Louisville

? Marquette ? Pittsburgh ? St John's ? Syracuse ? Villanova

#9 DePaul

#10 Providence #11 Rutgers #12 Notre Dame #13 Cincinnati #14 Seton Hall #15 WVU #16 S. Florida




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