After making their first NCAA Tournament since 2006, the Pirates are searching for their first back-to-back appearances in the Big Dance since the mid-90’s.
The first step to reaching college basketball’s grand stage in 2017 is acing their tests during the non-conference portion of the schedule. And this year’s slate of games won’t be easy to say the least.
Without Isaiah Whitehead (who is now a member of the Brooklyn Nets), four returning starters, Angel Delgado, Ismael Sanogo, Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez, will have to get off to a hot start.
The Pirates play two “buy-games” against Fairleigh Dickinson (Walsh Gym) and Central Connecticut (Prudential Center) to open the season, however, FDU made the NCAA Tournament last year and is a rising team in the Northeast Conference.
From there, the Pirates will be tested against some strong teams from Power Five conferences.
While Iowa lost senior Jarrod Uthoff and will likely take a step back in the Big Ten, it won’t be easy to travel across the country to Iowa City to face off against a team that has Peter Jok leading the way. This game will be a part of the Gavitt Games (Big Ten versus Big East).
The Pirates then travel to Orlando to play in the AdvoCare Invitational, where they will match-up against the Florida Gators in the opening round of the event. The Gators may not be in the class of Kentucky in the SEC, but they are an under the radar team that returns numerous contributors from a unit that struggled in 2015-16.
Following their showdown against Florida, Willard’s club will face either Gonzaga or Quinnipiac. Obviously, the Bulldogs would be the tougher match-up as they should be a top-10 team in the country despite the loses of Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis. The AdvoCare Invitational guarantees three games a team, so the Pirates will finish up with one more possible resume building game.
Seton Hall will also play California in Hawai’i, a showdown between Delgado and Ivan Rabb will be fun, as well as a match-up against South Carolina at Madison Square Garden.
They have three other home games against local teams Columbia, Rutgers and Delaware.
Overall, this is a pretty solid non-conference slate. Iowa is still a dangerous team as long as Jok is playing, Florida will be better in Michael White’s second year, a Gonzaga game could be a treat given they played in the NCAA Tournament last year, California is still solid after losing Jaylen Brown and Tyrone Wallace, and South Carolina was robbed of an NCAA Tournament bid last year.
This will not only help the Pirates tune up for Big East play, but it will be a massive boost to their overall resume if they can steal some victories.
And most importantly, this could be a major lift to keep the Big East in the national picture. If Seton Hall can defeat Iowa, Florida, Gonzaga, California and/or South Carolina, that would be a massive plus to a league that has greatly improved over the last year or so.