It’s that time of year again, college basketball has taken the court for their pregame layup drill in the form of conference media days.
For the Big East conference, the 2016-17 season unofficially tipped off it’s season with their Media Day Tuesday morning at Madison Square Garden.
Coaches and players from all ten Big East teams made their way to New York City prepared to talk about goals for the upcoming season, what it will take to accomplish them, and enjoy a little of the annual pomp and circumstance which comes along with the agenda.
For the two local Big East teams, Seton Hall and St. John’s, the objective of progression is very similar, although from different sides of the track.
Seton Hall returns four of their five starters from last season’s team which won the Big East Tournament and went on to make its first NCAA appearance since 2006.
The Pirates have been through the growing pains of having a talented, yet young, crop of freshmen to now an experienced and battle-tested core of upperclassmen. All four returning starters for Seton Hall are juniors.
If Seton Hall is to build off last season’s success, they’ll have to do it without point guard Isaiah Whitehead. The former core member of the Pirates moved on after last season and declared for the NBA Draft, he’s now preparing for his rookie season with the Brooklyn Nets.
Whitehead led last season’s team with an average of 18.2 points per game, he was their go-to guy when it mattered most in crunch time. His departure is a large hole to fill but Seton Hall has the depth and experience to compensate.
“The mindset this year is to take it one game at a time,” Junior guard and Brooklyn native Khadeen Carrington told NY Sports Day at Media Day. “We can’t rush to March, we can’t rush to the Big East Tournament. We just got to try to win every game, one game at a time. That’s what we did last year and I think that’s why we did so well.”
The Pirates finished last season winning nine of their last 11 regular-season games which propelled them into postseason play. This year’s team is tied, with Georgetown, for fourth place in the Preseason Coaches’ Poll.
“We’re a way better team than last year,” said junior forward Angel Delgado. “We’re going to do what we gotta do, prove people wrong.”
Carrington, along with Delgado, will be counted on to bring increased leadership and production to head coach Kevin Willard’s squad this season.
While Seton Hall looks to build on their success from a year ago, St. John’s looks to take the next step in their rebuilding phase.
Last season was a rough start to the Chris Mullin era for the Red Storm. In his first season as head coach, Mullin’s freshman-loaded roster stood no match on most nights for their opponents. St. John’s finished 8-24 on the season, with a 1-17 Big East record.
This year the Johnnies were voted to finish eighth in the Preseason Coach’s poll.
Mullin is royalty when it comes to St. John’s, he starred there in the mid-80’s for legendary coach Lou Carnesecca and he’s a native of Brooklyn. His resume and credibility brought him some time to absorb the bumps and bruises his team had to take last year. Now it becomes a matter of applying the lessons learned from last season’s failures.
“Your patience is tested,” said Mullin. “The day-to-day philosophies are tested because you want to speed up the process, but you can’t.”
The process last season, for St. John’s, included nine new players. The good news this year is that those nine are back along with some new faces ready to contribute right away.
Among the new faces will be Shamorie Ponds, selected Big East Preseason Freshman of the Year. Expectations for Ponds are high, he’s a scoring point guard out of Brooklyn’s Jefferson High School. Joining Ponds in the backcourt will be Marcus LoVett Jr., he’s a redshirt freshman cut more from the pure point guard fabric with a pass-first mentality.
Ponds and LoVett, along with returning sophomores Kassoume Yawke and Federico Mussini, give Mullin the added depth he’ll need for his team to take the next step back towards respectability.
Keep an out as well for forward Bashir Ahmed, a 6’7 forward who impressed in Junior College.
For a team, which at one point last season went on a 16-game losing streak, the optimism is up more than some might expect. That can be attributed to Mullin being able to recruit more talent.
“Our returning players know what they went through,” said Mullin. “They don’t need motivation or goals. The guys coming in watched a lot of our games and the reason they came was to make a difference.”
How quick Mullin can get his new players to fit into his system will help determine how far both the team and second-year coach have come.
Big East Extras
Seton Hall and St. John’s will be looking to progress while battling for position in a tough conference field.
For the third straight year, Villanova was unanimously selected to win the Big East regular-season title. The Wildcats finished as the runner-up to Seton Hall in the Big East tournament before going on to win the NCAA Tournament.
Villanova junior guard Josh Hart was picked as Big East Preseason Player of the Year. Seton Hall’s Khadeen Carrington and Angel Delgado were named to the Big East Preseason All-Big East second team.