|No. 20 Seton Hall braces for Rhode Island|
Seton Hall has been flying under the radar for a few seasons now. But with a veteran group and some talented underclassmen, the Pirates won't be sneaking up on anyone this season.
Led by guards Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez, and center Angel Delgado -- the only active trio of 1,000-point scorers in the country, Seton Hall was picked to finish second in the Big East behind Villanova.
And after four games, there's no reason to believe the No. 20 Pirates will underperform as they have in past seasons.
The real tests first comes Thursday at the NIT Tip-Off against Rhode Island (2-1) and then against Virginia or Vanderbilt in the second round.
"It's a huge step up in class, and when you do that early in the season, you have to make sure you step up," Pirates coach Kevin Willard told the New York Post.
Senior off-guard Rodriguez said the veterans as well as the underclassmen can't wait to prove to a national audience that they are for real. Playing the Rams should be a good test for freshmen Myles Cale and Sandro Mamukelashvili, and sophomore Eron Gordon.
"It will show how good of a team we are," Rodriguez told the Asbury Park Press after Seton Hall throttled NJIT on Saturday to stay perfect at 4-0. "Our freshmen get to step on a big floor. They'll get a taste of what it takes to get a quality win. We've got to show out, and we've got to make a statement, and that's what we're gonna do."
Rhode Island might have something to say about that, though. The Rams, coached by former Seton Hall guard Dan Hurley, won't be intimidated or pushed around.
"Two high-level games for us; we're excited," Hurley said. "Seton Hall is really, really good. A second weekend NCAA team and maybe even better.
"Playing on Thanksgiving. Everyone is going to be watching. We can't wait to get out there and play."
Rhode Island posted a 25-9 record last season and won the Atlantic 10 Tournament title en route to earning a No. 11 seed in the NCAA tourney.
The Rams defeated sixth-seeded Creighton 84-72 in the NCAA Tournament's opening round and came within one possession of making the Sweet 16 before losing to third-seeded Oregon 75-72 in the second round.
This year, they are favored to win the Atlantic 10.
And Hurley is excited that his players have a chance to start building a solid nonconference resume.
"These should be matchups that our guys should be super excited about," Hurley told the Providence Journal. "You want to make a big name for yourself in college basketball, go out and play at a high level against a top team with top-level college performers."
"A big test for us," echoed Rams guard Jeff Dowtin. "But my guys, we're battle tested and we're battle-ready. I think all of us have come together as one unit. We're ready to go."
One player who won't be ready to go is guard E.C. Mathews, who broke his wrist against Nevada. The Rams will miss his 14 points per game, but Hurley does have Jared Terrel, who is scoring at an 18.3 clip per game.
Big man Andre Berry is shooting 72 percent from the field and averaging 13.7 points per game. Stanford Robinson contributes 11 points and 4.3 steals per game.
Berry could do some serious damage against the Pirates with Seton Hall big man Delgado's status uncertain. The 6-10 Delgado (12.8 points, 8.5 rebounds per game) is questionable with a calf injury.
If the preseason All-America candidate can play, Delgado has the ability to control the game in the paint with a little help from point guard Carrington.
"He didn't really know how to pass the ball (in the past)," Delgado told the Asbury Park newspaper. "He learned so much this summer. I told him, 'You can average 17 and 10 -- that's how good he is."