Editor's Note: ESPN Insider has teamed with Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook to provide a comprehensive look at 335 Division I teams. To order the complete 2012-13 edition of Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, visit www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.
(Information in this team report is as of Oct. 1.)
COACH AND PROGRAM
Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard must have enjoyed that series of airline commercials that were so successful a few years ago. You know, the ones that always included the question, "Wanna get away?"
Willard took a look at his roster for the 2012-13 season and decided he did indeed want to get away. Not from his job. Not from his team. No, he just wanted a European basketball vacation with his new band of Pirates, a little extra practice time and four games in Spain to see how things might come together at Seton Hall this season.
"We did some sightseeing, some tourism, some boating and fishing," Willard said. "They're a great group of kids. And they got to see me in a more relaxed atmosphere, which I think is always good. We had a great time. It was a great trip. There wasn't one bad thing about it."
The bonding part was great. But the four games against Spanish pro teams were even more beneficial for Willard as he prepares for his third season at Seton Hall. It gave him a head start on planning for life after Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope, two seniors who were his top two scorers and leading rebounder from last season.
Willard isn't starting from scratch. A talented nucleus of Fuquan Edwin, Aaron Cosby and Patrik Auda -- all who started 26 games or more -- is reliable and familiar to Willard. And he has four newcomers demanding a place in the rotation and at least 10 players who, he says, will demand time. Going to Spain and winning four games provided a lot of answers -- plus a few more questions.
"You know what? I learned a lot," Willard said. "I kind of learned how we're going to be able to play. I also learned how we're not going to be able to play. I think that was the great thing about the trip. It gave me an early test and early answers about what we can work on, what we need to work on and what we just need to scrap all together."
Willard said this was the perfect time for an international summer trip.
"I did this at Iona, and I did it my third year, too," Willard said. "Your third year seems to be your transition year, most of the time. You usually have one or two guys who played, one or two who were sitting out, and a couple of guys who are new. It usually works out pretty well, and that's why we did it."
With that in mind, it seems only fair to warn the rest of the Big East what Willard did in his third year at Iona. The Gaels improved from 12-20 his first season and 12-19 in his second season to 21-10 in his third. After two straight losing seasons in the Metro Atlantic, Iona finished 12-6 in the conference.
And at the end of that season, Seton Hall hired him away.
The Pirates have already shown progress under Willard. They were 13-18 overall and 7-11 in the Big East his first season. Last year they were 21-13 with an 8-10 finish in the Big East. In early January, the Pirates seemed destined for even better things. After a home victory over DePaul on Jan. 10, the Pirates stood 15-2. One week earlier, a 75-63 victory over visiting Connecticut had legitimized the incredible start and put the Pirates back in the national headlines.
"Seton Hall was back on the map," Willard said.
But there were detours ahead in the Big East regular season. First came a six-game losing streak with defeats to USF, Villanova, Notre Dame, Louisville, Marquette and UConn. Then after three victories, the Pirates lost five of their final eight games, ending the season with a 77-67 loss to Massachusetts in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament.