Kevin Willard

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Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard suspended

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Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard has been suspended two games by the school as the NCAA investigates charges of transfer tampering, the school announced on Tuesday.

Willard will sit out the Pirates’ exhibition game on Tuesday night against Misericordia and will also be out for the Seton Hall regular-season opener on Nov. 5 against Wagner.

Seton Hall’s athletics department released an official statement on Willard’s suspension and the NCAA’s involvement in the investigation on Tuesday.

“Seton Hall University has been working collaboratively with the NCAA enforcement staff to address an infraction within our men’s basketball program,” the statement said. “Our department has been proactive in our review and has been fully cooperating with the NCAA enforcement staff. As head coach, Coach Willard assumes responsibility for the program, including this underlying violation, and has agreed to sit out the October 29 exhibition contest and the November 5 game.  This matter is still in review, and as a result, we will refrain from commenting any further until it is resolved. Seton Hall is and always will be committed to a culture of compliance, and we will continue to work diligently to ensure it.”

According to Jerry Carino of the Asbury Park Press, the NCAA will give a ruling on whether the two-game suspension for Willard is a stiff enough penalty in the near future.

Although Seton Hall should be concerned with the uncertain status of its head coach, the Pirates should have no problems in Willard’s two-game absence. Expectations are high for Seton Hall this season as they return most of last season’s NCAA tournament team — led by senior Myles Powell. The Pirates check in at No. 13 in CBT’s Preseason Top 25 as they’ll be a major competitor in the Big East this season.

Seton Hall receives commitment from 2016 guard Gordon

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With point guard and Big East tournament Most Outstanding Player Isaiah Whitehead due to announce his decision regarding the NBA Draft on Thursday, Seton Hall is still awaiting news that will have a significant impact on their 2016-17 season. But the wait for Whitehead’s decision doesn’t mean that the Pirates aren’t looking to bolster other areas of their roster either.

Monday night Kevin Willard and his staff received a commitment from one of the better available guards, as 6-foot-2 guard Eron Gordon has committed to the program. Gordon, the younger brother of Eric (Indiana) and Evan (Liberty, Arizona State and Indiana), is a Rivals Top 150 prospect who joins Myles Powell in Seton Hall’s 2016 class to date. Considered by many as a scoring guard, Gordon gives Seton Hall another player to throw into the competition for minutes along with Powell and junior Khadeen Carrington (they also have Desi Rodriguez on the wing).

But just how good the perimeter rotation will be next season hinges on the decision of Whitehead. Should Isaiah return for his junior year, Seton Hall will have one of the nation’s best point guards running the show. But if he decides that it’s time to move on to the professional ranks, Seton Hall will have a major question to answer at the point.

Gordon may not be the last pickup on the recruiting trail this spring for the Pirates, as they’re also still in the running for 2016 forward Taurean Thompson, who earlier this month was reportedly down to Seton Hall, Syracuse and Michigan State.

Seton Hall beats No. 5 Xavier 87-83 in Big East semifinal

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NEW YORK (AP) Khadeen Carrington had 23 points and seven rebounds to lead Seton Hall to an 87-83 win over fifth-ranked Xavier for the Pirates’ first Big East Tournament title game appearance since 1993, 2 1/2 years before he was born.

Fellow sophomore Isaiah Whitehead added 20 points and eight assists in Friday’s semifinal as third-seeded Seton Hall beat the Musketeers for the second time in less than two weeks.

The Pirates face third-ranked Villanova in Saturday’s championship game.

Seton Hall led by as many as 17 points in the first half, beating the Musketeers to loose balls and converting steals into easy baskets. And when Xavier made a second-half run, Whitehead kept answering with big plays.

Angel Delgado scored 15 points for Seton Hall (24-8). Edmond Sumner led the second-seeded Musketeers (27-5) with 21 points.

With the score tied 13-13 just over seven minutes in, Derrick Gordon scored on two straight fast-break layups to spark a 21-4 Seton Hall run. After Carrington hit a jumper, the Pirates got two offensive rebounds on their next possession, with Michael Nzei slamming home the second. Moments later, Gordon’s steal led to a fast-break layup by Carrington, who then hit two consecutive 3-pointers.

Xavier went scoreless for three minutes during the spurt as Seton Hall, which is headed to its first NCAA Tournament in a decade, built a 34-17 lead.

Seton Hall scored 15 points off takeaways in the first half. The Musketeers had more turnovers (12) than field goals (nine) at the break.

Xavier had nine field goals in the first eight minutes of the second half and started to fluster the Pirates with its 1-3-1 zone. But the Musketeers never got within one possession thanks to Whitehead. He hit a 3-pointer after they pulled within five with more than 12 minutes left, and two possessions later, after Xavier had climbed within four, he spun through the lane for another clutch basket.

He then blocked the shot of Sean O’Mara, who is 6 inches taller, as Seton Hall started to pull back away, aided by missed four missed free throws by the Musketeers.

Xavier shot 8 of 30 on 3-pointers.

The Musketeers made a late run and had a chance to pull within four with 21 seconds left, but Kaiser Gates hit 1 of 2 free throws. They then nearly got a steal, but Gordon was able to corral the ball and was fouled.

Double technical fouls were twice called in the second half.

TIP-INS

Seton Hall: Gordon, the Pirates’ lone senior, is their only player who was born before their last Big East final appearance. He had 10 points and three steals Friday. … Seton Hall had a whopping 25 turnovers but shot 51.8 percent from the field and held Xavier to 34.9 percent.

Xavier: Myles Davis went down hard when he got his layup blocked early in the second half, but he came back in after a brief rest. … Actor Bill Murray, whose son Luke is an assistant coach for the Musketeers, again sat behind the bench in an “X” cap. … Xavier was seeking to reach the final for the second straight season.

UP NEXT

Seton Hall faces third-ranked Villanova in Saturday’s championship game.

Xavier appears headed to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Seton Hall guard being investigated for role in on-campus altercation

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After transferring to Seton Hall from Kansas State, guard Jevon Thomas is sitting out this season per NCAA transfer rules. Early Friday morning it was reported by The Setonian, Seton Hall’s campus newspaper, that Thomas was being investigated by the school for his role in an altercation at an intramural basketball game.

Per the report Thomas got involved in a physical altercation with a graduate student who was officiating the game in which the guard was playing over a call that was made. A student playing in the game gave his account of what occurred between Thomas and the other student.

Alex Washington, a student playing in the intramural game, saw the incident unfold.

“All I saw was the two of them arguing when our opponents were supposed to be taking a free throw,” Washington said. “They continued to argue and then Kevin kind of told him (Thomas) to leave but he wouldn’t. And Kevin didn’t push him but like put his hands on (Thomas’) chest to move him back. And J.T. (Thomas) shoved him (Matthews). That’s when everyone came and separated them. I thought everything was going to be fine then. But a few moments later the dude J.T. was choking him with two hands from behind the backboard too close to the glass by the weight room.”

According to the report the incident is being investigated by the Dean of Students. Thomas has two season of eligibility remaining, beginning with the 2016-17 season.

Assistant coach Dwayne ‘Tiny’ Morton leaves Seton Hall staff

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During the recruitment of guard Isaiah Whitehead much was made about the impact that his coach at Lincoln HS, Dwayne “Tiny” Morton, would have on the process. With Morton, who led Lincoln to eight PSAL titles and three New York state titles during his time at the Coney Island school, looking to make the move to the Division I level himself the general feeling was that the two would come as a tandem.

And once Whitehead committed to Seton Hall, it came as no surprise that Morton eventually wound up on Kevin Willard’s coaching staff. What does come as a surprise in all of this is that Morton has stepped down from his assistant coaching position after just one season, with Zach Braziller of the New York Post reporting the news Saturday night.

Sources said Morton expressed the desire to return to his old life a month ago in discussions with Willard, and the two spoke about it several times since. Morton worked well under Willard, sources said, but the grind of travel and constant drain of recruiting wore on him.

“It was definitely his choice,” a source said, referring to Morton.

Morton’s decision was one he made on his own according to the report, and it isn’t expected to have an impact on Whitehead’s status as he prepares for his sophomore campaign.

The 2014-15 season, which got off to a great start, turned out to be a tumultuous one for Seton Hall. Internal strife played a major role in the Pirates going from a team that was ranked in the Top 25 to not even playing in a postseason tournament. Willard also lost guard Jaren Sina midyear, as Sina decided to leave the program and ultimately transfer to George Washington, and fellow guard Sterling Gibbs joined the UConn program this summer as a grad student for his final season of eligibility.

With those struggles, and the fact that Willard has yet to lead the Pirates to the NCAA tournament since taking over in 2010, the 2015-16 season is a big one for Seton Hall. The next question is who fills Morton’s spot on the staff, with multiple outlets reporting that former Seton Hall center (and current Fairleigh Dickinson assistant) Grant Billmeier is the favorite to do so.

Looking Forward: Seven coaches who’ll enter 2015-16 on the ‘hot seat’

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Buyout aside, 2015-16 will be big for Tom Crean (AP Photo)

With the early entry process over and with just about every elite recruit having picked a school, we now have a pretty good idea of what college basketball will look like in 2015-16. Over the next three weeks, we’ll be taking an early look at next season.

Today, we’re Looking Forward at some coaches who are on the proverbial hot seat:

READ MORE: The NBCSports.com preseason top 25

Tom Crean, Indiana: Without much in the way of front court depth the Hoosiers won 20 games and reached the NCAA tournament in 2014-15, but even that isn’t enough for a fan base accustomed to seeing high-level basketball. That’s what makes the 2015-16 season such an important one for Crean, $7.5 million buyout (come July 1) or not. Guards Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. both decided to return to school, and five-star big man Thomas Bryant will be joining the program as well. The pieces are there for Indiana to make some noise nationally, and Crean needs to take advantage.

Brian Gregory, Georgia Tech: With one above-.500 season in four years in Atlanta (16-15 in 2012-13), the 2015-16 season is an important one for Gregory. The Yellow Jackets went 12-19 last season, and their interior depth took a hit with Demarco Cox and Robert Sampson running out of eligibility. But Charles Mitchell returns and Alabama transfer Nick Jacobs will be eligible, and on the perimeter players such as Marcus Georges-Hunt and Tadric Jackson are back as well. In short, Georgia Tech needs to make some serious progress in the win column and that won’t be easy to do in the ACC.

John Groce, Illinois: The Fighting Illini have missed the NCAA tournament in each of the last two seasons, the first time that’s happened since 1991 and 1992. Rayvonte Rice and Nnanna Egwu may be gone, but junior guards Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate all return to Champaign as will Tracy Abrams (torn ACL in 2014-15). Illinois also adds four freshmen, led by guard Jalen Coleman-Lands, and even with questions to be answered in the front court getting back to the tournament is something that needs to happen.

READ MORE: Eleven potential Breakout Stars in 2015-16 | Eight intriguing coaching hires

Barry Hinson, Southern Illinois: At the end of last season SIU lost five players to transfer, with three of those players deciding to leave after their freshman year. Add in two 14-win seasons followed by a 9-22 campaign in 2014-15, and the 2015-16 season becomes a very important one for Hinson. Leading scorer Anthony Beane returns for his senior season, but outside of him there are a lot of personnel questions to be answered in Carbondale. That could make it tough for the Salukis to take a step forward in the Missouri Valley.

Dave Rice, UNLV: Rice and his staff have made significant strides on the recruiting trail during his tenure, but that hasn’t led to great results both within the Mountain West and nationally. Since Rice took over his alma mater UNLV’s finished no higher than third in the Mountain West, and after reaching the NCAA tournament in each of his first two seasons (losing their opener in both) the Runnin’ Rebels missed out on the Big Dance in 2014 and 2015. With one of the nation’s top recruiting classes led by Stephen Zimmerman arriving on campus, UNLV will once again be expected to be a player within the conference and nationally.

Lorenzo Romar, Washington: Romar and his staff have managed to put together a seven-member recruiting class ranked tenth nationally by Rivals.com. And it’s a good thing they did, as the Huskies lost a number of players either to graduation or transfer, with point guard Nigel Williams-Goss ultimately landing at Gonzaga. That leaves rising senior guard Andrew Andrews as the most experienced player for a program that hasn’t reached the NCAA tournament since 2011. Young roster or not, especially in a Pac-12 that will be improved, that drought can’t get to the fifth straight season.

Kevin Willard, Seton Hall: Last season got off to such a positive start for the Pirates, spending three straight weeks in the national polls in the middle of the season. Then, the roof caved in. Injuries and chemistry issues led to the Pirates losing nine of eleven games, going from a team that appeared to be headed to the NCAA tournament to one that didn’t play in any postseason tournament. Add in the midseason departure of Jaren Sina and Sterling Gibbs’ decision to transfer, and Willard’s Pirates have some holes to fill on the perimeter. Willard will need his sophomore class led by Isaiah Whitehead and Angel Delgado to produce in a big way in 2015-16.