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Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Seton Hall looks well-positioned

By Dick Vitale
ESPN.com

Down at Seton Hall, there is a lot of excitement as the team prepares for the 2009-10 season. The Pirates are coming off a winning season (17-15), and there is a belief that the program will show more improvement ahead.

Coach Bobby Gonzalez recently received a contract extension. In his first three years at The Hall, Gonzalez has posted a 47-46 record, which includes an 18-34 mark in Big East play. During his Seton Hall tenure, Gonzalez's teams have scored upset victories over Louisville, #23 Virginia, #19 USC and #12 Georgetown. The Pirates also placed third at the 2008 O'Reilly Auto Parts Puerto Rico Tip-Off, which included marquee competition against solid college basketball programs like Memphis, USC and Virginia Tech.

Why is there reason for optimism? There are several players who sat out last season, All-Marco Polo transfers, who will come in and make an impact. They will be vital right away. Guard Keon Lawrence transferred from Missouri after averaging over 11 ppg. as a sophomore with the Tigers. Six-foot-eight Herb Pope sat out last season after transferring from New Mexico State. Both should be factors from day one.

Gonzalez will have other newcomers at his disposal.The 6-foot-5 Jeff Robinson transferred from Memphis. Six-foot-eleven Mervyn Oliver sat out last season after issues with the NCAA clearinghouse kept him on the sidelines. Freshman Ferrakohn Hall was a standout in the prep ranks in Memphis and the 6-foot-8 diaper dandy has some potential.

Seton Hall returns a solid nucleus with four starters back. Gonzalez has raved about guard Jeremy Hazell, who averaged 22.7 ppg. last season. Notre Dame's Luke Harangody was the only Big East player to average more points per game during the 2008-09 campaign. The Pirates also return six-foot guard Eugene Harvey, who has shown flashes of brilliance during his career. Forward Robert Mitchell averaged almost 15 ppg. and eight boards per contest.

Gonzalez is excited about this squad, feeling his team can make a run at an NCAA tournament bid. This could be the year to accomplish that as the Big East doesn't have the same heavyweights it had last season. It is a very good league with lots of competition, but not the same strength from top to bottom. The Big East saw Hasheem Thabeet, Jonny Flynn, Sam Young, DeJuan Blair, Terrence Williams, Earl Clark, Dante Cunningham, A. J. Price, DaJuan Summers and Eric Devendorf all move on.

This could be the year Seton Hall moves into the first division. If it happens, an NCAA berth is a possibility. That would create a lot of excitement and noise in South Orange, N.J. Seton Hall last made it to the tourney in 2006 under Louis Orr. The Pirates have been to the big dance just three times since 1995.

Gonzalez came in with a reputation as a relentless, tenacious recruiter. This could be the time that dividends pay off. It is time to put the critics away and prove that Seton Hall can compete with the crème de la crème of the Big East.