Hall's Willard unfazed by low expectations

Being picked to finish 14th in a 15-team league isn't exactly something to be excited about.

But Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard isn't worried about it.

"You lose two seniors, and you have a very young team, in this conference, you're gonna be picked down low," Willard said Wednesday at the Big East's annual media day in New York. "It doesn't really mean anything."

Willard's fellow coaches pegged the Pirates to finish above only Providence in this year's Big East race -- no doubt in part because of the loss of point guard Jordan Theodore (16.1 ppg, 6.6 apg) and power forward Herb Pope (15.1 ppg, 10.4 rpg), two All-Big East performers in 2011-12.

They left behind a team with zero seniors -- but one that Willard says has plenty of options.

"Last year, I rode a horse -- I had a Kentucky Derby horse, and I rode him as far as I could ride him, probably rode him a little too much unfortunately," Willard said. "This year I feel I have four or five horses I can ride in any one given game. Fuquan (Edwin), Eugene Teague, Brian Oliver, Patrik Auda, Brandon Mobley, Aaron Cosby -- I think we’ll be a much more balanced team than we were last year."

Edwin, a 6-foot-6, 205-pound junior, is the team's leading returning scorer (12.5 ppg) and rebounder (6.4 rpg). He also led the nation in steals last year, averaging almost three per game.

"He is gonna be more involved," Willard said of Edwin. "But the great thing about him is, he is still gonna be a dangerous weapon on defense. That won't change. Offensively he'll have a little bit bigger role. But again, we have a lot of guys that are gonna share the spotlight this year."

Willard sounded particularly enthused Wednesday about a pair of transfers who will be eligible for the Pirates beginning this season -- Oliver, a 6-foot-6, 226-pound swingman, and Teague, a 6-foot-9, 290-pound center.

Oliver was the third-leading scorer on Georgia Tech two seasons ago, while Teague comes over from Southern Illinois of the Missouri Valley Conference.

"Eugene and Brian will give us two totally different dimensions than we had last year," Willard said. "Eugene gives us a pure post player for the first time. ... He's a guy you can throw the ball down to every time down the court if you want to. He's gonna demand double teams, he's gonna demand his own defensive scheme really.

"And Brian's a guy that any one night can score 37 points. When he's on, he's tough to stop."

Willard is entering his third year at Seton Hall, after posting a 34-31 record in his first two campaigns. Last year the Pirates were on the cusp of their first NCAA tournament bid since 2006, before late-season losses to Rutgers and last-place DePaul (by 28 points) relegated them to the NIT.

The coach is optimistic about this season, despite the low expectations.

"I'm really excited," Willard said. "Not only do we have a great group of guys in our program, but ... I think we’re as deep as we've ever been. Our only thing is, we gotta continue to develop and grow and get a toughness attitude. If we can get that, I think we have a chance to be really good."

The players also sound excited, to make the prognosticators look bad.

"Yes, definitely," said Edwin, when asked if the Pirates are better than people think. "But we gotta go out there and we gotta prove it. That's all. We've just gotta go prove it."