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Seton Hall basketball: Pirates open season with UMKC

After a successful 2011-12 season head coach Kevin Willard regroups with a talented core of juniors and sophomores.

Chris Chambers

The Seton Hall Pirates men's basketball season commences Friday when the UMKC Kangaroos visit Walsh Gym for the start of the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame Tip-off. The contest begins a campaign which follows arguably the Pirates' best season since 2003-04.

Last year, under the leadership of seniors Jordan Theodore (guard) and Herb Pope (forward), the Pirates raced out to a 11-1 record, and, by mid-January, Seton Hall cracked the top 25 for the first time since '01.

Yet, by season's end, the Pirates finished with 21 victories narrowly missing out on an at-large NCAA Tournament bid after losing three of its four final regular-season games, then, failing to pull off an upset over the Louisville Cardinals, an eventual Final Four program, in the second round of the Big East Conference Tournament.

Despite the disappointing finish to last season's campaign, head coach Kevin Willard, who's entering his third season, feels he could have a better all-around product this season.

"I think we've done a good job of having guys ready to step into roles to replace two great players," Willard said in Oct. at the Big East Conference media day.

To replace Theodore's production -- 16.1 points and 6.6 assists per game -- Seton Hall will to turn guards: Aaron Cosby, Kyle Smyth, Freddie Wilson and Tom Maayan.

Cosby, who will more than likely miss the season opener because he's still recovering from knee injury, has the biggest upside and is expected to step in as Seton Hall's go-to backcourt threat.

The 6'3, 190-pound sophomore made 31 starts in 34 games averaging 7.9 ppg last season, and earned the school's Freshman Athlete of the Year honor.

"He's a guy that can really shoot the basketball and he's really improved his ball handling," said Willard.

Though, Cosby may have improved his rock-handling skills, the job of floor general could fall on the shoulders of a freshman, Maayan, and sophomore, Wilson, if the pair can prove themselves.

Last season, Wilson (6'2, 175) served as the backup to Theodore playing in 31 games and getting one start. This year, the 6'2, 172-pound sophomore has a shot to be the full-time starter, however, Maayan (6'1, 180) is expected to get the start on opening night.

"He's a unique guy to guard because he has different speeds," said Willard of Wilson.

"Tommy Maayan is one of those pure point guards who will come down and get you into the offense, and is very good on pick-and-rolls and at creating in the lane. Each guy gives us a different look on the court at all times."

Smyth, a transfer who started 78 of 96 games at Iona over the past three seasons, could be the biggest sleeper addition. Smyth (6'4, 185) scored 16 points on 4-of-8 shooting from behind the 3-point arc in the Pirates' lone exhibition win. While at Iona, he averaged 7.9 ppg and made 39-percent of his 3-point shots.

Down-low, a place where Pope ruled for the past two seasons, a transfer, junior center Eugene Teague, and a pair of power forwards, junior Patrik Auda and sophomore Brandon Mobley, are predicted to do the dirty work.

Teague (6'9, 290) played at Southern Illinois for two seasons before transferring to Seton Hall. While playing for the Salukis, Teague started in 27 of 48 games averaging 7.1 points and 4.9 rebounds.

Auda (6'9, 225) made 26 starts in 34 games averaging 6.9 ppg and 4.0 rpg, while Mobley (6'9, 210) made six starts in 25 games averaging 5.6 ppg and 4.4 rpg.

The small forward spot will be occupied by a returner, junior Fuquan Edwin, who last season was known more for his defense than his ability to put the ball through the basket.

The 6'6, 205-pound junior averaged a nation-best 3.0 steals per game and almost earned Big East Defensive Player of the Year Award, which was awarded to Syracuse Orange center Fab Melo.

Add Edwin's solid defense with his ability to slash to the basket and new mid-range game, Willard expects the Englewood, NJ native to follow up his 12.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg freshman campaign with an even bigger year this season.

Edwin's backup will be redshirt junior forward Brian Oliver, who Willard says is one of the best shooters in the country.

Another player that may see action this season could be sophomore center Kevin Johnson, who did not play last season due to eligibility issues.

The Pirates' non-conference slate features a Naismith Tip-Off contest against the Washington Huskies, Nov. 17, and other one against either the Ohio St. Buckeyes or Rhode Island Rams, Nov. 18. Seton Hall's Big East-SEC Challenge game will be at the LSU Tigers, Nov. 29, which will serve as a prelude to another non-conference road game at the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Dec. 8.

Seton Hall begins Big East play, Jan. 2, at the DePaul Blue Demons.