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October 8, 2009
Seton Hall guard Jeremy Hazell pulled off one of the 2008-09 season's most improbable feats. He ranked among the nation's top 10 scorers while playing for a Big East team in the New York market, yet he somehow went relatively unnoticed.
Hazell's big year garnered little attention because of his team's inability to reach the postseason. Seton Hall went 17-15 overall and 7-11 in Big East competition to get left out of the NCAA tournament field for the seventh time in the last nine seasons.
"It was pretty hard," Hazell said. "We thought we had a great shot at making the postseason, but we didn't get there."
They may have a better shot this season.
Seton Hall returns four starters from last year's team and also welcomes Keon Lawrence from Missouri and Herb Pope from New Mexico State. Hazell believes the addition of the two transfer students can provide the depth that was sorely missing last year.
Hazell doesn't particularly care if his scoring totals go down this season. He's more concerned about making sure his team's win total increases.
"This is our chance to show everybody what we can do," Hazell said. "With the new players we have coming in, this is our time to let everybody know we can be good. We're going to be good."
Hazell already has shown what he can do.
The 6-foot-5 junior from Harlem scored the second-most points in school history and averaged 22.7 points per game to rank 10th in the nation in scoring. He also tied a school record by making 105 3-point baskets.
"We knew he had a chance to be a special player," Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez said, "but we never expected 22.7 points per game."
Hazell needed to produce that much offense because Seton Hall began conference play with only eight scholarship players and was undermanned for the entire season. The lack of depth could help explain why Seton Hall lost six of its last nine games.
"Since they relied on me a lot, I had to take it into my hands," Hazell said. "Now that we've got depth and the help we've got from the players here now, we won't have to rely on me as much. We've got guys who can do the same things I can do."
Lawrence and Pope add an infusion of star power.
Pope, a 6-8 forward and the No. 31 prospect in the 2007 recruiting class, averaged 11.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game his lone season at New Mexico State. Lawrence, a 6-2 guard, led Missouri in minutes and averaged 11 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game two years ago.
Pope and Lawrence join a roster that already featured Hazell, 6-9 senior center John Garcia, 6-foot senior guard Eugene Harvey and 6-6 senior forward Robert Mitchell. All four players averaged at least eight points per game last season.
The influx of talent should remove some of the scoring burden from Hazell.
"We're going to have more options this year and he'll have less pressure on him to carry us offensively on his back," Gonzalez said. "It will be harder for teams to concentrate just on Jeremy because we'll have so many other options. I still expect him, however, to be one of the top shooters and scorers in the conference."
Seton Hall is returning its nucleus just as many of its Big East rivals must replace their key performers. The league returns only one first-team (Harangody) and one second-team (West Virginia forward Da'Sean Butler) all-conference selection from last season. The Pirates are hoping their status as one of the Big East's most experienced teams could help them make a move up the conference standings.
If that happens, Hazell could finally shed his label as one of the nation's most underrated players. Hazell ranked second in the league in scoring yet had to settle for third-team all-conference honors, though the snub couldn't put a damper on his breakthrough performance.
"It really did a lot for my confidence, knowing I had a great year," Hazell said. "I'm on people's radar now. Everybody knows who I am. It really boosted my confidence and made me work harder."
Now that he has more help, Hazell just might get Seton Hall back on the NCAA radar screen.
Big loss for Irish
Now I'm not nearly as confident in the Irish's postseason chances.
The announcement last week that Purdue transfer Scott Martin would miss the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament casts plenty of doubt on Notre Dame's chances of rebounding from a disappointing 2008-09 season.
Notre Dame was counting on Martin and Mississippi State transfer Ben Hansbrough to help make up for the loss of three senior starters (Kyle McAlarney, Ryan Ayers and Zach Hillesland) from last year's team. Martin's injury puts pressure on Tim Abromaitis or Carleton Scott to have a breakthrough season, though Abromaitis didn't play at all and Scott averaged just 4.5 minutes per game last year.
Before Martin's injury, Notre Dame looked like a borderline NCAA tournament team. His absence could force the Irish to settle for a second consecutive NIT berth.
Tennessee guard Emmanuel Negedu won't play this season but will remain on scholarship after going into sudden cardiac arrest after finishing a weight-lifting session last week. Negedu underwent surgery last week to insert an implantable cardio defibrillator in his chest. "God is going to see me through this," Negedu said. "With God, all things are possible. God is always in control. God gives life, and He takes life." Negedu credited Tennessee senior associate athletic trainer Chad Newman for saving his life last week. "If Chad wasn't there, I don't know where I'd be right now," Negedu said. "I'd be six feet underground."
The Big East will be seeing quite a bit more of West Virginia forward Devin Ebanks this season. The 6-9 forward reportedly has gained 26 pounds since his arrival on campus. Ebanks weighed 189 when he first got to Morgantown. "I felt comfortable last year at my playing weight, but now that I've gained a little bit, it probably won't be easier for opponents to bump me off the ball when I go to the basket," Ebanks said. "When I rebound, it will probably be a lot easier to hold my ground and box out." Ebanks averaged 10.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game as a freshman.
Zach Spiker just accepted arguably the toughest job in college basketball. Less than two weeks before the start of preseason practice, Spiker has taken over as Army's coach. Now the former Cornell assistant must try to turn around a program that hasn't produced a winning season since 1984-85. "Before we can worry about long-term records and droughts -- we're not going to focus on that on a daily basis -- we have to worry about things these guys can control," Spiker said. "The thing we can immediately control is winning the day. If we win a couple days, have a couple of good practices, then win another couple of days in the weight room, then we can win a week. If we put some weeks together, then we can win a month. If we put some months together, we'll win some ballgames."
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.