The last time Seton Hall beat in-state rivals Rutgers in four consecutive games, Bobby Gonzalez was at the helm of the Pirates’ ship. The Hall has a chance to repeat the feat on Friday night in front of a sold out crowd at Prudential Center.
The Garden State Hardwood Classic dubbing of the annual (since 1994) meeting between Jersey’s high-major programs has yielded the two highest winning margins in series history, but the 19 games prior that date back to February of 2005 saw an average margin of victory of just 5.6, including five total overtime sessions (4 games, 1 went to 2OT).
With such a historical fine line between the two schools, it’s fairly remarkable Seton Hall is on the verge of taking down the Scarlet Knights four times in a row twice in under a decade.
Jerry Carino has done a thorough and nostalgia-laced job of chronicling the series’ best moments that have set the stage for this year’s game — one which means the most for either program since Seton Hall lost in overtime at the end of the 2011-12 season just prior to the DePaul debacle, a pair of losses that held the Hall out of the NCAA tournament.
As far as records go, this is the best Rutgers team since Gary Waters’ final season (2005-06) when Seton Hall lost on the road to a 10-3 Scarlet Knights group in the first game of the Big East season. KenPom rating-wise, you only have to go back a few years to the end of the Mike Rice era to find a Rutgers team that was comparable to their current spot of 117th.
Currently sporting an 11-1 record under first-year head coach Steve Pikiell — albeit against the second worst non-conference schedule in the country — Rutgers is looking the strongest since the Rice days, which injects a ton of flavor into the recently-dull rivalry.
With no notable wins, Rutgers has a chance to achieve both national and local legitimacy in their second attempt after losing at Miami (Fla.) while Seton Hall is looking to close out a fairly successful non-conference campaign that may feature two top-50 wins when the dust settles come March.
There is some turnover for Pikiell’s guys with Kansas State guard Nigel Johnson (12.4 ppg, 3.2 apg) gaining eligibility after sitting out last season, graduate transfer center CJ Gettys (9 ppg, 5.3 rpg) eating up a lot of minutes and forwards Issa Thiam (5.3 ppg) and Candido Sa (5.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg) joining the mix. Sophomore guard Corey Sanders (10.2 ppg, 4 apg, 3.6 rpg) is no longer the only Scarlet Knight to watch, but his duel with a combination of Khadeen Carrington, Jevon Thomas, and Madison Jones will be a treat.
Rutgers’ stats are a bit all over the map, but they are ranked 1st in offensive rebounding percentage, 341st in percentage of points from beyond the arc, and 288th in tempo — all of which will leave a fingerprint on the game.
Kevin Willard has noticed.
“When they were in the league and we played each other twice every year, no matter what the teams were, it’s always a big game. Obviously, they are coached very well. Steve [Pikiell] is doing a phenomenal job. He has them rebounding and defending at a very high level. For an in-state game, the players understand the juice and the fans understand, so it’s always been a big game.”
Johnson, Mike Williams (a former high school teammate of Carrington’s), and Thiam are the only three who will launch from deep, though at a low percentage, while Rutgers allowing just 60.9 ppg (19th) can partially be explained by playing weaker opponents at a slower pace; Pikiell’s team is 92nd in defensive efficiency.
Seton Hall will look to push the pace a bit more, especially with lightning-quick Jevon Thomas now eligible — Willard may even flirt with a full court press he talked about pre-season but has yet to reveal.
If they can stay out of foul trouble, the offensive boards may yield a ton of extra possessions for both sides with Angel Delgado (14.3 ppg, 11.4 rpg) and Deshawn Freeman (12.7 ppg, 9.3 rpg) two of the best in the country at doing so. Delgado has amassed 24 points, 23 boards and 1 MVP award in his first two Hardwood Classic outings, which perhaps prompted the Seton Hall big man to share some choice words ahead of Friday’s clash.
“They can be No. 1 in the country and we’re still going to beat them because I’m coming with the mindset that we’re not going to lose this game,” said Delgado of Rutgers’ improved look this year.
“That’s how I feel, that’s how I’m always going to feel. If I stay another year here, I’m still going to beat them too because that’s how I feel. They really disrespected us last year with a lot of stuff, but we’re always tough here at home.”
When I asked what he meant by Rutgers disrespecting his team, Angel left Rutgers with a warning shot.
“A lot of stuff, a lot of papers going on and they say stuff and the school says stuff. I just don’t like — how [do] people say [it]: it’s Rutgers against Seton Hall. We don’t like them, they don’t like us, I got friends that play out there, but we’re not friends when we’re on the court. I really don’t care, I just want to destroy guys.”
KenPom says: No. 46 Seton Hall 75, No. 117 Rutgers 65 (82%)
Last 10 meetings (SH 38-29 all-time; home team first)
Dec. 5, 2015 – Rutgers 55, Seton Hall 84
Dec. 6, 2014 – Seton Hall 81, Rutgers 54
Dec. 8, 2013 – Rutgers 71, Seton Hall 77
Mar. 8, 2013 – Seton Hall 51, Rutgers 56
Feb. 12, 2013 – Rutgers 57, Seton Hall 55
Feb. 25, 2012 – Rutgers 77, Seton Hall 72 (OT)
Feb. 8, 2012 – Seton Hall 59, Rutgers 54
Mar. 8, 2011 – Rutgers 76, Seton Hall 70 (OT, BET)
Feb. 12, 2011 – Rutgers 64, Seton Hall 69
Jan. 22, 2011 – Seton Hall 60, Rutgers 66
Projected Rutgers starters
G – Nigel Johnson
G – Corey Sanders
G/F – Issa Thiam
F – Deshawn Freeman
C – CJ Gettys
Projected Seton Hall starters
PG – Madison Jones
G – Khadeen Carrington
F – Desi Rodriguez
F – Ismael Sanogo
F – Angel Delgado
When: Friday, 630
TV: FOX Sports 1
Radio: AM 970 (Gary Cohen & Dave Popkin)
Opening line: Seton Hall -10