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Thursday, January 29, 2009


January 29, 2009

The battle of New Jersey in the Big East will commence tonight in Newark at the Prudential Center, aka 'the Rock', as Seton Hall will welcome in Rutgers.

This is as true of a rivalry game as there is. In many cases, it is the fans that get worked up for a rivalry game, but this is one that the players, coaches and everyone else associated with each school and program has a deep desire to win.

Last season the two teams split their two meetings, each winning on the other's home court in thrilling fashion. The second meeting, the RU win at Seton Hall, set off quite an interesting post-game with Bobby Ganzalez's tantrum toward the officials that led to his one-game suspension that was served in their conference-opening loss to Syracuse last month. From the handshake between the coaches after the game to the postgame comments, this was a rivalry game that meant something.

Here are some pregame stories and previews from the internet this morning on the game:

Rutgers' Farmer is Approaching 1,000 Points, but all he Wants are Wins (Press of Atlantic City)
Rutgers, Seton Hall Reunite at the Rock (Asbury Park Press)
Rutgers, Seton Hall Excited to Renew Rivalry (Star-Ledger)
Scouting Report for Rutgers-Seton Hall (Asbury Park Press)
SHU Not Taking Rutgers Lightly as RU Looks for First Big East Win
Rutgers Freshman Rosario Makes Most of Transition (NY Times)

Never mind the fact that Rutgers and Seton Hall have a combined Big East W/L record of 1-13. Records will mean very little for the two+ hours that the Scarlet Knights and Pirates will battle tonight in Newark. One could be undefeated and the other winless and this game would still be a battle that will have fans from both schools at the edge of their seats.

There is no question that Rutgers has been a disappointment. While most reasonable prognosticators felt Rutgers would win six, maybe seven in the Big East this season, they are looking like a team that will struggle to exceed last year's total of three conference wins, even matching that will be difficult if they do not find a way to pull out a win very soon.

With star Jersey recruits in Mike Rosario and Greg Echenique making the highly publicized decisions to stay in the Garden State for their college careers, Fred Hill's program was one many thought would begin to rise from the ashes of the Big East cellar. The duo was to join sophomores Corey Chandler and Mike Coburn, junior Hamady N'Diaye and seniors JR Inman and Anthony Farmer to form a line-up capable of playing with the top teams, winning their share against the middle of the pack and pulling themselves out of the bottom. So far, none of that has happened.

While the schedule has not been much of a help, RU has not helped themselves by losing by double-digits on the roas to St. John's and Cincinnati. When looking at RU, you can't really pinpoint their biggest weakness other than they do not have 'it.' What exactly 'it' is can vary from one explanation to the next, but this team seems to have some form of a dis-connect somewhere, which leads to the poor results. Progress was needed in the third year of Fred Hill's tenure, not an 0-7 start with a season looking to be going down the drain quickly like his previous two, and with it is likely any recruiting momentum built with the signings of Echenique and Rosario.

Seton Hall picked up their first conference win on Saturday with a 65-60 win over slumping and floundering Georgetown. The Pirates have also not had much luck with a tough early conference schedule, but they also had lost two of their last three out of the conference to the likes of IUPUI (home) and James Madison (away). The schedule eases significantly now with Rutgers twice in 11 days and St. John's at home in the middle and DePaul following the second meeting with RU. That is as winnable of a four game stretch any team will face in the Big East this season and the Georgetown win has given Bobby Gonzalez's team a new thrust of energy.

The Pirates are led by long-range bomber Jeremy Hazell and forward Robert 'Stix' Mitchell going inside and out. Point guard Eugene Harvey runs the show with defensive dynamo Paul Gause, the lone SHU senior, teamming in the backcourt with him.

Where the Pirates are really thin is the frontcourt where oft-injured John Garcia, the under-performing Mike Davis (fouled out in two minutes against Georgetown) and the still-developing Brandon Walters make up the ranks. Walk-on Matt Cajuste has been getting playing time lately to help counter the lack of depth.

Will Rutgers take advantage of their size advantage with JR Inman, Echenique and N'Diaye inside? They have been too content much of the season to let Rosario shoot them into, or just as easily, out of games. Rosario will likly bethe target of the SHU defense and the fans. If RU can find some sort of balance offensively, they would be helping themselves out tremendously.

In the end, SHU seems to have the confidence in themselves and each other, despite the losses. I do not see that with Rutgers. If RU is off to a slow start, it could be lights out for the game...and their season...

Seton Hall is a 7 1/2-point favorite in this game tonight.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Seton Hall 74
Rutgers 65



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