Ladies and Gentleman, rivalry day is finally upon us! Rutgers takes their 11-1 record 27 miles north up the turnpike to take on Seton Hall, who enter at 9-2. I covered a lot on this matchup in this extra large game preview here, but I didn’t stop there. Robert O’Neill, who is the co-managing editor of SB Nation’s Big East Coast Bias, and I were able to trade some questions to find out more about each opponent ahead of the Garden State Hardwood Classic tonight. We even kept things civil, at least until the game tips off. Seton Hall enters as a double digit favorite and won the past two meetings by an average of 28 points. Does Robert think this game will be closer? Find out here, as well as keys to Seton Hall’s strong start and what factors led to their two defeats. Let’s get into it!
Seton Hall made the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade last season and despite losing their best player in Isaiah Whitehead, they are off to a 9-2 start this season. What are some keys to their strong start?
There have been two big keys. The first is that Seton Hall has been able to step up and be just as good on the defensive side of the ball as last season. They punish teams that try and go inside and are above average at defending the perimeter. They play smart defense and it helps them control the game. The other big reason for the Pirates being 9-2 is that they've been able to replace Isaiah Whitehead's scoring. Every player who played for the Pirates last season has raised their points per game so far this season. Khadeen Carrington has jumped from 14 PPG last year to 19 this season, which has been particularly big. Obviously it wasn't going to be easy to replace Whitehead, but the Pirates were able to get a little bit more from every player on the roster and its been huge.
The Pirates play a 7 man rotation for the most part and are averaging 48% shooting from the floor as a team. Has the nucleus of this team gelled faster than expected and what are their expectations heading into the Big East this season?
It's really hard to gauge Seton Hall's expectations heading into Big East play this season for two reasons. Firstly, if you're not Villanova, St. John's, or DePaul, you're going to finish somewhere between second place and eighth place. There's really not a ton of separation between those remaining seven teams. Secondly, it's hard because Seton Hall has won at least nine nonconference games per season in six of Kevin Willard's seven years at the helm, this season included. Then, Big East play would roll around and they'd be a mess. They bucked the trend last year by making it to the NCAA Tournament, and I think that will continue, but it's hard to say definitively.
Junior forward Angel Delgado is averaging a double-double per game (14.3 points, 11.4 rebounds) this season and has been consistently good his entire career. What has he improved on that's enabled him to be even more dominant this year and what can Rutgers do to contain him in this game? Any thoughts on his comments regarding Rutgers ahead of this matchup?
Delgado is an absolute joy to watch and would probably be the frontrunner for Big East Player of the Year if Josh Hart wasn't in the conference. He's averaged right around a double-double in each of his first two seasons, and I think his numbers this year are just the result of a natural progression and maturation. As far as matchups for Rutgers, I think it has to be CJ Gettys on Delgado. It's very rare Delgado faces players who are taller than he is, as is the case with Gettys. As for his comments? I love them. This rivalry has been dormant for too long. It's time to get back to it.
While Seton Hall has notable wins against Iowa, Cal, and South Carolina, their two losses have come against Stanford and Florida. What did those opponents do well in beating them and what did the Hall struggle with in those losses?
Starting with the Stanford loss, Seton Hall couldn't shoot the ball. It was their third game in four days, and they just couldn't get it going. Florida got Angel Delgado in foul trouble and caused him to play a season-low 24 minutes. It goes without saying that Seton Hall is a much different team with Delgado not on the floor.
Despite the past 2 seasons being one sided, (thanks Eddie Jordan), 17 of the previous 21 matchups before then were decided by 6 points of less. What are a few of your favorite games/moments of this rivalry over the years?
I'm glad you brought this up, because as St. John's and Syracuse showed us Wednesday night, you can throw the records out the window when former conference and geographic foes meet up, because you'll usually get a good game. I think a game that sticks out to me in the immediate past was Seton Hall's 77-71 victory in 2013. It was close throughout and Gene Teague had 16 points and 16 boards. Their final meeting as Big East members earlier in 2013 sticks out to me too. Both teams were bottom feeders in the conference, but they played a fun back and forth game, and that's really all you can hope for when you have two bad teams.
Now that Steve Pikiell is leading Rutgers, is this the beginning of perhaps a great chapter between him and Willard in this series' history?
I really hope so. I've liked what I've seen from Pikiell so far and think he'll be at Rutgers for a long time, and I think the same about Kevin Willard, so by that logic, the answer is yes.
Okay have at it, what is your prediction for the game?
I think I have to go with Seton Hall, but it's gonna be close. Like... close enough where it could come down to the final possession. It's also worth noting neither team is particularly good from the free throw line, so if it's down to an intentional foul situation on either side, there could certainly be some hijinks.
Thanks to Robert for taking the time to answer questions on R rival from the North. If you love college basketball and miss the Big East, make sure to follow Robert on twitter here and visit Big East Coast Bias. To read my answers to Robert’s questions, click here.