With Rutgers and Seton Hall playing each other on Saturday for the 69th time in the series history, our staff got together to discuss what this great rivalry means to us.
Bob Cancro: Nothing! It means nothing! I crush their little pirate heads between my fingers!
Okay, that’s out of the way. My last job had me working in Monmouth County and it became apparent that seemingly every third person down there “went” to Seton Hall. It was the strangest thing. And for some reason, a lot of my friends in football either went there - for real - or followed the Pirates. The reason seemed to be that over the years, the Hall seemed to produce more big names, more successful teams. If it wasn’t for Jim Valvano, very few people would know Rutgers had basketball in the ‘60’s. But talk to a Seton Hall fan - or someone from Essex County - and you get all the legends: Nick Werkman, Richie Regan, Walter Dukes, Ken House, Honey Russell, yada, yada, yada.
But, here’s the rub, and why I really don’t like Seton Hall: if Rutgers had better leadership when the Big East was founded, it would have been the Knights in the Big East and Seton Hall scrounging for hoops scraps for decades. Woulda, coulda, shoulda. We screwed up and they profited.
And from their website regaling their history:
Seriously? New Jersey’s team? The gall!
Here’s what I say to that: point shaving and hired Australian guns! You need to beat Seton Hall for a goofy trophy, for recruiting, and to steal some headlines. Period.
Jayson Love: When I was recruited to Rutgers as a freshman in 2000, I passed up an opportunity to play my sport at my home state school UConn, and Seton Hall. One of the reasons I stuck with Rutgers was because the school stood by me when I got injured the summer before I was supposed to enroll. UConn and SHU did not. My lifelong fandom of UConn ended and a bit of a hatred of Shoe started. Growing up a UConn fan, I was familiar with rivalries. The Syracuse-UConn games were and are events every time they come around on the schedule. I was surprised and happy to learn we at RU had a similar rivalry albeit on a smaller scale. Knights vs. Pirates. How fitting. The gallant, chivalrous Knight, vs. a marauding, lawless Pirate - always felt like good vs. evil.
The games are always intense. The energy when it is at the RAC is palpable and there is a certain thickness to the air. The times in the student section where sections 108,109, and 110 literally shook and our ears rang for a week. Beating ‘the Hall’ was the season. That first season, though 11-16 under the horrible Kevin Bannon didn’t matter, we swept Seton Hall. Then, the “New Direction” of Gary Waters and one of the greatest moments of my college life when we took down Shoe for our 18th win of the season and the NCAA tourney seemed possible. Of course, some of the losses to Seton Hall were the most bitter pills to swallow.
From “Lane’s a P_____” chants, to the ever popular and always fun “Junior College” chant, games with SHU are always a battle. Even when both teams are good, or one is good/decent and one is bad, it is never an easy game. Although not conference rivals anymore, the emotion is still there. I got a bit giddy Friday when I saw in my alerts that the women’s team crushed SHU as the rivalry extends there as well. For better for worse, I have always seen the Hall as a measuring stick for Rutgers. While painful to admit, they are a successful program with limited resources and proof that successful basketball can happen in New Jersey. They stand in the way of our improvement as much as any program in the area, I want this win.
Dave White: The Seton Hall game is always circled on my calendar. Nearly every game has had ridiculous moments: from Rashad Kent calling timeout in overtime when Rutgers didn't have one to Corey Sanders and the Knights blitzing Seton Hall early on last year, there's always something to remember. I was a Rutgers fan in the Seton Hall student section when the ball bounced off Rob Hodgson's foot. I was jumping up and down in the rafters of the RAC because the student section was overflowing when Herve Lamizana ended up in a scrum. Quincy Douby beat Seton Hall on a free throw with no time left on the clock (sure, he got hit). Jeremy Hazell may have tied the game with a long three, but Jonathan Mitchell was a smart basketball player and kept getting to the free throw line to win during the Big East Tournament. There's always drama, there's always fun and there's always a raucous crowd. I expect no less on Saturday.
David Anderson: Wow. Seton Hall basketball. I don’t hate them overall, though Herb Pope individually is not someone I wanted on my team unless I was in a war zone and need to fight dirty and break rules to ensure basic survival. Hate is reserved only for a few teams at specific universities, usually because they think they walk on water even after inflicting physical harm on people. Seton Hall is what it is, a small New Jersey school that does a good job at branding their basketball team and law school. There’s nothing wrong with any of that and in a free market, if they can get better players than Rutgers, good for them. If they want to put the visitors fan section in the upper corner of Continental Airlines Arena, go ahead, everyone else does that type of thing. “The Hall” smartly got in the Big East at the right time, good for them.
So really, this rivalry is like that one with your little brother. It’s hard to truly hate your brother, and if he wins once or twice and it makes him happy it makes you feel good for a short minute. Good for the little guy. The problem for most of my Rutgers basketball fandom is that the little brother has been winning more than his share and getting plenty of enjoyment at the Scarlet Knights’ expense. When Rutgers gets the upper hand it often doesn’t crush Seton Hall’s hopes, like the 2011 Big East tournament when the Pirates were going nowhere. When the Pirates get the best of Rutgers, it feels like that 1999 game that still haunts me all over again when a win and RU is in the Big Dance. Rutgers has the resources, there is no excuse. Rutgers has more educational programs, more campus options, and is generally superior in many ways to the point recruits should choose RU over the Hall for every reason other than the product on the court. Bottom line is, Rutgers basketball needs to win games on the floor to gain control of this rivalry back. I love college rivalries, especially in-state, but I like being on the winning side of them even more.
Pete Winter: I have to admit, when I first stepped foot on Rutgers campus as a Freshman in 2003, I was a little naïve about the rivalry with Seton Hall. Despite living in New Jersey my whole life, I always paid more attention to the more “national rivalries.” But when basketball season came around that year, everything changed. The Scarlet Knights had a team that the fan base could be proud of, and every home game became a must-see event as we fought for an NCAA Tournament berth. There was the 1-point loss to #1 UConn, the win over a ranked Providence team, and the overtime win against Miami. But, as the long-time fans probably expected, it all came down to a showdown with Seton Hall at the RAC on the last day of the regular season. I remember the buzz on campus as the students prepared for an epic game and more importantly, a shot at the Big Dance. In the end, the game lived up to the hype, but Rutgers eventually lost after Marquis Webb’s game-winning three missed at the buzzer. For me though, the rivalry was officially born that day.
Brian Fonseca: I was not a huge fan of college basketball growing up. I’d watch the NCAA Tournament, maybe check out some games on ESPN every once in a while, but rarely — if ever — would I watch Rutgers play. Truthfully, I didn’t know anything about Rutgers sports until I enrolled in the fall of 2014.
My first introduction to the sport — actually following a team — was the 2015-2016 season, aka the final year of Eddie Jordan’s reign on the program. I covered that team as the second writer on the beat at the Daily Targum.
Thoughts and prayers are welcome.
That year, Rutgers lost 84-55, a score that was generous to just how bad the Scarlet Knights looked that day. By halftime, half the beat writers left to break the news of Chris Ash becoming the Scarlet Knights’ next head football coach, along with 80 percent of the fans in attendance.
All of this background pays off here, I promise.
When I walked into the Prudential Center last December for the first Garden State Hardwood Classic matchup of the Steve Pikiell era, I immediately felt the energy. I was there 90 minutes before tip, so there were no more than 100 people in the arena at the time — with Corey Sanders the only Rutgers player on the floor putting up shots — but it was the first time I could remember the anticipation of a big night.
I wasn’t wrong.
The atmosphere at the Rock was absolutely electric, with Rutgers fans thriving in the first 16 minutes and the home fans getting their own chance to cheer in the second half.
More than any sequence I’ve seen on the court — and I’ve seen plenty of great ones in my three years on this beat — the one thing I take away is the buzz in the air on a big night of college hoops. The Prudential Center was the first venue I witnessed it at and I’ve seen a couple of great nights at the RAC, including a couple against Michigan State and Florida State this season. I’m hoping for the best one yet this time around.
Here’s hoping this Saturday marks the return to the good ol’ days of the RAC.
Aaron Breitman: Pardon my lack of eloquence in describing this rivalry, but as a lifelong Rutgers fan, playing Seton Hall just means more to me than any other matchup. While I grew up as a kid always going to the annual game versus Princeton, and I do hope the two programs resume playing sometime in the future, as I entered my teens, I started to feel the extra weight that came against Seton Hall. Being conference foes for two decades elevated this rivalry so much and although Rutgers hosted higher profile Big East teams throughout that time period, it was the game against Seton Hall that always felt the biggest to me. Every win against them was the most satisfying of that season, while every loss stayed with you longer and gave me a pit in my stomach.
There are so many great moments that have occurred over the years. My favorite time to root against Seton Hall was when Bobby Gonzalez, aptly nicknamed Gonzo, was their head coach. He was such a complete nutcase and his battles with former Rutgers coach Fred Hill were always a soap opera within a game. Playing and beating the Hall in the Big East Tournament, it happened twice, was extra satisfying. There are too many memorable moments from over the years to mention in this space. You can read a look back at this rivalry in more detail in this collaborative piece that Dave White and I wrote before last year’s meeting.
This game though, no matter when its played, just means more. It’s no coincidence one of the first articles I wrote on this site detailed the loss at the RAC my senior year (1999-2000) that ended any chance of an NCAA berth and signaled the harsh reality my college career was soon going to be over. However, sweeping the Hall during the 2012-2013 season, the last that Rutgers was a member of the Big East, is something I’ll cherish forever. While this matchup was extremely one sided during the Eddie Jordan era, last season’s meeting once again felt like a true Rutgers-Seton Hall war. I’m thankful this rivalry is set to continue for many years and no matter the importance of winning games in the Big Ten, no annual matchup will ever mean more to me than the mid-December meeting with blood rival Seton Hall.
What does this rivalry mean to you? Sound off in the comment section below!