On the second to last Saturday before Christmas, the Rutgers men's basketball team has an opportunity to give its fans and loyal supporters the best holiday gift any could ask for, a win over Seton Hall. The annual rivalry game, now that they are no longer conference foes and its called the Garden State Hardwood Classic, typically serves as a measuring stick on where the program stands about a third of the way into the season. This year is no exception.
There is no question that Seton Hall has more talent on its roster and is a group that has more big game experience over the past two plus seasons. The nucleus of Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Myles Powell, Michael Nzei, and Ish Sanogo is a formidable and deep six man lineup that has Seton Hall off to a 9-1 start with wins over two top 25 teams in Louisville and Texas Tech, as well as Indiana, VCU and Vanderbilt. Their lone defeat was a one point loss at the hands of Rhode Island in a game that the Hall's trademark defense had an off night. They've been unstoppable since, winning five games in a row, including a road win over Louisville.
Since Rutgers completed a rare sweep of Seton Hall in its last season as a member of the Big East conference back in the 2012-2013 campaign, Rutgers has lost four straight meetings in the Garden State Hardwood Classic. Only one outcome was decided by single digits and the average margin of defeat the past four seasons has been 18.3 points. Last season, the first rivalry game with Steve Pikiell coaching Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights led the Pirates by nine points at halftime on the road. Unfortunately, Seton Hall dominated the second frame and won by 11 in front of an exuberant home crowd.
On Saturday, Rutgers has the chance to apply the lessons learned in that game and take another shot against its blood rival, this time in front of a sellout crowd at the RAC. It's a huge opportunity to not only break out with a signature win this season, but to prove to its neighbors to the north that the program is on the rise and no longer a pushover they've been in recent years.
The experience that this team has gained in close home losses to Florida State (9-0) by five points and #2 Michigan State (9-1) by ten points, both teams smallest margins of victory this season, should give Rutgers confidence they can win this game.
While this program continues to improve and move forward in Steve Pikiell’s second season, this game is an opportunity to make a major statement and pick up the first signature win of his tenure. The impact it would have both in recruiting and perception would be immense. Rutgers enters this game as 7.5 point underdogs, but when this rivalry has truly been at its best, point spreads and records are meaningless. I fully expect this game to be a true battle worthy of some of the greatest contests in this rivalry’s history, win or lose. No matter what happens, Rutgers fans should revel in the fact that in less than two years, Steve Pikiell has R program relevant again and clearing on its way up. The outcome of this game will signify how far they’ve come so far. Tip-off is just hours away! #DeckTheHall
UPDATE: Rutgers did it, stunning #15 Seton Hall behind a 17-2 run to win the game!
⚔️ | SNEAK PEEK— Rutgers Basketball (@RutgersMBB) December 16, 2017
The 2017 #GSHClassic Intro Video.
No one said this rivalry was for the faint of heart. This is for bragging rights. This is for basketball lore in the state of New Jersey.#DeckTheHall pic.twitter.com/kj2eMiuQ6t
Check out all of our pregame coverage ahead of Rutgers vs. Seton Hall here: