Rivalry week is here for Rutgers men’s basketball, as the annual meeting with Seton Hall takes place this Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Rock in Newark. It will be the third meeting in this rivalry between Steve Pikiell and Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard. They’ve split their two head to head meetings so far, with both coaches holding serve at home. Willard enters this year’s game with a 6-6 record against Rutgers overall since being at the helm of the Hall. However, this year feels like the rivalry is moving into a different era, as the rosters for both teams have turned over the most significantly in some time.
Seton Hall has eight new players debuting in this rivalry and Rutgers has six.
With familiar faces like Angel Delgado, Ish Sanogo, Desi Rodriguez, and Khadeen Carrington now gone, the only Pirates that are true veterans of this rivalry are Myles Powell and Michael Nzei. Myles Cale who played a solid 16 minutes (4 points, 3 rebounds, 3 steals) as a freshman in last year’s meeting and classmate Sandro Mamukelashvili picked up 3 fouls in 6 minutes.
On the Rutgers side, Geo Baker played a big role scoring 17 points in his inaugural rivalry game last season. Eugene Omoruyi scored 10 points and 9 rebounds, including making key free throws down the stretch in last year’s come from behind victory, while Shaq Doorson, Issa Thiam, and Mamadou Doucoure played smaller roles.
Other than Powell on the Hall side versus Baker and Omoruyi on the Rutgers side, this rivalry will welcome mostly new heroes and villains in what has been the fiercest matchup for both programs through the past 25 years or so.
Each team brings a new player to this year’s meeting that were former high school stars in New Jersey.
Former St. Anthony’s center Taurean Thompson, was perhaps the player that former Rutgers head coach Eddie Jordan recruited the hardest during his tenure. He visited the program several times during his recruitment, but ultimately landed at Syracuse. Thompson had a good freshman year there, averaging 9.2 points and 3.8 rebounds while starting 21 games. However, he chose to transfer closer to home and sat out last season before playing for Seton Hall as a redshirt sophomore this season. Thompson is off to somewhat of a slow start, averaging 6.6 points and 2.5 rebounds, but broke out in Saturday’s upset win over Kentucky, producing a standout line of 13 points, 6 boards, 2 assists, 2 steals and 1 block.
Ron Harper Jr. was a sleeper recruit the summer before his senior season, holding just a few low to mid major offers at the time. After a strong showing during the live period that July, Harper Jr. earned two Big Ten offers from Nebraska and Rutgers. However, it was clear he wanted to represent his home state, committing to Steve Pikiell the day after he was offered. He had a dominant senior season, leading Don Bosco Prep to the State Championship and finished with a tremendous performance, scoring 33 points in the loss to a loaded Roselle Catholic side. As a freshman this season, Harper Jr. has shown flashes of his potential and is averaging 6.2 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.2 assists.
As far recent recruiting battles between Rutgers and Seton Hall go, Pikiell landed his floor general of the future in 3-star point guard Paul Mulcahy this past summer. He had offers from about a dozen high majors, including both New Jersey programs. Landing Mulcahy in the 2019 class was a huge win on the recruiting trail for Pikiell. Mulcahy made it official last month when he signed his letter of intent. Adding him to the rivalry next season will certainly make things more interesting in future meetings.
That’s the beauty of Rutgers vs. Seton Hall. The players continue to change, but the rivalry continues to thrive. Coaches have changed hands and while Jordan’s teams were the least competitive the rivalry has ever seen, Steve Pikiell and his hard nose approach has made the last two meetings between the schools entertaining and highly competitive. After losing three straight games before his arrival, Rutgers led Seton Hall by 9 points on the road at the half before falling and stunned them last season at the RAC for the signature victory of the Pikiell era so far.
The good news was this past May it was announced the annual meeting between the two former conference foes will continue through 2026. Thank you Pat Hobbs, who hired both coaches currently leading these programs. Hopefully, the series, now dubbed the Garden State Hardwood Classic, will continue forever.
This is a true rivalry in every sense of the word. Animosity between coaches, players and fans has boiled over time and time again through the years. It doesn’t matter how well each team is doing that particular season. It certainly helps amp up the electricity of the meeting when they do, which was the case the past two years.
This season, Seton Hall is flying high after stunning Kentucky in overtime at the Garden last weekend. Rutgers is looking to cleanse the bad taste in their mouths after a disappointing defeat at Fordham, which came after playing very well during a three game stretch that highlighted this groups potential.
The bottom line is no matter how either team finishes out this season three months from now, this Saturday’s game will undoubtedly go a long way into shaping how their campaigns are viewed by its fans. Seton Hall said goodbye to an all-time class last year of Delgado, Carrington, Desi and Ish after three consecutive NCAA trips, but you know the blown a 9 point lead with six minutes to play against Rutgers last December will irk their fans forever. Just like the horrific defeats of the Eddie Jordan era encapsulated the sorry state of the program in recent years for Rutgers fans.
With Willard and Pikiell seemingly entrenched in their respective roles for the foreseeable future, the Rutgers-Seton Hall is as healthy as its been in sometime. Willard has his program much farther along and more established in his ninth season and understandably so. When Rutgers fans get frustrated during this rebuilding process under Pikiell, remember Willard didn’t take the Hall to the NCAA Tournament until his sixth season. While Pikiell is looking to lift Rutgers out of the Big Ten basement for the first time ever this season, there is more talent and depth with what is a mostly young core than the program has had in a long time. The rivalry, after a recent bump in the road with two blowouts, now continues to hum along, as round three between these two coaches tips off Saturday.
Below are some additional articles and videos to get you ready, aside from everything else we have coming later this week.
Jerry Carino is the dean of the New Jersey hoops scene and the beats for both Rutgers and Seton Hall. This annual recap of the rivalry, breaking down years of classic battles, is my favorite piece he writes each year. It’s a must read and make sure you do so sitting down for your own personal safety, as the blood will most certainly rush to your head.
It’s time to talk about Bambi on ice, runaway redwoods, clotheslines and head butts.— Jerry Carino (@NJHoopsHaven) December 10, 2018
Rutgers vs. Seton Hall: A history of high jinks
We have a shakeup in the rankings. A bunch of new (old) photos too.
Start rivalry week right here:https://t.co/PGDjW4PuP9 via @AsburyParkPress
Last season, our staff wrote about what the rivalry means to us and the year before Dave White and I broke down the coaching matchups of the previous 20 years here. And lastly, at least for me, pure chills from start to finish from the below video. Bravo to Mike Greengarten and the Rutgers marketing team for putting this masterpiece together.
⚔️ | 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
Is it Saturday yet? #DeckTheHall