Garden State Hardwood Classic
Rutgers (5-4) at No. 23 Seton Hall (8-1)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey (Capacity
Tip-off: Sunday, December 12 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: FS1 - Alex Faust and Casey Jacobsen
Stream: FOX Sports Live
NET Rankings: Rutgers No. 170; Seton Hall No. 22
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers - No. 95, three spots better following Thursday’s 70-68 win over Purdue; Seton Hall - No. 30, three spots better than a win over Texas on Thursday.
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 102.9 (134th) Defense 94.9 (61st); Seton Hall - Offense 108.9 (46th) Defense 91.3 (25th)
KenPom Prediction: Seton Hall 71 Rutgers 62. Rutgers is given a 19% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Seton Hall -10.5 opening line
Series History: In a series that began in 1916, Seton Hall leads all-time 40-31. Rutgers has lost its last three trips to the Rock in Newark, last winning on the road in 2013. However, they did win the last meeting in 2019 at the RAC. Steve Pikiell is 2-2 against Seton Hall. Kevin Willard is 7-7 against Rutgers. Over the last 26 meetings, 21 games have been decided by six points or less with five decided in overtime.
Seton Hall: 6’6” senior Jared Rhoden - 17.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 1.4 assists; 6’10” junior Tyrese Samuel - 11.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 56.9% FG; 6’0” senior Bryce Aiken - 9.9 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.3 steals; 6’6” senior Myles Cale - 9.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals, 1.2 assists, 40.0% 3-pt FG; 6’2” senior Jamir Harris - 9.1 points, 1.0 assist, 37.7% 3-pt FG; 6’8” senior Alexis Yetna - 8.9 points, 6.1 rebounds; 6’10” junior Tray Jackson - 8.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 51.9% FG, 39.1% 3-pt FG; 6’6” sophomore Kadary Richmond - 6.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 40.0% 3-pt FG; 7’2” senior Ike Obiagu - 2.3 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.7 blocks
Rutgers: 6’6” senior Ron Harper Jr. - 16.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.1 steals, 40.8 3-pt FG; 6’11” sophomore Cliff Omoruyi - 11.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 58.9% FG; 6’4” senior Geo Baker - 11.2 points, 4.0 assists, 1.4 rebounds, 34.6% 3-pt FG; 6’6” junior Paul Mulcahy - 6.1 points, 4.6 assists, 4.4 rebounds, 1.6 steals; 6’7” senior Caleb McConnell - 5.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.3 steals; 6’8” freshman Jaden Jones - 5.6 points, 1.9 rebounds; 6’6” sophomore Aundre Hyatt - 5.6 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.1 assists; 6’7” sophomore Mawot Mag - 4.6 points, 2.0 rebounds, 42.9% 3-pt FG; 6’8” senior Ralph Gonzales-Agee - 3.4 points, 1.8 rebounds
About Seton Hall
Kevin Willard has this team playing at a very high level this season and are off to their best start since they began the 2017-2018 season at 9-1. He was aggressive in the transfer portal after a lot of roster turnover and Willard has done a masterful job getting this team to gel almost immediately. The Pirates beat Texas (KenPom No. 16) on Thursday and won at Michigan (KenPom No. 20) in November. Both were ranked in the AP Top-10 at the time. Their lone setback was a 3 point loss to Ohio State (KenPom No. 17).
Seton Hall plays a fast tempo (70.6, 74th) with an average possession length of just 15.9% (43rd), take care of the basketball (16.1% turnover rate, 44th), are a good rebounding team (30.8% offensive rebounding rate, 106th; 21.4 opponent offensive rebounding rate, 17th), are holding foes to just 25.0% from three-point range (8th) and only 45.2% from two-point range (53rd), defend the rim well with a 13.9% block rate (39th), get to the foul line at a high rate (36.3%, 52nd) and limit opponents from doing the same (23.0%, 44th).
They have struggled from three-point range (30.6%, 257th) and have a low assist to field goals made rate of just 39.8% (339th). Otherwise, they are in the top 100 of 12 individual advanced statistical categories per KenPom.
SHU is averaging 80.4 points per game and holding opponents to just 61.8 points per game. They’re shooting 45.9% from the floor and 74.8% from the foul line.
The Pirates are a balanced team that is big, versatile and has plenty of experienced players. They are similar to Rutgers in that they are a defensive minded team that is capable of putting together stretches of poor offensive play. Overall, they are a really good team, are well coached and play really tough.
Geo Baker has missed the previous four games with the first three due to a hamstring injury suffered in the loss to Lafayette and against Purdue for the flu. He practiced twice prior to getting the flu and is likely to play on Sunday.......Rutgers is in the top 100 of 6 individual advanced statistical categories per KenPom......The Scarlet Knights have the 5th highest average height of its roster in college basketball.
Keys To Victory
Hold Own In The Paint
These are two of the tallest teams in the country, but Seton Hall has a size and depth advantage in the frontcourt. The key is fundamentally sound defense on the blocks and not allowing easy baskets. The Pirates shoot 40% of their shots from behind the arc despite not being a good three-point shooting team. Rutgers needs hold their own on the boards, especially on long misses. It needs to be an all hands on deck rebounding approach in this game. I’m not sure they can win the rebounding margin, but they need to keep it close and not allow SHU to profit on second chance points. Purdue dominated Rutgers inside and if they let Seton Hall do the same, it’s unlikely they’ll win this time.
Win Turnover Battle
Both teams take care of the basketball reasonably well and have almost identical turnover rates (RU 16.2%, 44th; SHU 16.1%, 43rd). On the flip side, neither team forces turnovers much (RU 18.4%, 206th; SHU 17.8%, 247th). Rutgers has a notable size advantage in backcourt and need to utilize it by being strong in handling ball pressure from Seton Hall. When defending, the guards needs to stay low and avoid getting called for fouls for being late to a spot on the floor. Getting transition scoring opportunities off of turnovers and limiting the same for Seton Hall will be crucial in a game that is typically close.
They have to continue to close out on shooters the way they did against Purdue, but making it hard for the Hall to penetrate is key. Make them shoot jumpers and don’t allow the smaller Seton Hall guards to get into the lane off the dribble. Kadary Richmond is great off the bounce but can turn it over under pressure. Keeping key players out of foul trouble is important as well, especially Cliff Omoruyi and Ron Harper Jr. Rutgers has to bring the defensive intensity from the opening tip and make Seton Hall settle for contested jumpers late into the shot clock.
RU can’t afford defensive lapses and allow the Pirates to have sustained runs that put them in a large deficit. Rutgers is always best when their offense comes from their defense being on point and that needs to happen on Sunday. Caleb McConnell has had a tremendous season defensively and could be a major factor once again. With the speed of Seton Hall’s backcourt, expect Jalen Miller to get some minutes with his on ball defense being so strong.
Let The Offense Flow
The way Rutgers moved and shared the basketball against Purdue was a thing of beauty. It was hard to comprehend after so many disappointing offensive performances that involved over dribbling and a lack of flow leading up to that game. The Scarlet Knights assisted on the first 15 made field goals on Thursday which was into the second half. RU is now amazingly 11th in the nation in assisting on 62.7% of all made baskets this season. They have to make the Pirates work on defense with ball reversals and making the extra pass. Getting the ball into the hands of Ron Harper Jr. and Cliff Omoruyi in the post is key. Seton Hall is big inside but attacking them early and drawing fouls would change the complexion of the game.
Rutgers only attempted 14 shots from behind the arc against Purdue but made seven which were mostly due to finding shooters in rhythm of the offense. Need more of the same on Sunday night. Jaden Jones had the flu this week but could shine offensively in this game if he starts fast.
Handling The Moment
Rutgers’ core four players in Baker, Harper Jr., McConnell and Mulcahy have played in this rivalry game a combined eight times and each have won at least once with Baker having won twice. Only Mulcahy hasn’t played at the Rock. Seton Hall has Myles Cale who has played in this rivalry game three times, Jared Rhoden has twice, while Tyrese Samuel and Ike Obiagu have once. Only Cale and Rhoden have experienced winning and Obiagu is likely out with an injury.
The biggest difference in the experience between the two teams is that Rutgers has a major advantage with it in the backcourt. Baker and McConnell know what the pace and pressure is like, while Mulcahy knows how much the game means in the state of New Jersey.
Another wrinkle is Seton Hall is transfer heavy and Rutgers has mostly multi-year players in the program. The importance of this rivalry is likely translated better on the Scarlet Knights side. Rutgers great Quincy Douby spoke to the team on Saturday and played in this rivalry game seven times in his career, winning three of the last four after losing the first three.
I’ve attended this game at the RAC, the Rock and the Meadowlands. The energy is just different because the air is thick with angst, even in the old Brendan Byrne/Continental Airlines Arena which had the atmosphere of a parking garage. The environment will be even wilder this time around with missing last season’s game and after both teams earned top ten wins on Thursday.
Whichever team handles the emotions of the moment better could be the key differentiator. Whether it benefits in the way the two teams start the game, handle tense situations or close down the stretch of the game remains to be seen. Seton Hall surely has an advantage playing in front of its home fans and the upper bowl only open for SHU students. Rutgers also has its two best players seasoned for this moment.
For the tenth game of the season, I’ve selected “Prove It All Night” by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Who else could I pick for the biggest basketball game in New Jersey other than the Boss. Always considered this one of his best songs and it’s obviously perfectly appropriate for this matchup.
Rutgers has to avoid an emotion letdown after earning the program’s highest ranked win in program history just over 70 hours prior to tip-off of this rivalry game. It’s a tall task, especially on the road against a team that has been clearly better so far this season. Seton Hall will need to avoid an emotional letdown after knocking off No. 7 Texas on the same night, but they’ll have a frenzied fan base in their corner.
Despite the historic win over Purdue on Thursday, Rutgers still has a ton to prove this season. They’re NET ranking jumped from 217 to 160 (currently 170) after that victory, but they are nowhere close to NCAA contention right now. However, Sunday is a tremendous opportunity to earn a statement Quad I road win in December. This team needs to deliver a 40 minute masterpiece in defense and toughness if they want to accomplish it.
A win would make it the best regular season week in program history and give the program major momentum heading into the holiday break before Big Ten play resumes. This game is also for bragging rights in New Jersey, on the recruiting trail and even for the Big Ten against the Big East, who have been dominating non-conference play of late. If they want to make a statement against their blood rival and leave victorious, they need to prove it all night with a complete effort for the second straight game but likely an even better performance than they had against No. 1 Purdue.