With a combined 5-17 record in the Big East, an 11-game losing streak and just 5 NCAA Tournament births since 1993 (all Seton Hall), a meeting between Seton Hall and Rutgers looks pretty ordinary on ESPN's scoreboard. I would wager that some West Coast hoops fans think the ESPN2 label sitting atop of the game's pod is a mistake, especially when at least one of these teams is destined for a sub .500 record come Selection Sunday.
But as you, I and thousands of local fans know, this battle, this Civil War, packs a punch no matter the predicament of either participant: over the last 12 meetings, there has been an average margin of victory of 5.9 points, including four games that went to overtime. While most match-ups of seasons past have have been about Rutgers trying to spoil Seton Hall's chances at an NCAA bid, this year, oddly enough, seems a lot more pure. Barring a 2008 Georgia, neither team has a realistic shot at hearing their names called on Selection Sunday. Both programs have had undeniably poor, for whatever reason, showings in the Big East after posting stat-padding non-conference records. Seton Hall is playing for next season with an injury-ridden roster that will likely be without Brian Oliver (ankle) and Brandon Mobley (shoulder) tonight. On the other hand, Rutgers is hoping for an NIT bid if they can rattle off a winning record down the stretch.
To someone foreign to this annual showdown, the previous paragraph is an indicting piece of text that screams "Don't watch this game!" Pirate and Scarlet Knight fans just laughed, because they know this intrastate feud is always worth watching. Whether it be Herb Pope pulling some antics, Jeremy Hazell saving the day (sort of) or a JR Inman buzzer-beater, there is always something in store when these two sides clash.
Despite the gloomy circumstances that are surrounding both programs, they actually make this season's rivalry a little bit more special. Forget the NCAA Tournament, ignore the NIT and erase the basement-bound Big East records because this season is all about the rivalry. When a program's record is on the verge of keeping them out of any significant post-season play, sweeping a local rival is among the best ways to salvage some part of a season while squelching the cries of disgruntled fans.
This is not North Carolina - Duke, Xavier - Cincinnati, or Syracuse - Georgetown. The rivalry is not about which program has more prestige, Seton Hall unarguably does, or which coach is winning the recruiting battles, tip of the cap to Mike Rice. Quite simply, this clash pits two groups of players that hang out outside of basketball, two fanbases that grew up with each other and two programs that want to do one thing more than anything else.
Interesting Rivalry Notes & Stats:
- Seton Hall is 5-0 in their last 5 trips to the Louis Brown Athletic Center. Jordan Theodore factor.
- Austin Johnson & Dane Miller have each played in 7 Seton Hall-Rutgers contests. Fuquan Edwin has played in 5 while Aaaron Geramipoor has been available for 5 (only saw time in 3). Experience.
- This will be the 1st game against Rutgers for 5 Seton Hall players: Tom Maayan, Gene Teague, Brian Oliver (if he plays), Kyle Smyth and Kevin Johnson. Greenhorn.
- For a piece that can pass off as a history of this rivalry, definitely check out this article by Jerry Carino.