The Big East Conference Tournament tips off on Tuesday and for the Seton Hall Pirates and Rutgers Scarlet Knights, who meet in the second of four games scheduled at Madison Square Garden, it's more than just a postseason basketball game. With neither team posing as a realistic threat of running the table and earning an NCAA Tournament berth, the two Jersey sides are playing for bragging rights; and more importantly for a local edge on the other. The winner has a chance to make a big statement in the tri-state area, as whoever is victorious today will take on the St. John’s Red Storm Wednesday (2 p.m., ESPN2). But for now, the Pirates and Scarlet Knights will revive their rivalry at The World's Most Famous Arena with each team trying to claim the title as Jersey’s Best.
Seton Hall and Rutgers have split their two meetings this season, with each team picking up a win in the other’s gym. Head coach Mike Rice’s Scarlet Knights took the first meeting of the year, Jan. 22, at the Prudential Center, 66-60. In the return game Feb 12 at the RAC, it was the Hall earning a close 69-64 win.
The Pirates couldn’t have been more different in the two games. In the home loss, they shot just 34-percent from the field, including 22-percent from 3-point land. The second matchup was a different story, with Seton Hall connecting on 50-percent of its shots. How these teams have been faring coming into today’s match probably doesn’t hold much credence. The games between these two teams are always close, no matter how good or bad the teams are. This season, they have been pretty equal; but for what it’s worth, Seton Hall comes in playing much better ball, perhaps its best of the season. Kevin Willard’s team has won two straight in impressive fashion, knocking off St. John’s and Marquette Golden Eagles in its final two games. Senior guard Jeremy Hazell, a All-Big East Third Team selection, has hit his stride after missing most of the season due to a broken wrist. The Harlem native is averaging 26 points per game in his last two outings and has made eight of his last 11 3-point attempts. If Hazell shoots that efficiently from the perimeter, the Scarlet Knights will have a tough time with the Hall.
Freshman forward Gilvydas Biruta has bee a thorn in Seton Hall's side. The All-Big East Rookie Team selection compiled a total of 30 points for Rutgers in its two meetings against the Pirates. However, the production of Rutgers back court is what will be key for Rutgers. The starting duo of Mike Coburn and James Beatty has provided erratic offensive production, but when they do find the hoop Rutgers is a much better team.
Expect a tough, hard-nosed, typical Seton Hall-Rutgers battle with a lot of physical play and probably a lot of turnovers. Being a Big East Tournament game, naturally, would up the stakes. But in this rivalry, that’s never really needed. These teams don’t like each other, and with a date with St. John’s looming, you know it will be a spirited affair.
-- Written by Chris Celletti.