ny/nj college hoops rankings
(Photo via Rutgers Scarlet Knights)

Rutgers maintains its firm grasp on the top spot in ESNY’s NY/NJ College Hoops Rankings and another big-time program joins the party.

The college basketball season is in full swing — or at least as much as it can be while COVID-19 continues to surge. ESNY’s NY/NJ College Hoops Rankings are back for our second installment of the year and there aren’t many changes to the list. Rutgers continues to stand alone at the top, but there is one new entrant — Syracuse.

Let’s take a look at where the rankings stand entering Tuesday, Dec. 15:

NY/NJ College Hoops Rankings:

  1. Rutgers (5-0, 1-0) — No. 19 (^2) in AP Top 25 Poll
  2. Seton Hall (4-3, 1-0)
  3. Syracuse (4-1, 1-0)
  4. St. John’s (5-3, 0-2)
  5. Saint Peter’s (4-2, 2-0)
  6. Iona (2-3, 1-1)

No. 6 — Iona Gaels (2-3, 1-1)

In the first edition of ESNY’s NY/NJ College Hoops Rankings, Iona was almost neck and neck with MAAC rival Saint Peter’s. This week, they are far behind the Peacocks.

Double-digit losses to Morgan State and Fairfield sandwiched a win against that same Fairfield squad. All three of those games were potential wins, but the Gaels faded down the stretch in both losses. Rick Pitino’s squad is struggling to play a consistent 40 minutes in this bizarre season.

That first half against Seton Hall feels like a distant memory at this point.

No. 5 — Saint Peter’s (4-2, 2-0)

Saint Peter’s doesn’t have that signature win on their resumé yet, but they have done all that we could ask of them. Despite losses to two high-major schools — St. John’s and Maryland — Saint Peter’s has taken care of business in their winnable games.

The Peacocks swept Niagara over the weekend to improve to 2-0 in the MAAC. They were originally picked to finish third (in a tie with Monmouth) in the MAAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll.

Siena has yet to begin its season due to COVID-19 complications. The Saints are still the team to beat in the MAAC, but Saint Peter’s is going to be in the mix as well.

No. 4 — St. John’s (5-3, 0-2)

This was a tough week for St. John’s. They drop to 0-2 in the Big East after losing close games to Seton Hall and Georgetown. The Pirates were able to slow the game down against the Johnnies. Mike Anderson wants his team to play fast, but Seton Hall refused to be sped up by the pressure defense.

Losing to Georgetown is far more concerning, though. St. John’s was able to dictate the pace of play, but they couldn’t cash in on their opportunities late. Allowing 97 points to one of the worst teams in the conference is not a good look for St. John’s.

Without the luxury of playing a cupcake out-of-conference schedule, Mike Anderson’s 18 consecutive seasons without a losing record might be in jeopardy.

No. 3 — Syracuse (4-1, 1-0)

Welcome to the party, Syracuse! Jim Boeheim’s squad is benefiting from an easy schedule so far. Wins over Bryant, Niagara, Rider, and Boston College are nothing to write home about.

In their only true test of the 2020 season so far, Syracuse lost by double digits to Rutgers. The Orange will have their chance to prove themselves later in the year when they start playing ACC opponents, but for now, they are staying at No. 3. That’s not a bad place to be for their first week on ESNY’s NY/NJ College Hoops Rankings.

No. 2 — Seton Hall (4-3, 1-0)

Seton Hall is better than their record might suggest, but they are on a three-game winning streak. They seemed to turn a corner in the Penn State game, clawing their way back from down 19 points to shock the Nittany Lions.

Since that win, they cruised against Wagner and looked completely comfortable against St. John’s. The schedule ramps up in a big way for the Pirates this Thursday when they meet Marquette.

The Golden Eagles are one of the early surprises in this college basketball season. Unfortunately, this Big East rivalry will no longer feature battles between Myles Powell and Markus Howard, but Thursday’s matchup should be a good one regardless.

No. 1 Rutgers (5-0, 1-0)

This is the best Rutgers team in decades. Steve Pikiell’s squad is all the way up to 19 in the AP Top 25 Poll and they are going to be contenders in the uber-competitive Big Ten. Could a Final Four run be in the cards for the Scarlet Knights this season?

It’s too early to say, but they certainly have the talent to shake things up in March. Ron Harper Jr. is emerging as one of the best young players in the country and Geo Baker is finally back in the lineup after missing time with an ankle injury.

We don’t expect to see anyone knock Rutgers off the top spot in our rankings all year. They are the best team in the area hands down and if you have not seen them play yet, it’s time you take notice.

NY/NJ hoops reporter (NBA/NCAA) & sports betting writer for XL Media. Never had the makings of a varsity athlete.