Seton Hall and Rutgers both carry momentum into the Garden State Hardwood Classic
It’s a good week to be a fan of New Jersey college basketball teams. Not only did No. 23 Seton Hall knock off No. 7 Texas, but Rutgers just beat the top team in the country — Purdue.
It was the first win over a top-ranked team in school history for Rutgers. The victory came out of nowhere. Not long before Ron Harper Jr. hit The Shot and stunned the world, Seton Hall was putting away Texas with big play after big play.
Other than being from Jersey, beating top 10 teams on the same night is one of the only similarities between Seton Hall and Rutgers this year.
Seton Hall Swagger
Seton Hall is one of the best teams in the country. That’s not a sentence I thought I would be writing at this point in the season, but it’s true.
The Pirates already have two wins over top-10 teams and they have taken care of business in all but one of their games. Their only loss came against Ohio State by three points on a neutral site.
Truth be told, the Pirates are already ahead of schedule. So long as they finish within the top five in the Big East, they have an NCAA Tournament berth all locked up. But a trip to the Big Dance shouldn’t be the end goal, it should serve as a stepping stone for bigger and better things.
This might be Kevin Willard‘s best team since taking over at Seton Hall. Maybe this isn’t Willard’s most talented group, but it could be the most cohesive unit. They play lockdown defense, they have big-time scorers, and are as deep as any Pirates team in recent memory.
Aside: The 2019-20 Pirates might be Willard’s best team, but they weren’t able to play in the NCAA Tournament due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
If you haven’t been paying attention to Rutgers basketball, you might think they are having a great year. After all, they just beat the top-ranked team in the country, right?
Thursday’s performance is the outlier, not the norm for these Scarlet Knights. Rutgers is 5-4 after suffering losses to DePaul, Lafayette, UMass, and a 35-point beatdown by Illinois.
Obviously, Ron Harper Jr. is the centerpiece for this roster. He dropped 30 points and 10 rebounds in a Herculean effort over the Boilermakers. The Scarlet Knights revolve around the NBA prospect.
But can they get enough from the guys around Harper to sustain this level of play? A variety of ailments and illnesses have kept Geo Baker off the floor at times this year.
That leaves the onus on Mawot Mag, Caleb McConnell, and Paul Mulcahy to step up. The trio provided solid minutes against Purdue with Mag and McConnell combining for 24 points while Mulcahy dished out eight assists.
The Scarlet Knights will also need Cliff Omoruyi to start living up to his potential. He was a highly-ranked recruit who earned the starting job when Myles Johnson decided to transfer to UCLA.
Was Thursday’s win over Purdue a flash in the pan or the first signs of a Rutgers revival?
Seton Hall vs. Rutgers Prediction
When Rutgers plays like they did on Thursday night, they can beat anyone in the country. Duh, they beat the No. 1 team in the country.
However, the consistency is what’s worrisome when it comes to the Scarlet Knights. It’s going to be tough to replicate that performance against a defense that is tougher than a steak at a Jersey diner.
The Pirates should have enough offense to crack this Rutgers defense. Jared Rhoden is a consistent bucket and Bryce Aiken‘s shotmaking off the bench can change games.
Rutgers isn’t as bad as they looked in their losses, but they aren’t as good as they looked in the win over Purdue. Seton Hall is too consistent to pick against.
Prediction: Seton Hall 76, Rutgers 62
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