Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
After four years of watching Fred Hill match witswith Bobby Gonzalez, New Jersey basketball fans will witness the beginning of a new chapter in the Rutgers-Seton Hall rivalry at high noon on Saturday.
First-year coaches Mike Rice of Rutgers and Kevin Willard of Seton Hall — both hired after their predecessors were fired last spring — will face off for the first time in the Big East at The Prudential Center (noon, SNY).
“We have a very tough game against Rutgers on Saturday,” said Willard, who, as the coach of Iona, went 0-2 against Rice and Robert Morris. “It’s a rival game so we’re looking forward to it. Mike has done a terrific job so far and we’re looking forward to a very tough game.”
No matter whether Seton Hall (8-11, 2-5 Big East) or Rutgers (11-7, 2-4) wins this particular game, the two programs will continue to battle for recruits in the Garden State and beyond for years to come.
“Obviously, to this point the huge edge goes to Rutgers’ recruiting,” Naismith Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley of St. Anthonysaid Friday. “They’ve done a tremendous job of getting kids. And then Seton Hall’s going to have work at it a little bit more.”
Rutgers’ seven-man class for 2011 includes St. Anthony senior point guard Myles Mack and is ranked No. 13 by ESPN.com
Seton Hall has an unranked three-man class highlighted by Louisville guard Aaron Cosby.
“Rutgers got a jump on things over Seton Hall and they got an early advantage with a deeper class,” said Jay Gomes of NJHoops.com. “They had more scholarships to give, obviously. I think Mike had a lot of strong connections in the area with his background so that helped. They hit the ground running and they did a terrific job locking up their class very early.”
Rutgers loses three key seniors after this season in Jonathan Mitchell, James Beatty and Mike Coburn.
The Scarlet Knights will overhaul virtually their entire roster next season, combining the incoming freshmen with current freshmen Mike Poole, Gilvydas Biruta and Austin Carroll and sophomore Dane Miller. Junior guard Tyree Graham, out this season with an ACL tear, is also expected back.
Seton Hall will lose a slew of experience as well in seniors Jeremy Hazell, Jeff Robinson, Keon Lawrence, Eniel Polynice and Jamel Jackson. Forward Herb Pope, one of the top rebounders in the Big East, is a junior but could opt to go pro.
Seton Hall has just five players returning from this year’s roster — Jordan Theodore, Fuquan Edwin, Patrik Auda, Anali Okoloji and Aaron Geramipoor — and could still give as many as five more scholarships in the spring signing period.
“The class that Rutgers got, they had to get because there’s a lot of senior starters,” Hurley said. “They have a lot of veteran players. They lose Beatty, they lose Coburn, they lose Mitchell. So they’re losing three pieces. And they were getting back-ups last year for this season. They got Carroll. And they gotPoole. They got those kids very late in the going just so that they would really have enough people to be able to not have to use walk-ons.
“And then Seton Hall has a really good lineup of veteran players. Hazell, if he hadn’t been injured [with a broken wrist], I think they’d be a much stronger team. But they’re kind of in the same boat, too, because they’re going to graduate [players]. So they’re situation is a little more tenuous now because I think Rutgers has kind of initially solved their problems they have.”
Seton Hall has drawn a lot of elite young prospects to recent games, including 2012 St. Anthony point guard Kyle Anderson, 2013 St. Patrick forward Austin Colbert and 2014 St. Patrick big man Dakari Johnson, as well as 2013 Hudson Catholic guards Reggie Cameron and Kavon Stewart. Many of those players have also attended Rutgers games.
St. Patrick and St. Anthony are currently ranked 1-2 nationally in the USA Today Super 25.
In the meantime, Seton Hall will have to plug some holes with JUCO players or those left in the spring signing period.
“Rutgers freshman class for next year will definitely have a strong advantage, but things change year to year,” Gomes said. “In future, Seton Hall could have a lot of good things to sell with their history and with the facility they play in. So they’ll be able to get some kids down the road. It’s just right now, Rutgers has the advantage.”
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.