First of all, if you're not a college basketball fan, you may as well stop reading. The one pre-requisite for making this article ring true and resonate for you is to be a fan of college hoops. If not, if you're just a fan of Rutgers football (or Rutgers baseball or Rutgers soccer, etc) then you're not much going to care. But if you are, then this one is a dandy, and it's only going to get better - potentially much better.
Rutgers versus Seton Hall in basketball is hot. It always has been, but that
passion has most always been confined to New Jersey residents and alums of both
schools. Rutgers and Seton Hall have never been on the national stage together,
never been perennial top-25 programs at the same time. RU's last real glory
days were in the
mid-to-late '70's, while Seton Hall's were from the late 80's to the mid 90's. (While Rutgers enjoyed a brief run of post-season appearances from '89 to '92, its success didn't last long.)
But with Rutgers hiring Fred Hill and Seton Hall tabbing Bobby Gonzalez, it's clear that both schools are eying a return to glory and a place once again in the national spotlight. For Rutgers, Fred Hill has been selected to end a string of mediocrity that stretches back over 25 years, and as all things go that concern Rutgers basketball, the specter of Seton Hall is never looming far away (and vice-versa). You don't think the Hall's interest in possibly bringing Fred Hill back to Seton Hall, where he had been an assistant and worked his recruiting magic, was a factor in RU quickly promoting Hill to the top spot last year?
As for Seton Hall, what about firing Louis Orr? Here's a guy who takes your school to two NCAA's in five years, and that's not good enough? No, apparently it wasn't. After Hill was named head coach at RU, SHU was not about to stand pat. It was bad enough that RU was finally able to gain entry in the Big East back in '95, but now they go and hire a guy whose track record indicates he'll do something that's never really been done before at RU: recruit some of the best players from NJ - which means Rutgers may actually start to win.
Thus, exit Louis Orr, and enter Bobby Gonzalez.
Yes, the passionate, sometimes profane, always potentially volatile Bobby Gonzalez. Even the hardest of hardcore Rutgers fans had a tough time disliking Louis Orr, a deeply religious man, soft-spoken, polite, and always a gentleman. Bobby Gonzalez by contrast seems like something out of Central Casting, sent by Hollywood to play the role of the perfect villain for RU fans - only he's all too real. It really can't get any better than this. It's as if Darth Vader has come to coach the Pirates
The Rivalry in Cyberspace
So if you're the typically avid Rutgers fan that follows RU intently, when you've heard that RU has secured a verbal commitment from say, Mike Rosario, after you've read all about it on the Rutgers sites, what's the first thing you do next? Why, you go over to the Seton Hall boards to see what they have to say about it. Typically, the responses don't disappoint. "No great loss for us", "We weren't recruiting him that hard anyway", "He wouldn't get off the bench for us for two years" - these are the kind of comments you'd have likely encountered. To be fair, you'd also find a few "Nice get for RU" thrown in, but odds are the derisive comments would at least equal the laudatory ones.
The Internet has allowed for an interesting look into the psyche of Seton Hall fans, and sometimes in ways one might not expect. Last fall ranked as the most memorable and successful season in Rutgers football history, and media coverage of it was certainly not scarce, to say the least. However, for a school such as Seton Hall that doesn't play football, you might think their message boards would have had nary a mention of RU's football successes each weekend - and you'd be quite wrong. In what was a continuous source of amusement for many RU fans, not only could they go to the Rutgers sites and read about the football teams accomplishments, they could also go the Seton Hall basketball board and read about it there as well.
This was an entirely hilarious affair, for not only did one get to read their anxieties over RU's success, i.e., "They're getting so much coverage now", "Will this help their basketball recruiting", "Wait until they play so-and-so, then they'll get their ass kicked", but then what often followed were the exasperated and often quite hostile posts from fellow Pirate fans indignant at having their basketball board cluttered up by so many Rutgers football threads. This is also where Rutgers fans could then get a firsthand look at the opinions of Seton Hall fans as to the strength of the Big East football conference. And what would you expect? Why it sucks, of course.
Oh yes, the Big East according to SHU fans: where the greatest and toughest college basketball is played - and where the worst and weakest college football is now played (or at least for as long as Rutgers is good at it). See, Rutgers fans know the real fun in all this, and that is since SHU is minus a football team, they can't do anything about all this. But they can do something about basketball.
They've really loved the way things have been going so far - up till most recently. They just loved Gonzo coming in at the last minute and snatching Eugene Harvey and ruining the Lance Thomas recruitment. They just loved Fred Hill's first year and all those bad losses. Oh yes, their boards were ripe with posts about them. Why, I even remember one where readers were asked to post pictures of some kind of disaster or catastrophe or just anything genuinely horrific, under a thread titled, "What does Fred Hill's first year look like", or something to that effect. It turned into quite a long thread, so they obviously had a real thigh-slapping yuk-fest over that one.
But they've been a little uneasier lately. They were able to exhale when RU passed on Mike Davis, but now the concern seems to be the lack of commits they have for the '08 class. Perhaps they would not even be concerned about that all right now, except for that annoying little fact that RU already has two: Mike Rosario and Olu Ashaolu. Plus, it seems like just a few too many '08 kids lately seem to be mentioning RU and not Seton Hall. Not too good. They also know Gonzo can't go into places like St Pat's and be welcome like Freddie can. And just why did Fred Hill pass on Mike Davis anyway? What's he got up his sleeve? (It's got to be something diabolical and dastardly, no doubt)
But that's really OK though, because every Seton Hall fan knows that in the end, Gonzo will kick Freddie's butt. He will, won't he? I mean, hasn't it always turned out that way between the two schools? Why should it be any different now?
Coming off a season where both schools finished under .500 and neither one even made the Big East tournament, both Rutgers and Seton Hall would seemingly have a long way to go to climb back to respectability, particularly in a conference as large and as deep as the Big East. However, neither Fred Hill or Bobby Gonzalez seem to be wasting any time doing what needs to be done at their respective schools. Gonzo brings in a six-player class that with guys like Davis and Michael Glover should thoroughly address the Pirates biggest weakness last year, namely lack of size and depth in their frontcourt.
As for Rutgers, although their recruiting class lacks frontcourt players, the four guards RU brings in will ensure that RU will in no way resemble the woeful scoring and shooting team they were last year. On paper, it would appear that Seton Hall is slightly ahead in the rebuilding process, but on paper is not where the games are played. Furthermore, this "race" is certainly more of a marathon than a sprint, and RU fans who know a bit what is going on behind the scenes have to be thrilled with the progress Fred and the staff are making with New Jersey's top players. Establishing RU as a major recruiting presence in New Jersey would be a first, for that didn't happen even during the glory days under Tom Young.
That's why it seems that if Fred Hill is going to build RU back into a powerhouse, he may very well be sharing the stage with his counterpart at South Orange. He's the last guy to beat Florida in the NCAA's, a guy who beat Maryland in the NIT at Maryland, all this while at Manhattan. Now he seems quite confident that he'll succeed big time now that he's on the big stage in the Big East. And fans of both schools, and all college basketball fans in New Jersey, should get ready for a war that seems to be shaping up into something that's unlike anything we've ever seen around these parts before.