It somehow seems appropriate that Rutgers and Seton Hall will open play Tuesday night in the last real Big East Tournament ever against soon-to-be-foreign foes.
In the first game of the opening doubleheader at 7 p.m., No. 12 Seton Hall, soon to be part of the new Big East, will take on No. 13 USF, soon to be a part of the America 12.
At 9 o’clock, No. 11 Rutgers, soon to be a part of the America 12 for a one-year pitt stop before heading to the Big Ten, will face No. 14 DePaul, which will join the Catholic 7 in the new Big East.
As @dan_carey put it on Twitter, you might call the opening night the first annual Big East/America 12 Challenge.
If all of that seems a bit confusing to the average fan, imagine what it’s like for the players.
“[The players] don’t get the fact that the Catholic 7 are leaving and taking the [Big East] name,” Rutgers coach Mike Rice told SNY.tv Thursday. “Right now that’s not forefront in their thoughts and everything else that’s going on with them.
“They’re no different than any other college kids in that they’re kind of surrounded in their own little worlds.”
In three consecutive years beginning this year, Rutgers will be a member of three different leagues: the Big East, America 12 and the Big Ten.
They better not spend a lot on league-inspired stationery down there in Piscataway.
Of course, Rutgers isn’t the only school in such a boat.
Rick Pitino and Louisville figure to compete for league championships in the Big East this year, the America 12 next year and the ACC in 2014-15.
Seton Hall, by contrast, will never have the name of its league changed, even as it moves from a Big East with Syracuse and Pittsburgh and Notre Dame to one with Xavier and Butler and Creighton.
Still, continuity won’t necessarily mean success for Seton Hall, even if Pitino has said the league change will help schools like Seton Hall and Providence, presumably because they won’t have to compete against the Louisvilles and Syracuses of the world.
Appropriately, Rutgers and Seton Hall will end their Big East regular seasons against one another on Friday night at the Prudential Center.
The game will mark the last Big East regular-season meeting between the two Jersey schools.
As for next year, Rice said he and Pirates coach Kevin Willard plan to continue the Garden State rivalry, possibly during the week between Christmas and New Year’s.
“I think we’re always going to play Seton Hall,” he said. “I’d like to play them when the students are there, to be honest with you. But it does make sense right after Christmas, before New Year’s. But that’s something the two athletic departments will have to discuss and the two head coaches will have to discuss.”
Neither program has given their fanbases much to cheer about during this dreary final Big East season.
The two schools are 7-27 in the league this year and are destined to finish a combined 8-28.
Seton Hall has lost 10 of 11, Rutgers 11 of 12.
Rice, whose team lost leading scorer Eli Carter to injury for the season, doesn’t dispute that both teams need better talent, although neither school exactly has a top-tier recruiting class coming in for 2013. And neither program appears to be involved with any heavyweight talent in 2014, either.
It continues to be a grand irony of New Jersey basketball that St. Anthony and St. Benedict’s (and until recently St. Patrick) remain among the top high school programs in the nation, while Hudson Catholic, Roselle Catholic and Gill St. Bernard’s are emerging powers, yet the state’s Big East schools are perennial cellar dwellers.
Of the 17 McDonald’s All-American Game nominees from New Jersey this year, not a single one committed to Rutgers or Seton Hall.
“It’s always talent, whether they’re from New Jersey/New York or from Anchorage, Alaska, it doesn’t really matter,” Rice said. “But it always is nice to have homegrown talent because we have so much of it here. And then it’s about developing your talent. It’s about developing winning programs.”
No one would mistake Rutgers or Seton Hall for a winning program at this stage, and the clock is ticking on both Rice and Willard.
Since being hired in 2010, neither man has taken his team to an NCAA Tournament, while St. John’s coach Steve Lavin has been to one.
Both coaches appear to be safe at least through next year (assuming neither one exits on his own), but beyond that who knows?
At some point they will need to start winning or else face the fate that befalls most coaches in this business.