For the past several seasons, both the St John’s Red Storm and Seton Hall Pirates men’s basketball teams have failed to become a powerhouse in the Big East, or to make it to the big dance in March. Last season, St John’s had a 20-13 record and lost their first game in the NIT Tournament. Seton Hall fared worse, finishing the season with a 17-17 record and didn’t even qualify for the NIT.
However, things could be different this year as both teams are off to impressive starts. St John’s began the year winning their first four games by an average of 13 ½ points. Following St John’s 69-57 win over Syracuse they made it to the Top 25 in the AP Poll for the first time in 11 years. Seton Hall has won their first seven games by an average of 12 points, and are positioning themselves to be in the top 25 of the AP Poll if they continue on their winning ways.
Both St John’s and Seteon Hall are led by dynamic guards who were named Preseason First Team All-Big East.
For St John, they are led by senior guard, Dangelo Harrison. Harrison who has always been one of the Big East best scorers, averaging over 17 points per game, but now he is controlling the glass averaging over 9 rebounds per game this season. This is almost double what he did last year when he averaged 4.9 rebounds per game. With his performance in the NIT Season Tip off, Harrison was named to the Big East Honor Roll in early December.
For the Seton Hall Pirates, they’re led by 6’2 junior guard, Sterling Gibbs. With the graduation of Fuquan Edwin, Gibbs has taken over as the Pirates leading scorer. Gibbs put together one of the finest single-game performances in Seton Hall history vs. Illinois State in the Paradise Jam championship game on November 24th. The point guard scored a career-high 40 points on 10-for-14 shooting from the field, including 7-for-9 from three-point range. Gibbs was also a remarkable 13-for-13 from the free throw line in Seton Hall’s 84-80 victory. Gibb’s 40-point outburst is the highest point total for a Pirate since Jeremy Hazell scored 41 vs. West Virginia on Dec. 26, 2009. It’s also marked the 12th time in Seton Hall history that a player scored 40 or more points in a game. For his efforts, Gibbs was named the Paradise Jam Most Valuable Player, and the Big East player of the week.
In addition to Harrison and Gibbs, both teams have solid players with years of experience. A few years ago these teams, especially St John’s, were one of the youngest teams in the nation. Now, unlike some college programs where players are one and done, their experience could lead them into the big dance in March.
Sophomore guard Rysheed Jordan is averaging 16 points for the Red Storm and has improved on his shooting percentage from a season ago. Junior forward Chris Obekpa continues to be one of the more intimidating defensive presences in college basketball. He is averaging 3.8 blocks per game and is grabbing almost twice as many rebounds as he did a season ago.
For the Pirates, they are getting tremendous contribution from freshman guard Isaiah Whitehead. Whitehead, who is Brooklyn native, is averaging over 10 points per game and averaging 3 rebounds and 3 assist per game.
In addition, from their Big East schedule, these teams have some notable out of conference games on their schedule that will give them more exposure in the national spotlight. On January 25th, the Red Storm will play the Duke Blue Devils in Madison Square Garden. For Seton Hall, in December, they travel to play Wichita State.
But perhaps the most intriguing games, especially if you live in the NYC/NJ area, are the two games these teams play against each other. These teams will meet for the first time this season on New Year’s Eve at the Prudential Center in Newark NJ. Then they’ll meet again on February 21st at Carnesecca Arena. These meetings will be pivotal as they will determine seeding for the Big East Tournament.
While NBA teams in this area are off to slow starts, the college teams are looking more and more impressive which are to the delight of their head coaches, Steve Lavin and Kevin Willard. It’s far too early to say the Big East will get to the prominence it did in the 1980’s especially since some teams have left the conference. But, one thing is certain, and that is, St John’s and Seton Hall are headed in the right direction.