Sunday's showdown between St. John's and Seton Hall is pivotal for both sides, but more so for Steve Lavin and surging Red Storm; who have not beaten Pirates since 2009, as Bobby Gonzalez informs us. (Photo courtesy of SNY)
Sunday afternoon, Seton Hall University finally gets what one of their former coaches had hoped for during his tenure; a meeting with local rival St. John's inside Madison Square Garden for the first time in nearly seven years, and one that is a big game for both the Pirates and Red Storm as each program attempts to remain in the NCAA Tournament conversation through the middle of the Big East season.
"I always wanted the game (between Seton Hall and St. John's) in the Garden," former Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez told A Daly Dose Of Hoops in regard to a rivalry that he had tried to enhance during his four-year tenure in South Orange. "It's two local rivals. From what I knew, the game was always in the Garden."
Although Steve Lavin and the Red Storm are 12-7 on the year and 4-3 within Big East play, their perennial dominance against the two other Big East programs in the metropolitan area has tailed off; as they have dropped two of their last three against Rutgers, and are searching for their first win against Seton Hall since February 22nd, 2009, when Norm Roberts led St. John's to victory against Seton Hall and Gonzalez, the object of affections from the St. John's student section that evening, as evidenced by the picture of the coach with a pacifier in his mouth and signs that read "Welcome to the 'World's Most Famous Arena'" and "Mommy, I don't want to play in Carnesecca."
The coach admitted to not having seen much of his former Seton Hall squad this season, but is particularly proud of the growth of junior swingman Fuquan Edwin, his last recruit to South Orange that he ultimately never got to coach. "We worked real hard, my staff and I, to get Fuquan where he is," Gonzalez stated. "I'm happy to see how far he has progressed."
Gonzalez, who has appeared on the NBC Sports Network and assisted Knicks coach Mike Woodson in the NBA's Summer League while trying to get an NBA job, feels that St. John's, in addition to coming out with a mindset focused on protecting their home court, will also have retribution on their mind from last season's 94-64 drubbing at the hands of Seton Hall last February at the Prudential Center.
"They're going to want to take care of business at home," Gonzalez said of the Red Storm. "Those kids might remember last year and could have a chip on their shoulder with the whole revenge factor. They're not going to forget."
This matchup is not necessarily a must-win for either side now that the Pirates ended their four-game losing streak with a 55-47 win over South Florida Wednesday night, but is still pivotal nonetheless according to their former leader.
"I think it's important for Seton Hall to step up and try to prove themselves," Gonzalez said, "because it's a chance for them to get a quality win against one of the better teams in the Big East." Bobby also intimated that although Seton Hall may need the win more on paper by virtue of their 2-4 Big East record, Sunday's matinee is more important for the home team to hold serve on their court.
"The game is bigger to St. John's because it's a home game and they only play Seton Hall once," said Gonzalez. "They're trying to get something going, they have quality wins against, in my opinion, two of the four best teams in the league. (Cincinnati and Notre Dame) I think they have great upside, and they'll get better and better as the year goes on."
Despite his unsuccessful attempts to lure the once-fierce rivalry between the Pirates and Johnnies to the "World's Most Famous Arena," Gonzalez made the best of his annual Hudson River battle more often than not, winning three of his five meetings against St. John's while also taking six of eight against in-state rival Rutgers. Gonzalez also owned an exceptional record against the Red Storm when his Manhattan College teams played the Red Storm at the Garden, and even though he had no major gripe about playing at Carnesecca Arena on the St. John's campus, believes that the flame of a series that once burned eternal in the days of P.J. Carlesimo and Lou Carnesecca can be rekindled under the bright lights of the "Mecca" of college basketball.
"I think it's a chance to be on stage locally and say 'Hey, we were at Madison Square Garden and we won,'" Gonzalez said. "It's a great game to have recruits at. It's a little different now because the rosters are different, Seton Hall and St. John's don't have as many local kids as they used to, but you still have the local rivalry."
The local rivalry gets renewed for the 89th time this Sunday, perhaps starting a new chapter to refuel the long and storied memories between New York and New Jersey, between St. John's and Seton Hall.