A showdown for the ages is on tap Thursday night. No, its not the clash between Steph Curry's Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers. It is most certainly not the battle in the NFL between the Jaguars of Jacksonville and the Titans of Tennessee. The showdown I am referring to is the NY-NJ tussle between the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the St. John's Red Storm. (OK, maybe "showdown for the ages" was a little much).
The color red will be featured prominently in this one, as will a few other items, as two teams from the old Big East square off in the Gavitt Tip-Off Games.
The hiring of Chris Mullin was the most high profile coaching move of the past year, heck, probably the last 10. The former Red Storm All-American had no coaching experience to speak of, but his connection to the program and his name alone made headlines light up across the country.
Two games into the Mullin era and things have gone swimmingly. The Red Storm is 2-0 with wins over Wagner (66-57) and UMBC (75-53) in the rear view mirror. The 22-point win against the Retrievers (terrible nickname by the way. Nothing against the dog, but a retriever is an excellent buddy not an intimidating beast) was the most lopsided victory for the Red Storm at Carnesecca Arena, where tonight's game is being held, since 2013.
Mullin isn't the only high-profile coach in this contest, as Rutgers' Eddie Jordan is a former Rutgers great who played in the NBA, while St. John's special assistant Mitch Richmond is a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame just like Mullin. Honestly, sitting in a room with those three and talking about the old NBA would be as exciting as this game, if not more so.
If you read this site regularly, you know who Henry Ellenson is. You also know that Ellenson was one of a few highly-touted recruit to choose to play at a Big East school. What does that have to do with St. John's basketball? Well, what if I told you only two teams are being led in scoring by a freshman in the conference? Then what if I told you Ellenson was one and Federico Mussini of St. John's was the other?
That's right. Not Jalen Brunson or even the Red Storm's own Malik Ellison. The 6-foot-1 rookie from Reggio Emilia, Italy has been the offensive star for Mullin through two games. He has splashed 18 points in both games, while knocking down 11-of-21 shots from the floor overall, including a 4-of-9 showing from beyond the arc. He has also gotten his teammates involved, with eight dimes. If he keeps this up, it is the responsibility of every St. John's student (and BECB staff member, frankly) to come up with a nickname for him. Any variation of "Italian Stallion" will be rejected immediately. Be original, folks.
You may remember Rutgers as the team that joined the Big East in 1995 and, well, never really made much noise in the conference basketball wise. The Scarlet Knights spent a year in the American Athletic Conference after the Big East breakup, but then jetted off to the Big Ten. Things are not going all that well in the new league, which has some powerful programs (Michigan State, Wisconsin etc.) So far this season, Rutgers has won twice in as many tries, although beating Rutgers-Newark and Howard isn't anything to brag about, especially for a team coming off a 10-22 campaign. In the third year of the Jordan era the Scarlet Knights' primary playmakers are Corey Sanders (15 PPG), DeShawn Freeman (15 PPG) and D.J. Foreman (10.5 PPG, 7 RPG).