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Building programs in the Garden State

SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM

In the Big East, the two teams from New Jersey are starting to make some headlines. My friends, Rutgers and Seton Hall may not be getting much exposure on the national scene, but they have made some noise lately within the conference.

Remember, both teams were rated in the lower echelon of the preseason conference poll. I remember doing a column when Bobby Gonzalez was hired by Seton Hall and Fred Hill was named the Rutgers coach. I told people they would recruit successfully and build programs their fans could be proud of.

In about two more years, both programs will be in the upper echelon of the conference. You may ask why I would believe that, but both Gonzalez and Hill are workaholics who can recruit, sell and show a positive attitude. Jersey basketball had quite a stretch recently.

It started with Seton Hall getting a big, big win over the Louisville Cardinals. Rick Pitino's club had won six of its last seven games, but the Pirates gave the Cardinals that "L," baby! Diaper dandy Jeremy Hazell went nuts against Louisville, scoring 29 points while hitting eight trifectas.

The Pirates then went on to win at Providence and edge an improved Cincinnati squad. Brian Laing has continued to show the hot hand, totaling 70 points in the last three contests.

Things are taking a turn at Seton Hall thanks to the enthusiasm and energy of Gonzalez.

Hill must be saying, wait a minute Mr. Gonzalez, you are not going to get all of the headlines in Jersey. Do you think Rutgers made some noise last week? First came a win against then No. 18 Villanova. Then the Scarlet Knights backed it up with a road win at the Petersen Events Center. My friends, it is very difficult to win at Pittsburgh -- go ask Georgetown about that! The Hoyas could not do it, and Rutgers did it in convincing style.

Gonzalez and Hill square off Wednesday in a game that has Big East observers interested. These guys are creating basketball excitement in the Garden State. This is only the beginning as these teams will, in a couple of years, build winning programs.

Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in December 1979. Send him a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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