Thursday, October 21, 2010

2010-11 Preview -- Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Too Busy for the Details?
Year 20 of Rutgers rebuilding program begins with a new coach, the fourth of the rebuilding program. 20 years!? Yes, the Scarlet Knights, having won the Atlantic 10 Conference regular season advanced to the NCAA Tournament under (then coach) Bob Wenzel in 1991 with an at-large bid. New coach Mike Rice assumed control of a program whose fans were discouraged with a programs whose wins did not match the squads talent and roster was depleted by graduation and outbound transfers. If the effort he put into the first five months is any indication, Rice may well defy the trend and point the program in the right direction. In the 2011-12 season.   Prognosis -- An energetic 4th quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance

The returning numbers should be up across the board. Hamady N'diaye was the only graduating significant contributor, and the source of the large drop in rebounding. The attrition came through outbound transfers, a trend the new staff will hopefully be able to reverse.

According to Pomeroy...
BE Off Eff90.71591.81688.416
BE Def Eff113.715106.011105.412
BE Eff Diff-16.716-14.615-17.016
BE Off eFG%47.61245.01345.215
BE Off TOv%21.41522.81622.515
BE Off Reb%34.31033.31228.216
BE Off FTR%29.21523.31632.214

Running a multi-year double digit negative efficiency differential has to be put on the staff. A single season might be explained by a talent gap, but when the squad has All-Conference talent and the trend line barely moves, the staff is offering little by way of player development. Or the players are not listening. If his stint at Robert Morris is any indication Rutgers fans should see a more aggressive defense that forces turnovers and contests the defensive boards.

For the Record...
Big East5130.2782160.1113150.167
Post Season?BET Rnd #1BET Rnd #1NA

The Scarlet Knights' Nucleus
The cupboard may not have been picked bare, but the last season of the Fred Hill Era was another net minus for returning minutes, points and returnees in general. Coach Mike Rice will have an experienced (though maybe not quite All-Big East quality talent) back court, but he will to search for minutes, points and rebounds among his assembled front court. Recruiting/incoming players (see below) will have to help. Right now.

On Offense
Jonathan Mitchell82.1104.018.323.448.14.71.0213.5
Dane Miller68.590.323.521.
James Beatty63.7104.013.712.
Mike Coburn53.292.522.
Austin Johnson27.5101.414.710.551.98.21.1488.5

Some might wonder if Rutgers teams of the past had Big East-level players. That did not seem to be the problem in the last three seasons, as the staff signed and delivered all-state players in both the 2009 and 2010 season. Unfortunately a few transferred out before exhausting their eligibility. With Mike Rosario off to GatorLand, Patrick Jackson gone to Kent State and Hamady N'diaye graduated, sophomore forward Dane Miller and senior forward Jon Mitchell are the two most active returning offensive options. Transfer pg James Beatty was relatively efficient (see his 104.0 offensive rating), but nearly invisible in the offense (note his 13.7% possession and 12.1% shot rates), despite loggin about 60% of the minutes with the squad. He will probably see a jump just because Rosario is gone, but will have to be more assertive this season, if the Scarlet Knights are to see production from their backcourt spots. Look for Mike Coburn a 6-0 185 pound senior who appeared in all 32 games last season (starting in 15) to continue to log regular minutes in the rotation.

On Defense
Jonathan Mitchell82.
Dane Miller68.513.619.
James Beatty63.76.426.827.90.23.0
Mike Coburn53.25.831.426.60.11.9
Austin Johnson27.511.99.324.51.81.0

6-8 sophomore Austin Johnson was squarely in the rotation behind (at first) Greg Enchenique (since transferred to Creighton) and Hamady N'Diaye (graduated), appearing in 32 games for an average of 11.0 per game. While he showed an ability to be efficient (freshmen can have offensive ratings in the high 80s and still show promise their sophomore season), logging a 101.4, note that Johnson, like Beatty, was not the first or second (or third or fourth) option on offense when he was on the court. N'Diaye and Enchenique are gone, if the Knights are to show any low post offense Johnson will have to provide it.

Significant Additions
Coach Rice unpacked his bags, picked his staff and hit the recruiting trail. He has replenished the roster with six players (five new, one a returnee) for the 2010-11 season. Impressive to be sure, but next season's incoming group will be even better. 6-8, 230 pound Gilvydas Biruta is probably the best-regarded among the true freshmen. Biruta signed with Coach Hill, but Rice worked hard to sell Biruta on Rutgers a second time. Ranked #35 nationally among pfs, Biruta has a Big East body, a Euro-style shooter's touch from the outside, but also the ability to close and finish in the low post. Rice will definitely find something for him to do on the court. He should be a strong paint companion to Johnson. Biruta played for Dan Hurley's Grey Bees at St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, NJ. Fellow Grey Bee Mike Poole, a 6-6 195 pound sf joined Biruta in New Brunswick, and should see regular minutes on the wing for the Scarlet Knights this season. Coach Rice added an additional wing when post graduate Robert Lumpkin, a well-traveled 6-7 215 pound wing out of Washington DC who played two seasons for New Mexico State after transferring in from Kilgore College in Texas. Lumpkin will add experience to the wing positions. Coach Rice also gathered two guards, 6-3 185 true freshman Austin Carroll, a Brewster Academy graduate who will provide some perimeter shooting and another journeyman, 6-1 190 pound junior transfer Tyree Graham who left Texas Tech at the end of the fall semester of his freshman year. Graham surfaced at Brunswick Community College in North Carolina where he played the 2009-10 season for Coach Walter Shaw. Carroll is described by scouting services as a good complementary player, Carroll will probably see minutes in the back court rotation. Graham, described as competitive, will contribute points and assists next season, pending complete rehabilitation of his torn ACL. The returnee is Charlie Rigoglioso, a fourth year junior who transferred (out) to Moravian College after his freshman season (2007-08), and after one season at the small Pennsylvania college, back (in) to Rutgers where he sat (per NCAA rules) for the 2009-10 season. Rugoglioso is a walk-on who will provide depth in the backcourt and some game experience in practice.

Explode If...
Explode is a relative term. A good season for Rutgers would be to avoid the conference cellar and take a game or two they weren't supposed to win. Winning more than 12 games would be a good beginning for Coach Rice, but somewhere near or just outside the 95% confidence interval given the state of the program and squad.
1. Absolutely everything comes together for Mike Coburn and James Beatty...and Dane Miller proves to be the kind of impact player who can put the team on his back and win night in and night out. And Biruta makes Rice look like a genius for spotting talent.

Implode If...
1. Mid-major coaches tend to neglect conditioning when they move up to BCS coaching jobs. Older coaches like George Blaney never quite understood why their teams broke down (literally) in February (Blaney figured it out when he joined Coach Calhoun's staff at UConn, but he missed it completely when he headed the Seton Hall program). The younger guys have an understanding that some conditioning is required, but they usually underestimate the extent and commitment until their practices and routines begin to wear down their squad. Watch the headlines and notices through February, if members of the Scarlet rotation start showing up with nicks and dings, know the squad will be dog-tired by March. The schedule maker left a couple of "treats" at the end of Rutgers' regular season, but if the squad is spent, Rutgers may drop those otherwise winnable games.
2. This is Coach Rice's first BCS season, and no one really knows how he will handle the pressure. If the Scarlet Knights go into an extended slump (losing say, eight or ten games at a pop), the coach will struggle to keep the players focused and in the game.

Crucial Run/Bellweather Games
Though he coaches in a power conference, old habits are hard to break. Coach Rice has his Scarlet Knights on the road for six of Rutgers 12 out of conference games. Robert Morris may have had to live out of a suitcase in November and December, but Rutgers does not. Most of the travel is actually reasonable given the commitments, whether it is a good method to prepare for the Big East season is a debate for another day. The Knights will return a date with traditional New Jersey rival Princeton to open the season, take three games at home (one against Miami of the ACC), then travel down the Jersey Pike to the Palestra to play Saint Joseph's in the Philly Hoop Group Classic Championship round. Back to the RAC for two more games, then out to Pittsburgh for the Big East-SEC Invitational match with Auburn. Another home date with Green Knights of FDU, and back on the road to Monmouth to play in the Hawks' new arena. Back to the RAC to host St. Peter's, then off to Madison Square Garden to close out their three game contract with North Carolina. 9-3 would be a reasonable record going into their Big East schedule, though an upset one way or another could yield eight or ten wins.

The road theme continues into conference play as Rutgers opens on the road with one of their mirror opponents, Villanova. While January holds a few challenges (the opener at Villanova, Marquette and Georgetown at home), February could be make or break month. Beginning on January 29, and over the course of the next 30 days the Scarlet Knights host Pittsburgh, Villanova, Seton Hall, Louisville and West Virginia, interspersed with road trips to St. John's, Notre Dame, and Syracuse. As Hoops Heaven's Jerry Carino noted, Rutgers could easily go 0-8 in February. Granted they close out March with (winnable?) road games at DePaul and Providence, but by that time the squad may be mentally and physically, beaten to a pulp. If Rutgers is to avoid the last seed in the Big East Tournament, Coach Rice will have to find at least three, possibly four wins. The Scarlet Knights are mirrored this season with Providence, Seton Hall and Villanova. Sweeping Providence would establish the pecking order, but Rutgers will also have to beat South Florida (in the RAC on 1/20) and take another game. But among the home games, only USF which lost a lot of minutes and scoring from 2010, appears to be vulnerable, so the fourth win will have to come versus an opponent against whom Rutgers cannot expect to be favored (at least not at this point). Welcome to the Big East Coach Rice.

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