With the Bearcats somewhat disheartening loss to Syracuse firmly in the rear view it is time to focus our collective gaze on the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers. A team that will be playing at home, for a community that will have its own collective gaze elsewhere.
Mike Rice has done a pretty good job of building the Knights up a bit. In his second year on the job he looks poised to raise his win total for the second season running. As Mick Cronin can attest that is no easy feat in this beast of a conference. Already this year the Knights have posted what could be considered landmark victories against Florida and UConn, two teams that have spent the majority of the season sitting in the top 15 of the polls. Rice's team this year has done very well defending home court, 9-4 on the year, but is borderline terrible away from the fortress that is the RAC.
The problem for Rutgers is the problem for all young teams. They are young. Rutgers features three true freshmen heavily in the rotation. Myles Mack, Eli Carter and Jerome Seagears. Those three are the guys that Rice leans on to make plays, to do the majority of the ball handling and generally pilot the S.S. Rutgers in the general direction of victory. The inherent problem with that is that Freshmen tend to do freshman things. And by freshman things I mean turn the ball over. A lot. In Big East play slightly more than one fifth of all RU possessions result in a turnover, 22.3 to be precise. Only Providence and Villanova turn the ball over more often.
The three freshman are the engine of the Scarlet Knights as I see them. But they do have a couple of veteran guys who have been through the Big East battles that Rice can turn to. Gilvydas Biruta is a big presence in the middle and has the most starts (20 of 21 games) of anyone on the Knights. The other guy is Dane Miller who is the other starter. Miller only averages 6 points a game, but he has the highest FG percentage and is the best rebounder on the team at 6 per game.
The one thing that would give me pause for concern is that Rutgers is a streaky 3 point shooting team. In wins they have shot at a 37.4 clip from distance. In losses they have shot 29.2 per cent. They have three young guys who are all very streaky and capable of making crucial buckets. They don't live and die by the three, but they are capible of killing games off with the 3.