Sportswriter and good dude Brendan Prunty is the only guy I'd want to handle questions about Rutgers for the next installment of Know! Your! Foe! and thankfully Hoboken's finest showed no hesitation in joining the site for a second straight year.
If you cover any of the teams that Princeton will be facing in 2012-13, get in touch! Would love to interview you.
Welcome back, Brendan. Following Tuesday night's game I am guessing a lot of Princeton fans are feeling like a lot of Rutgers boosters did after the Scarlet Knights dropped their season opener at home versus St. Peter's. In short: What happened?!
From what I gathered from watching the tape of the game on my DVR (I had the good fortune of covering Seton Hall's blowout over the 'Roos of UMKC that night), it was a perfect storm of things going wrong at the worst time against a good defensive team that can make it worse. What people often don't realize -- especially if you don't pay attention to the MAAC or Saint Peter's -- is that John Dunne and his staff are one of the best in the country in creating problems for the opposition on defense. Rutgers made their job so much easier by taking wild, unforced and ill-timed shots on offense. Think about this: For the first eight-plus minute of the game, Rutgers ran one pseudo-offensive set. ONE. And that was a quick dump-in pass to Wally Judge in the post, who backed his man down for the basket. From what I was told the other night, the coaching staff -- which admitted not fully being prepared themselves -- felt that the team treated the opener as a "Well, we're not losing this game" approach. And a team like Saint Peter's will thrive on that if you let them and Rutgers did.
Mike Rice's team then dismantled Sacred Heart, 88-62. You were there. What was different this time out?
Frankly, Sacred Heart just isn't that great. They're not as athletic as Rutgers, they don't play as good of a defensive scheme as Saint Peter's and they're very reliant on one guy -- Shane Gibson -- going off to give them a chance. The Scarlet Knights did what they had to do, win and win convincingly.
Since most last saw RU, have they developed greater balance between the frontcourt and the backcourt? Also, who is expected to replace the loss of transferring big man Gilvydas Biruta?
I think those two questions actually go hand-in-hand. In my opinion, part of the reason why Gil Biruta left Piscataway was because he didn't know how to play with the backcourt that Mike Rice has assembled. Not that it couldn't have been worked out with another season, but Biruta prefers to play around the basket and be physical. Rutgers' guards obviously like to shoot and play along the perimeter. Well that didn't really work out too hot last year because Biruta eventually found himself drifting more towards the perimeter while Rutgers lost rebound opportunities and gained bad longer-range shots by its only physical force.
The answer to the second question is related to the first, because Wally Judge is much more suited to the style that Rice wants to play with this set of guards. Judge is at his most effective in the space between the three point line and the key, but is flexible to moving in or out because he's so athletic and versatile. I don't think Rutgers has quite figured out the proper mix yet -- that was the big problem on opening night, the guards jacked up shots like crazy and Judge (who was effective down low) was virtually being ignored on set plays.
Speaking of balance, five players are currently averaging between 8.0 and 11.5 points/game for the Scarlet Knights. Is that a two game aberration or do you feel the scoring will come this equally all year long?
Probably a bit of an aberration. It's hard to tell just what exactly this team is right now because we've had two vastly different games, with different outcomes and different styles of play. I think you're still going to see Eli Carter lead this team in scoring with Judge running a close second. I'd imagine too, that both players will average double-figures, which frankly, Rutgers needs to happen. After that, it's really unknown because Dane Miller is still a mystery; Jerome Seagears and Myles Mack have not been consistent; Kadeem Jack is still finding his footing; Mike Poole isn't a 30-plus minute guy; and everyone else is either still raw or didn't see much time last year.
With as many guards as they have, I was shocked to see Rutgers shooting 18.5% from three through two games. Do you think outside shooting is this team's Achilles heel? If not, what is?
Most people don't because they shot OK last year from three point range (33.5 percent) and it accounted for just about 1/4 of their total points for the season. But I think it's a deep, dark secret that Rutgers doesn't want to admit to itself: It's not a great three point shooting team. Carter and Seagears are probably your most consistent "shooters" (35% for Carter on 55-156 last year; 33% on 29-87 for Seagears), but I don't think any opposing coaching staff worries about them consistently. Dane Miller is OK, but always seems more comfortable taking the mid-range jump shot. And Myles Mack? In looking at Mack, it always seems like he's stretching to shoot the three ball. Sort of like when your little brother sees you take a three pointer for the first time and tries it himself, but has to jump so high and use so much energy to just get the shot off, that it's either too short or too long and never in. Mack and Poole seem to be so much better from inside the arc, but both still try and put up 3s from the outside and it never amounts to much.
Conversely, what do you expect the Scarlet Knights to do well in 2012-13?
Scoring down low. Over the past 3.5 years, between Greg Echenique's brief tenure and Biruta's two seasons, Rutgers hasn't had to worry much about scoring from the blocks. However, they've never been able to get it consistently because Echenique was never in great shape to beat defenders and Biruta was always in foul trouble. But Judge will change that, I believe. He's a fringe NBA body (in my opinion) and knows how to use it. That was the problem with Echenique and Biruta: They were big and physical, but didn't know how to use it to their advantage. Judge is very slick. The litmus test, as always, will be the Big East schedule, but early indications are he'll be just fine.
Has third year coach Mike Rice had greater difficulty than expected putting his stamp on this program?
I don't think so. As I've always said from Day One of the Rice era: If he can't turn this ship around, no one will. Rice may have his flaws, but he has remade this problem in his image, without doing it in an egotistical manner. His players like him, his staff likes him, he has connections with all of the major players for high school talent in New York City, New Jersey, Philadelphia and D.C. Those are places where Rutgers never used to recruit from before. Most importantly: He has the support of his athletic director. Rice was Tim Pernetti's first major hire of his tenure and I think he's committed to seeing it through to the other side. Sure the wins and losses haven't exactly been what anyone would like, but remember: Rice's first season he had scraps for a roster and won 15 games; Last year was his first year with actual talent, but he had no seniors. This is the first season where Rice truly has the necessary parts in order to start a move. Unless he starts having single-digit win seasons overall and in the Big East or making disastrous moves off the court, Rice is just fine.
Fill in the blank: Rutgers ends a two game losing streak versus Princeton if...
It didn't spend the last four days thinking about its two game losing streak against Princeton. That sounds kind of silly to say, but I think the times where this Rutgers team (and I go back to last year) gets into trouble, is when they circle something on their calendar and get tunnel vision. I know Rice wants to win this game bad. He doesn't like losing to in-state teams and there's probably a part of him that is a bit chapped he's 0-2 against the Tigers in his tenure here. But Rutgers needs to win this game to fully right its ship before Thanksgiving. That's the most important thing the Scarlet Knights need to focus on. Not going 0-3 to Princeton.
Princeton wins their third straight against the Scarlet Knights for the first time since 1995-97 if...
Ian Hummer can dictate the tempo and pace. That's what happened last year and it worked, right? Hummer is one of those players that can just make you want to put your fist through a wall because no matter what you're trying to do, he's figuring a way to get around it. That was part of Rutgers' problem against Saint Peter's -- they couldn't figure out a way to make the Peacocks go away and by the final three minutes when it became a tie game again, Rutgers basically put its hands up and said, 'We're done here." Hummer can make you do that.
Finally, please let people know more about where they can keep tabs on your work this season! In addition to your print work, will your podcast be returning for a second year?
Unfortunately, the podcast was a short-lived experiment. However, you can always read up at nj.com/college-basketball (our all-encompassing NCAA hoops page), nj.com/rutgersbasketball or nj.com/setonhall. If bookmarking three pages isn't your forte, @BrendanPrunty on Twitter has all the links.