The Orange get set to tangle with the Scarlet Knights this Saturday. In the meantime, we need to be prepared for anything. That's why I've traded some questions with SB Nation's Rutgers blog On The Banks to see what kind of intel I can get on this game, head coach Mike Rice and whether or not the Knights consider us their rival.
You can check out my answers to his questions over here.
How big was that win over Villanova in terms of this season? Long-term?
Rutgers had been gradually getting better leading up to Nova, losing a couple games where there was a big foul disparity. It's important in the sense that Rutgers can stop pointing towards the underlying numbers and now has some tangible evidence of improvement. Then again, they followed up the game with a letdown against Seton Hall. With the odds against a postseason right now, all there's really left to do is manage expectations to the point where the team can declare victory no matter what the outcome. "Hey, we were expected to be horrible and are only mediocre!" Another upset or two down the stretch and one Big East tournament win (a 12-13 rematch against Seton Hall?) would be nice.
They're back to the point where upsets like that are possible in the RAC, but there's still a long way to go to break through into the top half of the Big East and a NCAA Tournament bid. The more important long-term aspect has been that gradual shift in perception. A year ago the program was in absolute freefall. Now there's optimism. Rutgers should be one of the youngest teams in the Big East next year (and consequently, doesn't have any scholarships to give in 2012). They're kind of in a holding pattern for the next eighteen months.
Three-pointers are our kryptonite. Which Scarlet Knight do we need to fear?
Jonathan Mitchell sealed the victory against Villanova, and also happens to be RU's only consistent offensive threat. James Beatty has a decent stroke from the point guard position, but he's timid and prefers to distribbute the ball. Fourth guard Austin Carroll is also the designated shooting specialist, but he doesn't play much. Honestly, Syracuse doesn't have all that much to fear matchup wise. RU won't be going bombs away against the zone. Rutgers is sort of a poor-man's Syracuse (much weaker inside obviously) in that they win with defense and can't shoot free throws at all. They just need to double Mitchell because nobody else is polished enough offensively to create their own shots.
This is a team that wins with maximum effort, defense, limiting mistakes, and controlling the game's tempo. It's not that they're completely talentedless, but Rutgers doesn't have much depth, and their best player in Dane Miller is not an offensive stalwart. This will probably turn out like a few other games where Rutgers kept it competitive for a half before fading. They just don't have any answer for Rick Jackson, especially if/when Gil Biruta gets into foul trouble. Scoop could even have a big game if he's able to pick on Mike Coburn. There's no obvious mismatch.
Mike Rice. Best Rice since Ray? Five years from now is he still The Man?
As both fanbases have seen with Greg Schiano and Doug Marrone, any halfway competent coach who takes over for one that's in over his head will inevitably be widely celebrated. This is a team that plays like Rice's Robert Morris teams that gave scares to Syracuse and Villanova over the past few years. He certainly appears to be getting everything possible out of the roster, but then again how much of that should be credited to underachieving under Hill?
Rice has made all the right moves in hiring a good staff and doing relatively well in recruiting. Technically it's a top 10 or 15 class, but that's because of quantity. At seven signees it's more like two top 25 classes. Which is still really impressive considering how screwed the program looked after Fred Hill infamously melted down at a baseball game.
I was scared that Rice wasn't experienced enough to make the jump from the Northeast Conference to the Big East, but all the early signs look promising. The staff has been very good relative to expectations. Almost to the point where you're thankful for a losing record because it'll scare off programs like NC State from digging deeper into him as a candidate. He's proven this year and at RMU the ability to defy expectations as an underdog. So far so good, but it's not necessarily a guarantee that they'll be able to rebuild a program that hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament in two decades.
By the way, everyone at the Dome this weekend will probably notice Rice acting like a complete lunatic on the sidelines. Unlike Bobby Gonzalez, that act stops the second he walks off the court. He's turned into a real media darling down here.
Every time ESPN puts together a list of college basketball rivalries, they never fail to include Rutgers, be it with Seton Hall or St. John's or whomever. What is that about?
You tell me! Pat Forde wrote a column ranking various rivalries and listed RU/SHU and not Syracuse/Georgetown, which induced your ire. Why take it out on Rutgers? Forde's the one who said it. That's a matter between you two that has nothing to do with the Scarlet Knights. It always feels awkward to me when Rutgers sports get picked on for stuff like that or Jersey Shore. Like, you want to get really defensive, anal, and pedantic, like it was a personal insult. Then you sulk upon realizing that it'll all fall on deaf ears and probably just make things worse.
I can't speak to the Syracuse/Georgetown rivalry, but there's genuine animosity here even if it's been depressed by both teams being crappy. It's infuriating as a Rutgers fan that their basketball program has been mired behind Seton Hall, mostly owing to a series of idiotic decisions by the RU athletic department. They turned down the Big East back when it first formed, so Seton Hall takes it instead. They should be in the freakin' A-10, and instead get a front row seat to the greatest decade for a conference in college basketball history. There's a huge cultural gap between the schools too with Rutgers being very pc, big, and weird, while SHU is a tiny school that is very traditionalist. They are the people that watched According to Jim instead of Arrested Development, and deserve to be treated accordingly.
As for St. John's, I thought Andy Katz was just talking about recruiting, although he was still technically wrong then. Rutgers has a solid class of prospects from the NYC and DC areas. St. John's from what I can tell is recruiting more on a national level, and signed a much higher-profile class. I guess (?) Katz was trying to say that of the three metro teams, Rutgers and St. John's are exceeding expectations and recruiting well, and might be credible options for the best NYC-area players going forward. That's in contrast to Seton Hall, where Willard has just squandered what should have been a loaded team this year. Their recruiting class doesn't look very good either. The knives are already out for Willard and Seton Hall in the New Jersey media.
How do you guys feel about the idea of Villanova joining the Big East for football? Do you feel like there's rivalry potential given the proximity? Concerns about recruiting?
Hate it with the fire of a thousand suns. While building up a presence in Philadelphia is important, Villanova has too many financial obstacles to be a viable option. Nova is planning to play in a soccer stadium that seats around 20,000. They'd have to spend millions to build practice facilities and endow the full FBS scholarship allotment of 85. The Big East television revenue package is already subpar. Not only would adding them reduce everyone else's cut, but on the field they would further diminish the quality of league play while they got up to speed.
The plan is really only being considered as a viable option for two reasons. The Big East's basketball only schools are scared of a split along football lines. Villanova football is essentially supposed to be the fruit of a one night stand that will force everyone into a shotgun marriage. Furthermore, there's also the ever present threat of the "Big Six" BCS conference leagues breaking away from the NCAA in order to monopolize the bulk of any future television revenue. Villanova and the basketball schools are scared of being on the wrong side of that equation. Not only does Villanova in the Big East for football help keep the league huge and unwieldy, but it also would guarantee VIllanova a seat at the table in any imaginable scenario along these lines.
Keeping with the football switch, there was recently an article suggesting Rutgers and Syracuse should just force themselves to be main rivals already and play the final game of the year. What do you think? Does it matter?
I saw that post from Jerry Sanchez. You can't force a rivalry. Those rivalry games in flyover country have meaning because there are decades of history behind them. Rutgers doesn't have that much history with Syracuse despite the geographic proximity. Syracuse always put much more emphasis on winning athletics, and most of the past games between the two programs consist of one side beating the crap out of the other for a stretch before it swung the other way. What we have now seems mostly limited to the media.
Close games like the one we just saw last fall will help to that end, as they have with the recent games between Rutgers and UConn. It would be nice for something meaningful to develop organically down the line, but at the moment there are still a number of obstacles. Like it or not, Syracuse fans still see Rutgers as the Terry Shea pushovers, and we see Syracuse as the Greg Robinson weenies. I'm mostly concerned with getting our internal house in order (and cautiously optimistic on that front with the new offensive coordinator hire), and that seems to be the common sentiment. Any residual football hate ought to be reserved for the twin evils of Penn State and Notre Dame.