It's finally here, Pirate fans. The Big One. The Hated Rival. The game every Pirate and Scarlet Knight circles on their calendars.
It's the Rutgers game. And the Blue and Red will clash again on Saturday afternoon at the Rock. Listen to WSOU for all the play-by-play action as I jump back on the airwaves to do my first ever RU-SHU showdown.
The scouting report:
2010-11 record: 11-7 (2-4 Big East)
2009-10 record: 15-17 (5-13 Big East; no postseason)
Key losses: Greg Echenique, Mike Rosario, Hamady N'Diaye
Key Returnees: James Beatty, Jonathan Mitchell, Dane Miller, Mike Coburn, Gilvydas Biruta (freshman), Mike Poole (freshman), Austin Johnson
The Scarlet Knights are a team that is eerily similar in style to the 2008-09 version of the Pirates (Paul Gause's senior season), in that they are a) a bit undersized, and b) a bit undermanned. But under new head coach and Bobby G sound-alike Mike Rice, they always play hard, and look to press, trap, and turn you over with their defense. Pirate fans should recognize this style all too well.
The one difference is that Rutgers has no one even close to resembling Jeremy Hazell. Their top scorer is Jonathan Mitchell, who averages 12.5 PTS. After that there's a bunch of guys with about 9 PTS, but this team does not score a lot. That would seem to play in the Pirates' favor, although they've had their issues with scoring the ball as well. Rutgers and Seton Hall are similar in this fashion, but also different because Rutgers' lack of scoring comes from a lack of a scorer, while Seton Hall's could be attributed to season-long half-court offensive struggles.
The main thing that the Pirates need to do is protect the basketball. Rutgers' bread and butter on defense is being able to turn their opponents over, so Jordan Theodore and Keon Lawrence will need to have Georgetown-type games (they combined for just 1TO in that game, committed by Lawrence).
Herb Pope and Jeff Robinson also have to stay out of foul trouble. It's beginning to sound like a broken record, but one or both of them does it every game. When Pope fouled out of the Georgetown game, the Pirates couldn't score. They need their bigs to stay on the floor against the aggressive front line of Mitchell, uber athlete Dane Miller, and the hard-nosed freshman from St. Benedict's, Gil Biruta.
Defensively, the Pirates have to watch out for James Beatty spotting up behind the arc. He's nailing those at over 40% this year. Mike Coburn, who is now a senior (though it seems like he's been there longer), has demonstrated improved decision-making this year, leading the team in assists. He still struggles from the field, so making him take shots may be beneficial for Seton Hall.
I also think that the Pirates need to go to Hazell early to see whether or not he can shake off the shooting slump he's currently in; large in part to rust from being out so long. With 3 days off in between the Pirates' last game and this one, and a long history of torching Rutgers, this could be the game that Jeremy breaks out of it.
PIRATES WILL WIN IF:
- Pope and Robinson are available by the end of the game.
- They don't turn the ball over, allowing Rutgers to run their fast break.
- They use the home crowd to their advantage. I expect a large crowd on Saturday, with a full and raucous student turnout. All the student tickets have been sold out for this game for about 2 days.
SCARLET KNIGHTS WILL WIN IF:
- They force Seton Hall to play too fast, making the Pirates turn the ball over.
- They get big contributions from their backcourt. Rutgers' backcourt is easily outclassed by Seton Hall's on paper, and therefore if Beatty and Coburn can hold their own against Theodore, Lawrence and Hazell, they'll be in good shape.
- They hit their threes. The Pirates will play zone most of the game, and with a general lack of skill in the frontcourt, Rutgers will most likely look to try and shoot over the zone. If they hit enough, this could be closer than Seton Hall fans would like.
The cool factoids about this game are many. Kevin Willard and Mike Rice met in their first ever games as head coaches, when Rice's Robert Morris team defeated Willard's Iona team. Willard is a Jets fan. Rice is a Steelers fan. Rutgers has only won 3 road games against Seton Hall in the history of the series. Five of the past 6 games have been decided by 6 points or less. After the events surrounding last year's games, the expectations for a all-out war on the court are pretty high. It should live up to those expectations.