The Scarlet Knights (4-3) are coming into tomorrow's rivalry game with a slightly different perspective than undefeated Seton Hall. An 18-point embarrassment at the hands of Saint Peter's and a 45-26 loss to Virginia have been mixed with wins over Clemson and Vanderbilt that have given Rutgers some credibility. Taking out in-state foe Seton Hall (6-0) on top of those two power conference wins would build up momentum going into a five-game stretch of relatively easy opponents before the gauntlet that is the Big Ten. Seton Hall leads the all-time series 36-29.
Eddie Jordan's team hasn't shot overly well from outside this season (28%, 294th), but they're not afraid to shoot the long-ball. Rutgers launched and missed 13 three-pointers against Virginia and then shot 7 of 19 from three against Clemson. With guard Bishop Daniels (5.6 ppg) out injured tomorrow, freshman sniper and former teammate of Khadeen Carrington at Bishop Loughlin, Mike Williams (6.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg), will get the start at the two-guard spot. Williams is just 7 of 30 from beyond the arc in his young career, but he'll always be a threat to heat up. Small forward Junior Etou (6-24, 25%) and Myles Mack (12-38, 31%) will also step outside, with the former creating matchup problems for his defender.
Overall, Rutgers is particularly thin in their backcourt and Daniels' injury furthers this issue. Reserves Malick Kone (1.3 ppg) and to a smaller degree Kerwin Okoro (2.3) have the ability to spell Mike Williams at shooting guard as more defensive options, but Myles Mack (14 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 5 apg, 3.3 spg) must log all of the minutes as lead guard, and so far he has. Mack has averaged 36 mpg this season including all 40 against Vanderbilt.
In the frontcourt, Rutgers has the advantage on paper. Big man Greg Lewis (5.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg) usually isn't much of a factor, but he is fresh off a breakout game of sorts after scoring 11 points against Clemson and has taken over minutes from freshman D.J. Foreman (3.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg), who hasn't scored in three games. Go-to power forward Kadeem Jack (13.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg) plays similarly to Brandon Mobley and will be able to pull his defender away from the paint, much like Junior Etou. Off the bench, 6-foot-11 275-pound Shaq Doorson is very raw and will play a Rashed Anthony-like role.
Three things to watch for:
The focus of the freshmen. Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina have downplayed the pressure on Seton Hall's freshmen coming into this game, but it's still an unknown how they will start in their first rivalry game tomorrow. For lack of a better comparison, Rutgers is an early Big East-like game that Seton Hall hasn't really seen outside of perhaps George Washington thus far. We've witnessed a few times already that locking down on defense has been the key to getting the Pirates going in all facets of their game. The crowd will be the rowdiest that the young Pirates have encountered yet and will play a factor, especially early on.
Battle of the bigs. This is where Rutgers has the biggest advantage. Not to beat a dead horse, but every time I've questioned Seton Hall's interior presence this season, they've met the challenge outside of Illinois State. Kevin Willard has Brandon Mobley or Desi Rodriguez providing immediate help defense to Angel Delgado when an opposing big has the ball in the paint, which worked very well against GW's Kevin Larsen. Kadeem Jack's ability to hit mid-range and even outside shots (5-13) will perhaps isolate Greg Lewis against Delgado. So far, Willard has pulled all the right strings on the defensive side of the ball.
Transition battle. With better bigs and limited options at guard, Rutgers will want to slow the pace. As we've seen over Seton Hall's first six games, they're deadly in transition with Isaiah Whitehead threading the needle on outlet passes and Sterling Gibbs a nightmare in the open court. With Myles Mack consciously avoiding fouls, he'll have a target on his back for Whitehead, Gibbs and Carrington in transition. The key to ramping up Seton Hall's tempo is forcing tough shots and keeping Rutgers (228th) away from the offensive glass.
KenPom says: No. 64 Seton Hall - 70, No. 167 Rutgers - 60
Projected Rutgers starters:
PG - Myles Mack
SG - Mike Williams
F - Junior Etou
F - Kadeem Jack
F - Greg Lewis
Time: Noon, Saturday
Radio: AM 970 WNYM
Opening line: Seton Hall (-10)