When fans first looked at the Scarlet Knights' hoops schedule back in late summer/early fall, their eyes lit up. At the end of December the Florida Gators were coming to the RAC. Not only was a big time team coming to the RAC--a possible National Title contender--to fire the crowd up, but so was the player who was supposed to save the Scarlet Knights, only to transfer out....
An event like this hadn't happened since Todd Billet came back to the RAC in a Virginia uniform and hit to free throws at the end of the game to give the Cavaliers a win. Fans were ready. Students were planning vulgar chants. The RAC was going to be the RAC again.
And then came Rosario's back injury, which figures to keep him out tomorrow. While he'll probably get harassed on the bench, it won't be the same. Although, it is the #10 team in the country, and it is a chance for the freshman to show what their made of. It's not a great match-up for the Knights, but they can win if they follow the keys of the game.
Which will come, of course, after the jump...
1. No Slow Starts Offensively: The Knights have been plagued this season with slow starts. They can't get the ball in the hoops, and they tighten up. It takes a good ten minutes of game time for Rutgers to find their rhythm. If that happens on Thursday, Florida will show no mercy and be up 15 points before most of the fans sit down.
2. Play A Smart Team Game Offensively: Another problem that has hurt has been too much individual play. A lot of this can be blamed on the freshman guards learning how to play the game. Too often they fall back into old AAU habits and don't run the planned offense. Instead, they avoid screens, make poor passes into the post or try to do it all at once. This won't work tomorrow, the Gators are too guard. Their guards are smart and very talented, and they'll be able to exploit a one on one offense into turnovers and missed shots.
3. All Three Freshman Guards Need to Be Hot. Oh, and Dane Miller too: This is an all hands on deck type of game. Myles Mack, Jerome Seagears, and Eli Carter can't afford to have bad offensive games. And it'll help even more if two of those three are hot from beyond the arc. Miller can't afford a night off either. He needs to be active and have one of this stat-filler games. Assists, big-time dunks, and blocks. If this happens, Rutgers will likely find itself in a dogfight. If not, it's going to be ugly.
4. Control the Tempo: Don't let Florida push the young kids around. Play a patient offense, and take wide open shots. Force the Gators to use the entire shot clock during defensive stands. Force turnovers and THEN use the fast break. Keep the crowd awake. A large LOUD crowd can do a lot for a team's adrenaline rush.
5. Close Out, Close Out, Close Out: Florida probably has the best backcourt in the nation. They lead the country in made 3 pointers at 11.1 per game. And they don't make them from just beyond the arc. Picture the RAC. Now picture the really big R from mid-court. They make them from there. Often. Even if Rosario doesn't play, Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker, and Bradly Beal are going to hurt you. Rutgers needs to force the ball out of their hands or make them take out of the control jump shots. If they're taking 3s within the offense, they're going to hit them. And like free throws, making 3s is contagious. Dane Miller will probably have to play the best defensive game of his career.
Do these and, Rutgers, you may just have a chance. Don't do it and prepare to be run out of the building.
BONUS: KEY TO THE SEASON:
6. Get Kadeem Jack In the Game: If he's healthy, Jack needs to get into the game. He needs to get his feet wet and see what it's like to play big time competition. This will only pay off down the road.
The game is tomorrow at 7 pm. Get to the RAC and be ready to be loud. And if you can't get there, check it out on ESPN 2.