Rutgers vs. South Florida: Big East Basketball Preview

Has it really only been about 36 hours since Rutgers beat up on #10 Florida? Yes, and tomorrow leads into the Big East Basketball Season for the Scarlet Knights. They start out with a road game against the South Florida Bulls, who've never been one of the Big East's best teams, but have often given Rutgers fits on the road.

Can Rutgers continue its hot streak?

Check out the Keys AND and interview with Sister Blog Voodoo Five after the jump....

OTB: How have the Bulls changed since last year's victory over Villanova in the Big East Tournament?

V5: There was a bit of roster movement over the offseason. We only had one senior on the roster in PF Jarrid Famous to graduation but had some major roster upheaval in the backcourt. Stan used 4 point guards in one form or another last season, and they've all either transferred (Mike Burwell, Shedrick Haynes, LaVonte Dority) or were dismissed via the dreaded Violation of Team Rules (Anthony Crater).

USF does have some talented players that came in, most notably freshman PG Anthony Collins. AC is extremely quick and is a terror on the defensive end. His shooting needs to improve, but Collins can get to the bucket in a flash and can actually run an offense without turning the ball over 20 times a game.

The other two newcomers are backup PG Blake Nash and SF Victor Rudd. Nash is more of a combo guard and does his best work off of the ball, but with Dority transferring Nash had to move back to the point to provide cover for Collins. With Rutgers playing more of a smaller lineup, I wouldn't be surprised to see Collins and Nash on the court at the same time Sunday.

Rudd is a transfer from Arizona State who's minutes have slowly diminished over the last few games. He had a great start to the year, including a 30 point night against Marist, but hasn't been the same since coming down with strep a few weeks ago before the Florida A&M game. He has mental lapses on defense at times, and his shot selection isn't the best for a guy who's 6'8" with the ability to get to the lane.

OTB: You nearly pulled the upset over UConn the other night. What worked for you? What was the ultimate reason you lost?

V5: We did a good job guarding the perimeter and keeping UConn's bigs off the scoresheet. UConn came into the game shooting 38% from three, but only shot 3-12 from outside. Napier is particular had a tough night shooting, going 1-6 from three and only scoring 4 points on the night. The Bulls did a good job limiting the trio of Andre Drummond, Alex Oriakhi, and Tyler Olander to 14 points. Keeping the UConn posts in check was a priority, and the Bulls did a decent job in doing so.

The combo of Jeremy Lamb played the role of Kemba Walker to perfection and UConn's ability dominate the offensive glass doomed us in the end. While the UConn bigs couldn't get the ball in the basket, they gave the Huskies plenty of second chance points with their tap outs to the UConn guards.

OTB: What is this year's team's biggest strength? Biggest Weakness?

V5: Team defense is by far the biggest strength for the team. USF gives up only 57.8 PPG, and while part of that is the extremely slow tempo the Bulls play, USF has do

OTB: Stan Heath. How hot is his seat right now?

V5: I think he's fine for the time being. The Athletic Department has finally given Heath the tools he needs to compete in the Big East. The brand new 50,000 sq ft Muma Basketball Center opened this fall, and the Sun Dome is getting a complete renovation and will be ready for the start of next season.

With the new facilities, Heath is pulling in what is by far his best recruiting class. Heath signed JaVontae Hawkins, who is our first Top 100 HS player in a decade, JUCO All-American post Waverly Austin and the wonderfully named Musa Abdul-Aleem in the early signing period, and he has two more scholarships to play with in the spring.

Add those players with South Alabama transfer Martino Brock and 7'3 freshman Jordan Omogbehin who had to sit out this year by the NCAA, and the future looks better than it has in quite some time.

OTB: Prediction for the game?

V5: I think it will be a close game. With the quick turnaround, a cross country trip, and a crowd that will be 90% hungover from NYE, Rutgers will come out flat. It just depends when Coach Rice's motivation tactics get them back in the right frame of mind. I think the first team to 55 wins, and it will be Rutgers who make it there first.

Scarlet Knights by 5.

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KEYS TO THE GAME:

1. Be Up For the Game: USF is no pushover. They lost at home to UConn by only 3. As we all know, Rutgers is a young team and young teams usually suffer from major letdowns. If Rutgers comes in to an empty arena and isn't up for the game, they could get picked up. No letdowns and this game is winnable. But if Rutgers comes out with another slow start, put this one in the loss column.

2. Rebound: Derrick Randall had a coming out party against Florida, leading the team with 8 rebounds. He needs to keep that up against Augustus Gilchrist is a beast on the boards and all of Rutgers forwards are to make sure there's a body on him, boxing out. It'll be interesting to see how much time Kadeem Jack gets in this game. If he's sharp on the rebounding end, he'll be a huge help.

3. Dane Miller: Miller needs to play like he did against Florida every game. Rebound, block shots, score points. If he can drive to the hoop, it's going to open things up for everyone. Especially the guards beyond the arc. Miller is needed for a successful season and he can't only show up against Top Ten opponents.

4. Two of the Three Guards Need to Stay Hot: Eli Carter and Myles Mack were on fire the other night. Jerome Seagears chipped in 11 points as well. But now, after playing 46 minutes the other night, Carter may be tired. If two of the 3 guards are still scoring, Rutgers should be okay.

Very interesting to see how the team reacts Sunday at noon. The game is on SNY.

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