With the Syracuse game not until Saturday, I figured this would be a good time to look over Mike Rice's first 9 months as basketball coach. He's done a lot right so far. Let's take a look, shall we?
Again we start with Fred Hill, because that's what Rutgers fans had lived with during the past four years. One of the biggest complaints under the former coach was a lack of identity. Each night out, fans didn't know what they were seeing. Were they going to see a zone team? A man team? Would players know where they were supposed to be? One night the team would take the air out of the ball. The next, they'd try uptempo.
You could not figure out who the Rutgers Scarlet Knights were under Hill. There wasn't something known as Rutgers basketball.
Not so with Mike Rice.
More after the jump...The first thing you see when you watch a Rutgers basketball game is how hard they play. The team comes out and scraps hard. As Rice likes to say: "There is no fear here . . . There is no nerves here. It's just every single day, fighting, scratching, clawing to improve this program, whether it's the talent level or the individuals I have on this team. That is the one goal I have."
And this team does scratch and claw.
The next thing you need to see is how a Mike Rice basketball team plays defense. They switch off 1 through 4, sometimes 1 through 5, instead of fighting through screens. It gives the opposition a different look in the middle of the play, and creates chaos on the floor. A Mike Rice team is prepared for that chaos, and is able to hold down the opposing team.
Why is this important in the grand scheme of things?
For the current team it's important, because it leads to structure. Each player knows his role and can embrace it. Things aren't going to change from night to night. The team is out to enforce its will on other teams, not adjust and try to beat their opposition according to the opposition's strength. The players know they're going to play, they're going to be subbed in and out for. They won't be in the doghouse one night and expect to be sharp the next, because they're going to play every night and play hard.
For recruits: They know what style they're going to learn. They can decide if they want to play that style. Since it's up-tempo, smart basketball they probably will. They can begin to learn the style if they commit. Take the story of Myles Mack--incoming recruit--his coach, Bob Hurley, has already said he's going to teach him to be a good on the ball defender for Mike Rice.
And for the crowd: This style, this identity can invigorate a crowd. Once the crowd learns what they're going to see, they can be prepared for it. Most basketball crowds reward hard work. They'll cheer, applaud, scream for any player who plays hard. Mike Rice teams do that. Also, when an in your face, chaos creating defense really works, it pumps up the crowd. They'll get even louder and make the game even crazier for the opposition.
But the most important thing having an identity as a team does is show confidence. You're not going to run scared from any team. Rutgers is not going to worry about what the opposition is going to do. They're going to come out and play Rutgers basketball and control the tempo. They're going to control the game. They're going to pump out their chest, get in the face of the opponent and stop the ball.
It's so nice to be able to say there's such a thing as Rutgers basketball now.
One more link to the Kindle edition of my anthology MORE SINNED AGAINST. If you've read it, I'd love to see some reviews. Thanks!