Monster Post: Rutgers Falls to Villanova and Now Faces St. John's

Mar 1, 2012; Piscataway, NJ, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights forward Gilvydas Biruta (55) drives to the basket against the Villanova Wildcats at the Louis Brown Athletic Center on the campus of Rutgers University. Villanova Wildcats defeat the Rutgers Scarlet Knights 77-71. Mandatory Credit: Jim O'Connor-US PRESSWIRE

Rutgers slept through most of the first half against Villanova, and the Wildcats took full advantage. Hitting their first 9 shots and going on a 15-0 run, the 'Cats turned a 13-9 lead in to a 28-9 lead. At one point they were up 20.

In the second half, the Scarlet Knights came alive and whittled the score down to a 1 point deficit with about ten minutes to go. The Knights bore down on defense and forced a shot clock violation.... that the refs DID NOT HEAR because of the (smallish) RAC Crowd (seriously, has any team been more screwed by the refs... intentionally or unintentionally in the past two years?). Villanova got the offensive rebound and laid it in, and was able to right the ship. Rutgers got close a few more times, as Dane Miller and Myles Mack had big games.

With Rutgers down 3, and Malik Waayns fouled out, Myles Mack had the ball and tried to drive the lane. Thinking he'd gotten fouled, and had a chance to go to the line, the crowd was going nuts. But it was a charge. Game over after that.

So, now the Knights move on to the game fans have looked towards all year. A chance for vengeance against the St. John's Red Storm.

Keys to that game and a Q&A with Rumble In The Garden after the jump.....

1. Get the Big Men Involved: Dane Miller and Gilvydas Biruta have seemingly found a consistency late in the year. A lot of that has to do with Jerome Seagears emerging as a point guard and being able to feed them while they are in a good position to score. This has to keep up. St. John's really only has God's Gift down low, and RU must take advantage.

2. Control the Tempo: Rutgers needs to be the ones pushing the play. While lack of depth hasn't been wearing out SJU too much lately, it's imperative to at least try. Rutgers has to be on the attack all night. Run the Red Storm through screens, push the ball when you can, just be the faster team. Be the team with more energy. Rutgers needs to whether the Storm (get it?) and wear them out. Don't turn the ball over. Force turnovers instead. The good Rutgers team needs to show up tonight.

3. Invite Contact: This is also part of controlling tempo and wearing out St. John's. Rutgers has not been good at drawing fouls this year. They need to tonight. The more foul trouble SJU gets into, the more porous their defense will be. They won't want their players fouling out, as they only have 6. Get to the line and get the Johnnies in trouble.

4. Remember 1.7: The upper classmen need to remember last year. They need to remember how they were screwed out of a chance at a win. And they need to use that at fuel. There is no coming out flat tonight. They have a chance to move up to the 9 pm start tonight.

5. Dane Miller, Dane Miller, Dane Miller: You need to shut down Moe Harkless tonight.

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OTB: Will Steve Lavin coach this team next year?

RITG: Yes, definitely. Lavin has been very clear that he is coming back to coach St. John's, and he's been recruiting to fill out the roster despite his recuperation. I'd seen some wayward rumors about him not coming back, but judging by the sources and locations, I don't think there is much truth to any of said rumors. (I could always be proven wrong, but I would be extremely surprised if the Lavin wasn't on the sidelines.

OTB: What happened to this recruiting class? It seems like there was a ton of dissension in the ranks. A big class gets whittled down to 7. Then two guys transfer (or is my math wrong?) Plus Stith leaves. You have six players. What happened? Chemistry? Bad grades? Tell us a story.

RITG: Way down yonder, in a hamlet around the bend of the great Sioux River that feeds into the lake of our ancestors...

That wouldn't be a very good story. I'll tell you a different one:

St. John's, much like Rutgers, had a lot of roster to fill out in a short amount of time. That's not ideal; programs often work their hooks into players by the end of their junior years. That time frame, a lack of the deep local contacts that Mike Rice had cultivated, and the desire to get high-major talent to the program meant that Lavin had to take some risks.

Personally, I find it to be an acceptable risk, and I assumed (privately) that 2-3 players would transfer at the end of the year because they were all top-100 level talents, and those kind of players want to know that they can star in a reasonable time frame.

Some players decided to move up their time table and got off of the proverbial pot.

So what happened? (All of this is in the Rumble archives, for those interested.) Three players were deemed ineligible. One vowed to come back to St. John's and did what he needed to do to get eligible. One likes the recruiting attention and is weight offers from St. John's and Kansas. One is... well... a little... academically inconsistent or flighty. Or a hot mess. He won't be at St. John's, or Kansas, or UNLV...

Nurideen Lindsey, a JUCO who made it to campus, chose to leave. He wanted to be coached by Lavin and bristled at Assistant coach Mike Dunlap's demands. It seems to be a mutual decision - even if it's a curious one for a 21-22 year old sophomore guard - and I will touch on the Nurideen in the next question about the Johnnies getting better. Grades were part of his issue... but there's more.

The little used Malik Stith decided to leave the program after watching his playing time dwindle, despite being the lone returnee. A lot of stories floated about why he left, but he's gone. And the remaining players have done an amazing job of playing nearly 35+ minutes per contest.

OTB: Why has this team gotten better as the year as gone on? Why haven't they worn down?

RITG: The first factor is that amorphous friend of sports commentary - chemistry. The team seems to genuinely want to play for each other, work with each other, and develop with each other, even though two players do all the scoring and the others are picking things up as they go along.

Chemistry often seems like a flat answer. But last December, I traveled to cover the team on their road trip to Detroit. It was after their loss at Kentucky, Lavin was far from the bench, and the team was beginning to look like a team that would struggle. On the court and on the sidelines, Nurideen Lindsey was out of sorts. He was reluctant at times, woofed at teammates (and even Coach Keady, it seemed?) at other times, turned the ball over, called for the ball at the three-point line even though he hadn't hit a shot outside of five feet. The lack of cohesion showed; when he called for the ball, Phil Greene looked at him, and found anywhere else to throw the rock.

After the game, the players were sullen. Coach Dunlap deflected questions about Nurideen. Phil Greene stomped out of the locker room. Everything looked wrong. Not the kind of wrong you get after a loss, but the kind of wrong where the locker room is worse than the losing.

Nurideen left after that game, and the team was far improved. D`Angelo Harrison and Moe Harkless found their roles, got to work with the ball in their hands instead of waiting for Nurideen to realize he had no shot at a shot and then toss the ball back out. Players seemed looser. They shared the ball, defended credibly, stuck to their game plans.

Moreover, the Johnnies have a phenomenal development staff, especially for guards. Coach Rico Hines has made Phil Greene into a solid player in months.

Also, they do yoga weekly to stay limber.

OTB: What will fill out the team next year? Sell me on this being an NCAA team in 2012-2013.

RITG: Tough sell; the Red Storm have some serious holes, particularly in the paint. In my mind, the fact that the team has 4 top-100 players with good athleticism and developing skill sets means there is a strong improvement on tap for next year; but the minutes this team is playing shouldn't be replicated next year. Moreover, the team is weak at shooting the ball and at post play/ rebounding.

It's really hard to get a "shovel ready" big man in the fold, as you can attest to with Rutgers - Kadeem Jack, Derrick Randall, Greg Lewis, they couldn't hold down the post job and make a strong impact in their first year. Next year, that might be an awesome rotation with Wally Judge. But bigs often need a year.

Given all of that, here's what a surprise Red Storm tourney team looks like: Moe Harkless and the rest of the roster come back. D`Angelo Harrison, playing with point guard Jamal Branch and Phil Greene, has another player to take the defensive heat off of him, and gets some more uncontested shots, becomes the third-leading scorer in the Big East. Amir Garrett is a glue player; Sir`Dominic Pointer has breakout games and becomes a power slashing wing with a shot.

Meanwhile, an unheralded newcomer does a lunch pail-style job of bodying up opponents and grabbing rebounds, with God`sgift Achiuwa providing some more meat and activity (Achiuwa's not a good rebounder so far). A shooter comes to add a few points from the outside. A wing struggles to score but is long and defends. With a 10-man roster, St. John's can institute the pressure defense that made last year's team successful. They get turnovers a lot. Sometimes they get beat in the paint, but they go 11-7 and get to the NCAAs and Jay Bilas talks about their dangerous athleticism.

OTB: Prediction for the Rutgers game?

RITG: Rutgers' bigs all of a sudden look good and Rutgers wins? Or the Knights turn the ball over a lot and get dunked on? I have watched maybe 9 Rutgers games, and I have no idea what I'm seeing. They're really good at times, have untapped potential at others, look like DePaul's worst days on still others.

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And finally, if you have a Kindle, and are so inclined, my novel Witness to Death is available for free today only!

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