Rutgers put up a fight. In fact, they probably played their best and smartest game of the year, but it still wasn't enough as Otto Porter took over the game and Rutgers came up empty on several offensive possessions.
So, now that Rutgers has passed through the gauntlet of their Big East schedule, fans know what Rutgers is. They're not the Cinderella story many had hoped. Instead, it appears they're the same old, same old.
So, what is wrong?
-Playing a 40 Minute Game: This has been the biggest issue. Rutgers has shown it can compete against anyone. They played Louisville tight for a half. Georgetown to the wire. Cincinnati was down 8 at halftime. But a bad defensive possession or offensive possession often steamrolls into huge runs for the opposition. In yesterday's game, Jerome Seagears put up an off balance shot early in the shot clock. It lead to a run out for the Hoyas and helped balloon the lead.
-Mike Rice's Substitution Patterns: Yesterday, in the second half, Myles Mack hit two 3s in a row, and seemed like he was about to break out and get really hot. Mike Rice put him on the bench for the next few minutes. This is something that is unlikely to be changed. Rice is a defensive coach. He wants his players to be fresh on defense, so he frequently substitutes them in and out. But, the problem is offense lately. And if a player gets hot, Rice and Rutgers have to ride him.
-Size: The big men can't finish when they pull down an offensive rebound. They blow lay-ups constantly--21 yesterday. The guards are having trouble guarding bigger men (see Otto Porter and Jakarr Sampson). Other teams are using Rutgers' switches against the Scarlet Knights.
-Having Someone Take Over: Eli Carter tries, and when he fails, he gets (often unfairly) ripped for it. Dane Miller doesn't want to--it appears. Mike Poole often takes a bad shot when he tries to be the hero. Rutgers doesn't have a guy who can step up and end the opposition's run with a solid basket. And, without that consistent go to guy, Rutgers can't get on a run against better teams.
-Adjustments: Rutgers hot starts are based on talent. This team has it and it can compete with anyone. But when better teams get down, they adjust and find a way to stop the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers has a tough time adjusting to the adjustments (yeah, read that sentence twice), and finding a way to be successful. Rutgers cannot impose its will on a game.
--Fan Support: I'm sorry, but it's a problem. The students don't believe and don't show up. And even when they do, they don't bring the noise. The RAC used to sound like an airplane engine when it got loud. Now it sounds like a library. The students are the ones who drive the sound, who can lift a team when it's down... and who can rattle a team. And these students don't do it. Even DePaul gets a good student turn out. The students (and the season ticket holders) need to be there and they need the place to be rollicking. But, you know, there's no tailgating... so why bother?
--Confidence: It's hard to remain confident when you're mired in a 6 game losing streak. But this team seems to lose confidence in a flash during a game. They don't step up to get that defensive stop when they need it. It's becoming a "Here we go again mentality." And that's hard to change.
So, how can it all change?
First off, win the next two: Rutgers' schedule really lightens up now that the gauntlet is done. Seton Hall comes to the RAC on Tuesday, and they are a beat up team. The Knights have to take advantage of this and get a W. They take that on the road and beat DePaul. Do that, and we'll see what happens.
Seniors: Austin Johnson has played within himself and is having a fantastic role playing senior year. But Dane Miller can be so much more. It's time for him to take the bull by the horns and lead. He's a great defender, but he's the only player that can get to the rim with consistency. He needs to take over.
Ride the Hot Hand: Mike Rice, if a player gets hot, ride him. Let him get in rhythm. You can switch up defenses to keep him in the game. No one gets tired on offense. Rutgers needs points. Take advantage of your scorers.