Mike Rice has spent the summer turning the image of Rutgers basketball around. Now, as the practice for the season begins, Rice will try to keep that momentum going on the court.
He'll now spend the next six months trying to answer these questions:1. How important is November 10, 2010 to this program? Extremely. Beyond phenomenal recruiting, one of the best things Rice has done is get these kids to commit early. Fans can expect all 6 (seven??) of the 2011 recruiting class to sign on the dotted line less than a month from now. That means the recruits will be locked into their letters of intent BEFORE the season starts, and--if things go poorly--before they can rethink they're commitments due to losing. A top 15 recruiting class will be instrumental in bringing the program back from the depths.
2. Can Rice keep this team playing together all season? The early reports say Rice is pushing the current roster hard in preseason workouts. He's been especially tough on the forwards. If the losses begin piling up, will the players whom Rice didn't recruit, tune him out? A hallmark of the Fred Hill era (and even some of the Waters era) has been chemistry issues. Hopefully Rice can keep these to a minimum during and keep the kids playing hard. It's what he was known for at Robert Morris.
3. How will Dane Miller hold up as the number 1 option? Last year, Miller was a great second option, getting a lot of points on put backs or run outs. He was the runner up Big East Rookie of the Year, and most were surprised he didn't win the award. Now he's going to be the focal point. Defenses are going to throw the kitchen sink at him, and Rice has been working him hard in practice to prepare. Will Miller get his points or will he be shut down? If Rice's practices are tougher than games, he will be fine.
4. Who will step up as the second option? Jonathan Mitchell (PF) and James Beatty (PG) showed flashes last year, and Rice has repeatedly said he needs Beatty to score. Will either of these players step up and be a consistent threat? Will freshman Gil Biruta (PF) step up and become the second option? Even Mike Coburn (SG/PG) could get his shot. Or will this team struggle to score all year? Rice better hope he finds a scorer or two before November 12.
5. What will the freshman do? Rice was able to re-recruit Biruta and Austin Carroll (SG), as well as bring Mike Poole (SF). Because the team is so thin, these guys are going to get a chance to play and shine. Will they step up or wilt under the pressure? The reports on Biruta have been fantastic, while Poole promises to be a defensive stalwart. Even Carroll will get minutes as a zone busting 3 point shooter. Each of these players are going to be needed--even leaned on--at different points this season.