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An Early--Very Early--Look at the 2011-12 Rutgers Basketball Team

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Mike Rice is going to have his work cut out for him next season.  But if all the the players buy it, it should be exciting.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Mike Rice is going to have his work cut out for him next season. But if all the the players buy it, it should be exciting. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
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The Final Four's just been decided, and this season isn't even officially over yet, but it's never too early to look ahead--especially since a few OTB commenters have asked.  After a promising first year under MIke Rice, it's natural think about what could happen next.

Without the schedule or any off season reports, there's a lot to think about for next year.  With a huge recruiting class coming in, the instinct is to say things will be a lot better.  But not so fast...

Check out more after the jump...

There are no seniors... Dane Miller and Austin Johnson will be the eldest Scarlet Knights, and Tyree Graham will be coming off a redshirt year as a junior.  These three will have to do a hell of a job getting the younger guys to buy-in to Rice's philosophy.  All year, Mike Rice credited his seniors Mike Coburn, Jonathan Mitchell, and James Beatty.  Will he be crediting his juniors this year?  If he is, the season will be a success.  If they're still learning, the season is going to hit some road bumps.

The freshman class is talented...They're a top 15 recruiting class.  Nearly all of them are ranked in the top 150.  But they're still freshman.  And they don't have chemistry with each other... yet.  Only Myles Mack and Derrick Randall have played together for an extended period of time.  And, odds are, Rice is going to have to start a freshman point guard, be it Mack or Jerome Seagears.  There's going to be an adjustment period. 

How will chemistry be?....Rice is finally going to have a full roster of 13 players.  He'll probably go 10 deep.  There are going to be players who expected to play who won't.  That can hurt chemistry.  And, though some say it's overrated, chemistry matters.  Rumors were Nolan Smith was upset about the press Kyrie Irving got before their last NCAA game and Duke got run out of the building.  Quincy Douby and Ricky Shields had major chemistry problems in Douby's sophomore year.  Chemistry problems lead to losing.  Especially when 8 of your players haven't played with each other before.  That has to be built in.

There will be player improvement...You have to expect the offense is going to be better.  Gilvydas Biruta will likely be moved to power forward, and be allowed to shoot from the outside a little more.  Several of the incoming players are shooters as well.  Expect Dane Miller to play a better offensive game with more weapons around him.  Scoring more will take pressure off the defense and allow it to gain momentum.  The team will be able to win while having a few defensive lapses, and there will be games when everything is clicking, where they'll look like world beaters.

Upping the Tempo... Rice has mentioned in a few interviews that he expects to push the tempo next year.  With 13 deep, he expects to press and trap and that'll lead to runouts.  This will help the offense enormously.  Last year's team screwed up so many fast breaks, it probably cost the team two or three wins.  With the talent coming in and the players left, they should be able to pass and run.  More points.  Plus, if they can create even more turnovers, that'll help the defense.  Any time a team can limit the other team's offensive possession, they're in good shape.  Team speed, depth, and talent will help the team become even more exciting this year.

So... early prediction?  This will be a team that struggles early, with players still learning their roles.  It will also struggle around the opening of the Big East season.  But expect this team to get better late in the season, maybe even making a Big East Tournament run.  But there are going to be road bumps, and there are going to be moments where the fans get really concerned.  It's going to take time and the fans are going to have to be patient.  Because for every flash of brilliance there'll probably be a mental lapse.  I can't comment on postseason until the schedule is settled, but it'll be interesting to check out some off season reports of the players as they start to report to duty during the summer.