Rutgers made a few runs, and was able to cut big Golden Eagle leads to 4 in the first half and 6 in the second half, but was never able to get any closer. Turnovers, fouls, and the same old youth problem kept Rutgers from beating another top ten opponent. Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom had monster games, and Rutgers wasn't able to match them. There were some bright spots: Jerome Seagears is looking more and more comfortable as a point guard. Malick Kone came back and was solid when he was on the floor. And Gilvydas Biruta is rounding back into shape.
After the game, back in NJ, Mike Rice talked to Steve Politi about the change in his coaching approach this year.
But now it's time to look ahead. Rutgers is reeling and Seton Hall is rolling. The Scarlet Knights have a chance to play spoiler. It'd be nice to get this one.
Keys to the game, and an interview with one of the guys from South Orange Juice after the jump...1. Defend the Pick and Roll: Jordan Theodore has really come alive since the last time Rutgers faced the Pirates. He thrives in the pick and roll offense. The play gives him a chance to shoot the 3, drive to the hoop, or find an open Herb Pope under the basket. Rutgers will have to hedge, and then get back as quickly as possible. A zone might also frustrate Theodore, but Rutgers is going to have to send everyone to the basket to rebound. Which brings us to...
2. Rebound: Rutgers has found success this year playing zone. It was able to frustrate Syracuse at times. It has stopped other teams as well. The problem is, in the zone, Rutgers gives up too many offensive rebounds. It's the kind of battle that Herb Pope will feast upon. If they play zone, everyone has to go to the hoop. Gang rebound. Bring the ball down and run an offense.
3. Score Early Baskets: There's going to be lots of opportunity for this. It's Senior Night at the Rock. Pope, Theodore and .... Peter Dill will be starting. They are going to be pumped up. Hope they're too pumped up, create some defensive havoc and create turnovers. Get some easy baskets. An early lead on some lay-ups by the guards will help build the confidence this team has lost.
4. Take Care of the Ball: 23 turnovers against Marquette. Fuquan Edwin leads the world in steals (okay, he's second in the country, but the #1 guy plays at Delaware State, so relax). Rutgers needs to take care of the ball. Turnovers and easy baskets for Seton Hall will deflate RU quick.
5. Grind it Out: Seton Hall's weakness is still their depth. Run Theodore through a ton of screens. Wear them out on defense, so they have no legs on offense. Rutgers can go 10 deep if they need to. Seton Hall can't. Theodore with likely play over 35 minutes, he can tire out if he works hard on D. Take the ball at Pope and foul him out. Grind the game, invite contact.
6. Dane Miller, Dane Miller, Dane Miller: He lead the team to a win at the Rock last year. Time to do it again.
Here's an interview with South Orange Juice (our prisoner exhange is up over on their site):
OTB: Jordan Theodore was a good player his first three years, but now he's all world. Is it just becoming a senior or something else?
SOJ: Indeed, JT has been nothing short of tremendous this year. I'm not an advocate for slamming coaches who... don't work out, so let's just say that under Coach Willard's tutelage, JT had been put in a position to maximize his abilities. Additionally, and equally as important, Associate HC and former Seton Hall great Shaheen Halloway had taken JT under his wing. It's evident how much he's grown and I attribute that directly to our new(ish) coaching staff AND JT's inherent ability to play and hunger to win.
OTB: Is this run of success going to continue into the next bunch of years or will it drop off after the big 2 graduate?
SOJ: Excellent question. Sadly, I left my crystal ball in my office. Honestly, I am a believer in Coach Willard. Here's why: last year we had decidedly more talent on our roster (Jeff Robinson, Jeremy Hazell and EP). Currently, we start 2 freshman in Aaron Cosby and Brandon Mobley (either Mobley or sophomore Patrik Auda) as well as the Nations leader in steals, sophomore Fuquan Edwin. I think the future at Seton Hall, under the direction of coach Willard is bright -- in fact, SHU recently signed blue-chip recruit Aquille Carr (2013).