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Rutgers Basketball Preview: The Juniors Are the Support

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Three Players, Three Tipping Points?

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Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

In every season preview of every team ever*, the previewer talks about the X Factor--the guy who can lead the team to a great season if he plays well, or the reason the team fails.  While this basketball season does lie on the hefty shoulders of the seniors, the juniors could be the ones to make life a little easier..  If the juniors on this team can turn in good season, it lessens the weight on the seniors' shoulders.

(*That's probably hyperbole.)

At one point, I'd heard that Greg Lewis was the most important recruit for Mike Rice to land.  Rice thought Lewis had potential to be a beast in the Big East.  Unfortunately, that never panned out.  Lewis has been injured more often than not here on the banks, and-despite showing some flashes-never really turned into the beast he was hyped as.  That said, now Lewis is-by all accounts-healthy and ready to go for the first Big Ten season.  He will probably be the starter, and Eddie Jordan wants to turn him into a stretch center. If Lewis can consistently hit the jumper from the wing or the foul line, he can clear the area under the net for Kadeem Jack to attack the rim.

On defense, Lewis has to be willing to push things around with the big boys.  While Jack may be able to help from the weak side with his length and block ability, Lewis will have to use his girth to push the other Big Ten bruisers out of the way.  He needs to secure rebounds and his the guards with a quick outlet pass.  The quicker Lewis can be with his rebounding and decision making, the better this fast break offense can be.  Now's the time for Lewis to live up to the hype.

Bishop Daniels is an unknown.  Rice tried to land Daniels after Mike Taylor was deemed ineligible, but got Eli Carter instead.  Now Daniels is here, and Jordan expects him to be a lead guard--taking some of the pressure off of Myles Mack and allowing Mack do what he does best.  Daniels ability to get to the hoop and excel on the fast break will make this team exciting to watch.  The more scorers there are on the floor, the harder Rutgers will to guard.  If Daniels can initiate the offense and keep the turnovers down, Rutgers--especially Mack will benefit.

On defense, the 6'3" guard will have to use his length to disrupt the passing lanes.  The more turnovers he can force, the easier it will be for the Scarlet Knights to get out in transition.

Kerwin Okoro played very limited time last season.  He was hampered by a knee injury, but at the end of the season, he seemed like he started to find himself.  Okoro, like Malick Kone, seems to be one of the forgotten men on this team.  At 6'5", Okoro can add depth to both the wing and shooting guard position.  The plan was for Okoro to be a defensive stopper, though he never seemed to adjust to that plan last season.  He did show a decent shot and he fell in line with the coach's orders.  Look for more of the same this season.

If these X Factors perform, the seniors can smile a little more.  The juniors will be the leaders a year from now, but this season, they're around for support.  The better they play, the easier it'll be for the seniors to do their job and make this team a competitive one.  This is a year for them to learn how to lead, and Jack, Mack and Kone to show them.

If Greg Lewis can shoot.  If Bishop Daniels can lead the offense.  If Kerwin Okoro can give some quality minutes off the bench.

That's a lot of ifs.  But that's what good support does..  They take the "ifs" and make them into "whens."

And soon, we'll know if these guys can do what they need to.

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