It's time to be a little tough on Rutgers basketball. After Tuesday's tough loss to Northwestern, the season is clearly at a crossroads. There is still time to make it respectable, and show that Jordan's pointing the team in the right direction. But, if more losses pile up, the calls for more change will get louder. Opportunity awaits Saturday night, as the Penn State Nittany Lions enter the RAC. Can the Rutgers Scarlet Knights take advantage?
1. Will this team buy in? This is the most aggravating part of this season. Throughout the non-conference schedule, there have been moments of hope. When Rutgers runs its game plan and decides to defend, they are a tough out. However, Jordan's system is an unselfish one, and this team seems to fall back into selfish play. Perfect example came against Northwestern. Rutgers runs a double cut, getting an easy lay-up and then never goes back to the play again. It's time for the team to buy in and play unselfishly.
2. Can Eddie Jordan coach this team the college way? Jordan needs to coach this game like his life depends on it. If Penn State goes on a run, call time out and end it. If someone is hot, right the hot hand. If someone is sulking, bench them. This is a must-win game. It's not the NBA and it's clear this team has trouble working itself out of trouble--Jordan needs to help them find their way. This team needs to be motivated from the tip and control that energy throughout the game.
3. Can the team show some mental toughness? For a team with 3 seniors, this team shows an amazing lack of mental toughness. Maybe it's just that the seniors have been through so much, but too often if one thing goes bad, it snow balls. The best player to battle this is Bishop Daniels, who finds a way to get to the rim and draw contact. That is an incredible tool to battle opposing runs, and Rutgers has to use it to their advantage. When things go bad during the game, Myles Mack should settle the team down and focus on running a good possession.
4. Who will defend D. J. Newbill? Odds are the 6'4" guard will see some combination of Mike Williams, Junior Etou, and Daniels. Different looks could frustrate Newbill, who is averaging 21.9 points per game. Frustrating him is like frustrating Myles Mack, cut off the key to Penn State's offense, and the team will suffer.
5. Will a forward PLEASE attack the rim? Dear Kadeem Jack and Junior Etou . . . DUNK THE BALL. Stop catching and shooting 3 point shots outside of the offense. Yes, it's nice when they go in early in the game, but over the long term, it's not a good strategy. Attack the hoop and get some rim rattling dunks. This will ignite the crowd just as much as a three point shot will. Use your height and athleticism to get easy baskets and maybe even draw contact. Power through.
This Rutgers team is talented enough to beat Penn State. There are top scorers on this team in Mack and Jack. Etou, Williams and Daniels all can pitch in as scorers as well, and force Penn State to defend well. There are post defenders on this team that can shut down star big men. But they all need to play and fill their role to the best of their abilities. If not, this is a team that will struggle in every single game from here on out.
Tomorrow is a huge game for Rutgers. Protect the RAC and get your first Big Ten win. It's time.