Sacred Heart (0-0) at No. 24 Rutgers (0-0)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: The RAC in Piscataway, New Jersey
Tip-off: Wednesday, November 25 at 7:00 p.m. ET.
TV: BTN Plus - Play-by-play: Lou Brogno, Color Analyst: Dom Savino
Stream: Fox Sports App
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers 27th; Sacred Heart 325th
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 105.4 (51st) Defense 86.6 (12th); Sacred Heart - Offense 98.9 (283rd) Defense 106.2 (334th)
KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 83 Sacred Heart 58. Rutgers is given a 99% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Rutgers -25
Series History: Rutgers leads the all-time series 3-0, including a 79-54 victory in the last meeting in 2014.
Key Returning Players
Sacred Heart - 6’1” junior Aaron Clarke (11.3 points, 2.7 assists, 1.7 rebounds); 6’2” senior Zach Radz (missed last season due to injury, previous season averaged 5.1 point, 2.0 rebounds); 6’3” sophomore Tyler Thomas (5.6 points, 2.3 rebounds)
Rutgers - 6’6” junior Ron Harper Jr. (12.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 34.9% 3-PT FG); 6’4” senior Geo Baker (10.9 points, 3.5 assists, 3.0 rebounds, 1.1 steals); 6’2” senior Jacob Young (8.5 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists. 1.0 steal); 6’10” redshirt junior Myles Johnson (7.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 60.2% FG); 6’4” junior Montez Mathis (7.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.0 steal); 6’6” sophmore Paul Mulcahy (3.7 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 54.0% FG)
Sacred Heart Scouting Report
Head coach Anthony Latina enters his eighth season at the helm after leading the Pioneers to their best campaign since his arrival last year with a 20-13 record and KenPom ranking of 200. However, the top four scorers from that team are gone and SHU is the youngest team in the Northeast Conference this season. They were picked to finish in last place in the league’s preseason poll.
Aaron Clarke is the team’s leading returning scorer and Tyler Thomas was one of the best freshman in the NEC last season. Guard Zach Radz missed all of last season with an injury but is back for the season opener. JUCO transfer Cantavio Dutreil could emerge as their best frontcourt player and true freshman Bryce Johnson is a player to watch as well.
Sacred Heart finished last season with an offensive efficiency rating of 102.2 (185th) and defensive efficiency rating of 104.8 (227th). Strengths included the 5th best offensive rebounding rate in college basketball at 36.1% and a team free throw shooting percentage of 73.3% (95th). They also held opponents to just 46.3% from two-point range (65th) and had the 17th best defensive rate of free throw attempts to field goal attempts at 23.6. The Pioneers had the bad combination of a high turnover rate of 20.4 (274th) while not forcing many either with a defensive turnover rate of 15.7 (334th). On offense, they had a poor block rate of 10.1 (284th) and rarely forced steals at a rate of 6.7 (339th).
What To Watch For/Keys To Victory
Hit the court running
Rutgers is the far superior team and from an athletic standpoint should be able to run Sacred Heart off the floor. The Pioneers were good on the offensive glass last season and need the pace to be slow to compete. The Scarlet Knights need to dictate tempo and should look to push early and often as this is a game Jacob Young should flourish. Running off of defensive stops and getting transition points is a way to put this game away early.
Share the basketball
Despite the likelihood that Rutgers will be able to manhandle the Pioneers physically, it’s important that this team exhibits good habits in the opener in regard to sharing the basketball and rotating the ball multiple times within the halfcourt offense. Establishing a rhythm and focusing on getting good looks will help their mindset in the long term. Avoiding forced shots early in the shot clock and refraining from falling into bad habits against an inferior team is a situation Rutgers is experienced enough to navigate.
Dominate on both ends of the floor
The talent disparity is great in this game, but that doesn’t mean Rutgers can afford to have a lackadaisical approach. Last season’s opening game saw the Scarlet Knights jump out to a big lead over Bryant, but fell asleep in the second half, barely escaping with a missed three-point attempt by the visitors at the buzzer. They need to impose their will on both ends from the opening tip on and build an insurmountable lead. That’s the mentality great teams have and it’s important they show that in the season opener.
Own the glass
Not only should Rutgers feast on the boards, it’s important to get the freshmen into the mindset of the “all hands on deck” approach this team has had during head coach Steve Pikiell’s tenure. Finishing second chance opportunities off of offensive rebounds will be something this team needs to establish as well and is something Sacred Heart will have a hard time stopping.
Get the Freshmen some minutes
Speaking of the four newcomers, they all can use significant minutes to get their sea legs under them and cut their teeth in their collegiate debuts. In addition, with three games in five days to begin the season, putting things out of reach early and getting the starters rest in the second half is key for the rest of the week.
Appropriate Music Selection
We start this season with Is This It by The Strokes. Some of the early records by this band are filled with great songs from start to finish and this is the title track from their debut record. After a weeks long delay to the season beginning and the tenuous circumstances at the start due to the global pandemic make it an appropriate song title for this game preview.
These lyrics from the beginning and end of the third verse in particular are poignant as we rip off the most anticipated season in decades:
“Oh dear, can’t you see? It’s them, it’s not me. We’re not enemies. We just disagree.”
“We all disagree. I think we should disagree, yeah.”
They serve as a friendly reminder that we are all Rutgers fans and although we will disagree with each other at times during the season, we all have our hearts in the same place. I hope our site can continue to serve as a great place for debate and exchange of opinions before, during and after games this season. It’s even more important to have a place to do that now that fans cannot attend games this season.
As for how far Rutgers can go this season, including finally ending the 30 year NCAA Tournament drought, the big question to ponder...is this it?