Big East Summer Capsules: Rutgers Scarlet KnightsPosted by mlemaire on August 17th, 2012
While most relish the onset of Summer, college basketball junkies do not. Most of the news surrounding the sport is recruiting rumors and commitments or injuries and transfer news. In order to help keep folks up-to-date on what their teams are doing during the summer, we put together these summer capsules for each team in the conference. Last but not least is Rutgers.
1. Wally Judge is ready to play, but is he ready to replace Gilvydas Biruta?
Just when it seemed like coach Mike Rice had the rebuilding train rolling, the wheels started to wobble a bit. The Scarlet Knights weren’t awful last season and they seemed poised for a winning season next year considering that it appeared they would return pretty much every worthwhile contributor. Then, right after the season ended, third leading scorer and second leading rebounder Gil Biruta announced he was transferring out of the program. Despite all of his physical gifts and ability, Biruta often displayed a poor attitude and was a frequent target of Rice’s wrath, but still, it isn’t easy replacing 9.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, especially when you consider Biruta added toughness and physicality to the young team. Replacing Biruta’s production now falls on the shoulders of Kansas State transfer Wally Judge. A highly touted recruit coming out of high school, Judge may actually be more talented and athletic than Biruta, but now the question is whether he can turn that talent and athleticism into production. The DC native averaged 5.5 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in 17 contests as a sophomore for the Wildcats, but as one of the Scarlet Knights’ only viable interior players, he will be asked to do a lot more than that this season. By all accounts Judge has put in the work and is impressive in team workouts and summer games, but time will tell whether he can become the immediate presence that the Scarlet Knights so desperately need in their frontcourt.
2. Rutgers has a point guard problem, except it’s the good kind of problem.
It’s probably not a reach to say that the three best players on the Scarlet Knights’ roster are sophomores Myles Mack, Jerome Seagears, and Eli Carter. The only issue is that all three of the tantalizing sophomore basically play the same position — point guard. Rice knows he will need to find a way to make sure all three players are on the floor as often as possible, which will likely mean that the head coach is going to do some rotation juggling this summer. Carter, the team’s leading scorer last season, is a high volume shooter and probably belongs off the ball where his shooting ability can be put to better use. Mack, the smallest of the trio, also has a propensity for chucking but seems like the most natural fit to assume the role of primary ball-handler. Seagears, the team’s leading assist man last season, is a smaller combo guard who will probably get plenty of opportunities to play on and off the ball. Common sense dictates that Rice should play all three of his star guards at once; after all, plenty of other Big East teams have had success employing similar lineups. The only issue is that the Scarlet Knights do not have a lot of size up front or experience for that matter, so is Rice really willing to sacrifice all that size just to get his best lineup on the floor? The best-case scenario is that this situation sorts itself out with each player becoming comfortable in his role and helping the team in a number of different ways, but Rice will need to do an incredible job of finessing this situation, otherwise someone might end up upset.
3. Can Derrick Randall and Kadeem Jack answer the bell and answer frontcourt depth questions?
As it stands right now, the Scarlet Knights’ frontcourt rotation will definitely include Judge, senior wing Dane Miller, and senior center Austin Johnson, but ideally Rice and the rest of his coaching staff will be looking for a few other players to step up and the two most likely candidates to do so are rising sophomores Randall and Jack. The New York City natives both have obvious talent, but neither were consistent as freshman and will need to become more reliable if Rutgers is going to achieve that winning season it so desperately seeks. Rice has raved about the improvements Randall has made since coming to campus and while he may never be an offensive threat, he is a big, physical body who will help with rebounding and defending the post. Jack was one of the program’s more highly touted recruits ever and while he is taller than Randall, he isn’t nearly as physical and is probably more skilled than that. Jack’s career thus far has been marred by injuries, but he did show flashes last season in the 18 games he played while Randall earned some meaningful playing time but failed to leave much of a mark on the season. The Scarlet Knights have enough talent and depth to make a legitimate run at a winning record and will likely surprise some of their conference foes. But their season could be even better if Randall or Jack or both make the leap. If that happens, Rutgers will not be the conference patsy they used to be.