AAC Team Previews: Rutgers Scarlet KnightsPosted by mlemaire on November 1st, 2013
Our team preview style has been heavily cribbed from the microsite writers over in the Pac-12. We love them and assume they would take our attempt at loose imitation as flattery and not plagiarism.
Strengths: It was a bit surprising to see the conference’s coaches pick the Scarlet Knights to finish dead last this season because the team has one of the better and more experienced backcourts in the conference. No, they won’t enjoy the fruits of Eli Carter’s labors, but Myles Mack is a fearless scorer who can pick up some slack, and Jerome Seagears has plenty of potential if he can become a more efficient offensive player. Coach Eddie Jordan will also be in charge figuring out how to fit junior college transfers D’Von Campbell and Kerwin Okoro into the backcourt rotation, but those are four high-major talents to anchor the team’s guard play, and that doesn’t count Malick Kone, who is an experienced role player and adds depth. The Scarlet Knights were a relatively efficient offensive unit last season despite playing a slowed-down style. The pace won’t be much different this year as Jordan favors a Princeton-style offense, but the coaching staff has the tools and the talent in the backcourt to make it work.
Weaknesses: The frontcourt has talented pieces like Kadeem Jack and Wally Judge, but they don’t have any true interior presence. Jack and Judge are big bodies whose styles are better-suited on the wings than in the post, and there is no one on the roster to protect the rim and nobody averaged more than Judge’s 5.4 rebounds per game. The good news is that the conference is backcourt-heavy when it comes to talent and Jordan’s starting lineup should be pretty competitive, but depth in the frontcourt and the team’s ability to defend against opponents like Montrezl Harrell and TaShawn Thomas and all of the lightning-quick guards who like to attack the hoop mean that the offense will have to shoulder a heavy burden, which is not likely given the style of play expected.
Schedule: The Scarlet Knights play a relatively weak non-conference slate, although that could change depending on their performance in the Preseason NIT. Seton Hall and UAB represent potentially stiff challenges in the early portion of the schedule, but even if Rutgers runs the table in its non-conference slate, it would be wise to withhold judgment on the team’s upside until they have started into the meat of their conference schedule. It will be particularly tough sledding for the group down the stretch as four of their last six conference games are against the conference’s projected top four.
If Everything Goes Right: The Scarlet Knights outperform expectations during the non-conference portion of their schedule and even make noise in the Preseason NIT (let’s face it, they aren’t beating a Duke or an Arizona). By the time conference play rolls around, Jack has developed into a versatile offensive player and true second banana to Mack, Seagears is finally playing efficient offensive basketball to go along with his stifling defense, and Jordan is able to get competitive and valuable minutes out of redshirt sophomore Greg Lewis and yet-to-be-cleared freshman Junior Etou. All of this helps the Scarlet Knights shock some teams in the AAC and make a run for the middle of the standings. They don’t have nearly enough talent or depth to crack the conference’s top five, but they could make it respectable.
If Everything Goes Wrong: Mack isn’t able to handle the increased attention from defenses and increased burden from his own team and scuffles along as an inefficient volume scorer while Jack and Judge slowly get worn down because Jordan quickly learns he can’t trust the frontcourt depth for many minutes at a time. They keep their head above water against a soft non-conference schedule, but as conference play continues and fatigue and injuries start to become a factor, Rutgers fades to the back of the pack like everyone expects them too.
What Will Happen: Maybe some of us are just bullish on the experience and high-level talent that stuck around the program, but the Scarlet Knights’ season will probably fall somewhere in between the best-case scenario and worst-case scenario. The conference is so top-heavy that Rutgers should feel confident it can compete against almost any of their league foes and will have plenty of opportunities to win games. Mack is a legitimate leader for this struggling program and Jack and Judge are very nice complementary pieces to have, especially after the offseason the Scarlet Knights went through. We think they are probably better than the worst team in the conference, but they probably won’t get above ninth or 10th in the conference standings regardless.