Tomorrow night at 9, St. John's welcomes Rutgers to Carnesecca Arena, trying to get back to .500 in the conference. And Rutgers is trying to get to 4-6, sniffing distance of .500. Two area teams, recruiting the same players and trying to get the same people to watch them on TV and wear their sporting gear.
Is it a rivalry?
It might be in the near future. In recent years, Fred Hill and Norm Roberts have battled hard in this matchup... to avoid the absolute bottom of the league. The two programs were very similar - having trouble competing with the big-money teams of the Big East, often considered the speedbump game for some top-4 conference for, the lame, pathetic "they're trying so hard" squad that the Jim Calhouns and Rick Pitino's would point to when talking about how competitive the league is.
Both schools got really tired of hearing some pompous coaches talk about giving Hill and Roberts more time.
And this year? Competitive basketball. Let's get deeper into the Rutgers' Scarlet Knights, what's new this year, their roster, and whether this is a rivalry. Dave from On the Banks was kind enough to answer my questions. Personally, I find him particularly insightful (and responsive), so I look forward to the Rutgers question exchange. (His answers are reachable here.)
His answers - after the jump.
1. Mike Rice seems to be a godsend for the Rutgers program. How has he done in your eyes - exceeded expectations? Has his intensity rubbed any players the wrong way like a filthy genie?
He has exceeded every possible expectation I had. He took less money to hire a quality staff. He has hauled in a 7 player recruiting class with a top fifteen ranking. He didn't throw this season, promising the seniors to give everything he had, showing an intense and exciting basketball style. As far as I can tell, he intensity hasn't really rubbed anyone the wrong way. The players have responded to it and are playing harder than they ever have. The fans love it. The only ones it's seemed to rub wrong is Seton Hall fans (hyperlink: ).
2. The Scarlet Knights look tough, especially on defense. How have the Knights improved? How are they so tenacious on D?
The Knights have improve because they actually look like a basketball team. They share the ball on offense and get great shots (though they don't always knock them down). On defense they play a switching defense, where every guy except the center switches on any screen. It creates chaos on the floor and really confuses the offense. Plus, at times, they'll start a defensive possession in one defense (let's say zone) and mid-defensive possession will switch to man. It really throws teams off. They're physical and they don't back down. They will wear a team down on D.
3. Is Rutgers vs. St. John's a rivalry? Are the fans really into the bragging rights? How do you think the "rivalry"/ competition will change in the next few years?
Before this season, I didn't really consider SJU and RU a real rivalry. We haven't been good enough to give you many scares, and you haven't been too good in a while. But with Lavin and Rice recruiting the hell out of this area (and the country), it appears the rivalry will really start picking up. I think the games will be about two really talented teams playing each other in the future, and all you need in the BE, is to have one or two tightly fought BE Tournament games to really get a rivalry going. So, there might be bragging rights on the line in the future.
4. Who is in the Scarlet Knights' rotation, and what's the biggest thing they contribute to the team?
We're a pretty thin team. Only 8 players, and mostly our starters play.
At Center you have freshman Gilvydas Biruta, who plays a physical defensive game. He'll crash the boards, bump you on D, and go for as many lay-ups as possible. Sophomore Austin Johnson backs him up. He's not as physical, but has a nice touch around the basket, including a hook shot.
At PF you have senior Jonathan Mitchell. A transfer out of Florida, he can hit the 3 pretty well, and he's starting to take the ball inside. Backing him up is senior transfer out of UNM Robert Lumpkins. He only gives a few minutes off the bench, but can bring instant offense. He kept us in our game against Pitt with a few 3s in the 2nd half.
At SF, we have our most athletic player, sophomore Dane Miller. He's really become our best defensive player, shutting down Jeremy Hazell this year. He can drive and throw it down, and is learning a mid-range jumper. Behind him is freshman Mike Poole (ROSEDALE!). Poole has the mid-ranger jumper and is pretty good on D. The guards are our seniors.
PG James Beatty plays very good D and is our best shooter. Mike Coburn is our SG. He's a slasher and leads the team in assists. Freshman Austin Carroll is behind them. He's just off knee surgery, but before he got hurt was starting to become a pesky player. Can hit the 3.
5. How has Mike Rice differed from Fred Hill? What is Fred Hill doing these days, by the way?
Mike Rice is a basketball coach. Fred Hill was a guy who could get players to commit to RU, but didn't know what to do with them. The team always looked confused on defense and only looked for Mike Rosario on offense. Then they all transferred. Now the team plays with a purpose. I'm sure Fred Hill is in the area collecting his nice buyout.
6. Is Rutgers improving to the point where they can go on a late-season winning streak or even a Big East Tournament streak? Could they make the NCAA Tournament?
The NCAAs? Probably not. I could see them winning a game or even two in the BET, but they're not deep enough to make any sort of real run. And that would most likely keep them out of the NCAAs. This team needs a big win in the worst way. There've been signs it's coming. A road win over Seton Hall. Taking Pitt to the wire at home to only lose by 3. But it needs a signature win to get some more confidence. If they get that, I could see them going to the NIT.