We're spending part of the month taking a look at what the Big East competition brings back to Big East play - or how the fill their personnel gaps from graduation, transfer, or players who left early for pro opportunities. Next up: the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. We're starting from the alphabetical caboose of the league. See more Mind the Gap posts.
Returning minutes: 47.9% | Returning points: 47.2% | Returning rebounds: 60.9%
Key gaps in the Scarlet Knight roster: point guard play, outside shooting, defensive intensity
Incoming players: Myles Mack (PG), Kadeem Jack (F), Jerome Seagears (PG), Derrick Randall (PF), Elijah Carter (G), Greg Lewis (C), Malick Kone (G/F)
In short: Rutgers return a lot that was good about their team, and bring in fresh blood. How quickly can they gel with freshman point guards?
(The players named in the pie are those who won't be returning to the program next year, with their percentage of contribution to the team's box score for last year beneath their name.)
Rutgers' main losses: The perimeter: Mike Coburn fashioned himself into a serviceable guard last year, striking from the outside, creating pressure, grabbing steals from opponents, and passing decently - without turning the ball over. Mike Rice and his staff are obviously made of miracles. James Beatty provided much the same skill set but kept his shooting exclusively outside of the three-point line. They were two veteran defenders who could score credibly; it could take the newcomers a little bit of time to do all that Beatty and Coburn brought to the court.
The scoring forward: Jonathan Mitchell was a reliable scorer (save the day when Rutgers scored only 37 points). That kind of tough inside-outside matchup problem's hard to replace; but Coach Rice would probably like to go a little more rugged with his other forward spot.
The Scarlet Knight returnees: Forward Dane Miller is very athletic, but needs to improve his scoring and ballhandling skills badly. He might find himself on the bench more than he would like now that the Scarlet Knights have more than a nine-man roster. But he's a great shot blocker for his size and along with the Queens native Mike Poole, create a very long pair of hands to shoot over. Speaking of Poole, if he can shoot a little better, some of the young players will spend more time watching than they might have anticipated; he was very solid on defense as a freshman. Austin Carroll can shoot a little, but saw little time on a decimated roster.
Up front, Gil Biruta plays like Mike Rice screams - hard and unyielding. He was impressive in the paint, and with a few more post players to spell him (and keep him from foul trouble), he'll be the player the league will love to hate.
Rutgers' possible gap fillers: The Knights will start freshmen, that is a guarantee. But give the sorry state of Rutgers basketball, and the razor-thin rotation of last year, is that such a big difference/ loss? Maybe, but maybe not.
The point guard position will be a battle, with Myles Mack and Jerome Seagears defining their games against each other and on the court. Eli Carter might get some time there as well. Three freshman point guards... that sounds like something Common Wisdom would counsel against. Can they defend well, can they apply pressure? Can they protect the ball? And can they shoot well enough to make the Knights' offense functional? If they can, that Rutgers team moves closer to Big East relevancy.
And for an outside observer, the Scarlet Knights and their New York area brethren will be a laboratory to study what effect freshmen have on a team (more on that in the coming weeks).
Will Kadeem Jack get first crack at Jonathan Mitchell's spot? Does he defend well enough? Can he get offensive rebounds? Because it's likely that this team won't be a sharp shooting offensive machine; there will be misses. There will be struggles. But the future is looking bright in New Brunswick or Piscataway - whatever town the Louis Brown Athletic Center is actually in.