First year head coach Mike Rice has already seen tremendous improvement to his Rutgers University Men’s Basketball team. By taking the job, he took on a slim roster, one destinted for a rough season. So far this season however, the Scarlet Knights have shown promise and potential.
Tonight’s final non-conference matchup will be a big test to see where this team stands. After tonight’s matchup against North Carolina, Rutgers will begin it’s Big East schedule.
Rice has said the Big East Conference schedule is the final exam for this team. If that’s the case, tonights game could be called the mid-term exam or even an exam review.
Rutgers enters tonights matchup with a 9-2 record after realing off six straight victories. UNC is 8-4 on the season, one already full of ups and downs. North Carolina, led by coach Roy Williams, were ranked as high as No. 8 this season before hitting a rough patch. They have since regrouped and have won four of their last five.
Tonight’s game tips off at 9pm at Madison Square Garden in New York City. ESPN2 will broadcast the game live to a national audience.
The Scarlet Knights will be looking to knock off their second ACC opponent this season, Miami was the first. Rutgers used tough, hard-nosed defense to keep the Hurricanes off balance and off the scoreboard. Rice and company will look to do the same to the Tar Heels. It will however be a much harder task.
North Carolina has seven McDonald’s All-Americans on their roster. One of those players happens to be from New Jersey. Former St. Patrick’s star Dexter Strickland. The Tar Heels are led by junior forward Tyler Zeller. The big guy is averaging 15.5 points per game. Freshman Harrison Barnes is a big time player, averaging 12.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.
Rutgers will look to do it’s best work on the defensive end. For the Scarlet Knights to have a chance in this contest, they need to keep the scoring low and make every shot a difficult one for North Carolina.
The Scarlet Knights would love to put a complete game together. So far this season they have seen nice games from many individual players. Inconsistancy has been an issue early on. If the Knights can have a couple players put solid games together at the same time, Rutgers could be dangerous.
A pair of freshman seem to be settling into their roles and are ready to contribute more. Mike Poole scored 14 points off the bench in Rutgers 55-52 victory over St. Peter’s last Thursday.
Gilvydas Biruta, another freshman, is getting more and more into the flow of the game for the Knights. The big man will be counted on tonight to slow down UNC’s Zeller.
Continued contributions from those players will go a long way in determining what success Rutgers has tonight and throughout the Big East schedule. Jonathan Mitchell and Dane Miller are still the go-to guys for Rutgers.
Those players can score but defense is the name of the game. Rice preaches defense and intensity. In their nine wins this season, Rutgers has held it’s opponents to 65 points or less. The Scarlet Knights have allowed just 58.2 points per game. Opponents are shooting just 37.2 percent against Rutgers.
With wins over Miami and Auburn, Rutgers has shown they can play with other BCS conference teams. North Carolina provides a seperate challenge. The toughest test of the season and of Mike Rice’s early coaching tenure at Rutgers.
Rice has made waves since his arrival at Rutgers University. From securing some big name recruits to bringing a hard working winning attitude to wins on the court. A win over North Carolina would be another step in the right direction. A big step.
With the Big East schedule on deck, a big time win over North Carolina would show the world Rutgers is no longer a push over.