Tournament Preview: Rutgers vs Villanova

With Thursday's loss fresh in its minds, the Rutgers basketball team gets its rematch with Villanova tonight on a larger stage. As the 11th seed in the Big East tournament, the Scarlet Knights take the court at 9:30 p.m. looking to make March magic.

Rutgers flat out embarrassed itself in the first half of a 77-71 loss to Villanova five days ago. Then the Scarlet Knights came on strong in the second half and nearly escaped with a win.

Facing the Wildcats tonight in the Big East Tournament, the question remains, which team will show up?

Coach Mike Rice expects the second-half team to take the court tonight at Madison Square Garden. Rice expects the team what won two out of its last three, not the one that lost for three straight weeks in February.

"I don't think I'll have that problem," Rice said. "I think they're going to be hopefully focused and have that energy to them and be ready to play. When we're not focused, when we don't have that energy and that passion, we're not a very good basketball team."

Since the Thursday night game, Villanova finished the season with a loss and Rutgers won 61-59 over St. John's on Senior Night.

With Villanova fresh in Rutgers' mind, Rice expects preparation for the Wildcats to go smoothly, he said.

"With this young team, the preparation won't be that difficult because there is still a sting," he said. "There is still a taste in our mouths from losing to Villanova at home. It won't be that hard getting that motivation of getting them ready. The knowledge and the preparation is there already."

After Villanova succeeded in defending Rutgers with zone, the Wildcats increased their zone in the regular-season finale and are expected to use it again tonight, Rice said.

Rutgers, which has a reputation for settling for bad threes down the stretch, will have to find a way to crack the zone.

"They're trying to play a little bit more zone," Rice said. "Their zone was effective because our zone offense was not very good. A lack of movement and not knocking down open shots was a factor."

With six freshmen on the roster, youth is becoming less of an issue as they continue to improve. Highlighted by the massive improvements by Jerome Seagears in recent games, Rice is happy with the way his freshman class developed this year.

"They're building instincts," Rice said. "They're building fundamentals. They're building good habits and that's for the future. It's been very rewarding, but also very challenging because I like to win every game that I coach. Some games we swing and miss when we get in our own way and other games we seem like we're world beaters."

And for the third straight game, Rutgers tips off at a late hour. After games starting at 9 and 8 p.m., tonight's game will tip even later.

"I have no idea honestly," Rice said on the timing of tip-off. "Last year at 2 o'clock , we seemed to have an energy and a buzz about us. I certainly wouldn't mind a 7 o'clock game. I'm not sure. ... Things have gone usually well for us as long as we bring that energy and that intensity."

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