Rutgers prepares for Florida

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights have played just three games so far, but with a 3-0 record to show for their efforts, it's already obvious that this year's model is a much-improved team from last season's. Winning 3 games in 4 days is impressive, but now the Knights have nearly a week to prepare to face two-time defending champion Florida down in Gainesville.

How Rutgers handles themselves in what will be their biggest test by far in this young season may very well serve as a harbinger of what to expect once Big East play rolls around. Granted, no one is expecting the youthful Gators to make it three straight NCAA championships, but there is no question Florida coach Billy Donovan has a very talented team - certainly a more talented group by far than any of RU's three previous opponents. Perhaps even more significant is that this game will take RU out of the cozy confines of the Louis Brown Athletic Center for the first time this year, and will put them into one of the loudest, hostile, and most potentially unnerving environments they could possibly find themselves in.

Of course, given the ridiculously low attendance at the RAC for those first three games, perhaps instead of "cozy confines", it should've been described as "mausoleum-like". Who knows, maybe playing in front of 12,000 fans in a sold-out arena will bring out an energy and survival skills that RU has yet to tap into. Certainly RU will need to keep their composure early on, and if they can get off to a good start in the game and keep the crowd quiet, it would be a huge confidence builder. Of course, most any scenario where one envisions that happening will more than likely have JR Inman playing a huge role in it. The 6'9 junior forward has led Rutgers in scoring in each game, and is also averaging a team leading 8.3 rebounds, along with 6 blocked shots.

Even aside from the game's outcome, just to have Inman continue his strong play would be a tremendous boost for the Knights. Inman must certainly be feeling very confident about his game right now, and to keep it going against the two-time defending champions could give him and the team the kind of lift that could cause them to raise some eyebrows down the road when Big East play begins. JR has readily accepted the challenge of being "The Man" for Rutgers this year, and so far he has been just that. But here the challenge becomes that much greater, and just how RU's blossoming young star handles himself against the young but very talented Gators will be one of the games most interesting sub-plots.

Of course, Inman is not going to be able to do it all by himself, and by now it's not hard to envision freshman guard Corey Chandler also being a big contributor for RU. So far Chandler has lived up to his considerable billing, but there's another reason to suspect he may be extra-focused on playing well: Florida starts two freshman - point guard Jai Lucas, and point forward Nick Calathes, and two other freshman, Chandler Parsons (a one-time RU target, as his grandfather played for the Scarlet Knights) and Adam Allen, log considerable minutes. The fact that some of these players may have been more highly regarded coming out of high school (Lucas, Calathes, and Parsons were all chosen to play in the Jordan Classic national All-American game, while Chandler was chosen for the Regional game) is surely something that RU's stellar freshman is well aware of, and he will no doubt be intent on proving that he's just as good as them. This should also serve as another interesting sub-plot on Saturday night.

Of course, having the game degenerate into a series of personal duels will not be in RU's best interests. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Gators so far is just how unselfish they have played, and in addition to overcoming whatever jitters they may have, RU must also play team basketball to have any hope for an upset. Thus, this game will serve as a stern test for Rutgers on several levels, and will be a good barometer to show just how far the Knights have come - and just how far they may have to go.

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