Tip time: RU hoops begins '09-10 season today

Coming off an 11-21 season, including a 2-16 mark in the Big East, Rutgers opens the season by hosting Marist today at 2 p.m. Fourth-year coach Fred Hill welcomes a vastly changed roster from a year ago with a pair of transfers and four freshman. Also, leading scorer Mike Rosario and big man Greg Echinique return for their sophomore seasons.

The unveiling of a new Rutgers men's basketball team takes place today, but whether it is different than the last few is another matter.

Fourth-year coach Fred Hill says the depth is better, the talent is improved and the tempo will be increased as the Scarlet Knights look for a breakthrough season after going 11-21 (2-16 Big East) last season, and winning 32 games the last three seasons.

The players say the harmonious culture and improved work ethic makes this a postseason team, although that doesn't necessarily mean the NCAA Tournament.

The personnel certainly changed, with five new faces expected to play when the Scarlet Knights tip off against Marist at 2 p.m. at the RAC. Even a few of the familiar faces could be playing different roles. Guard Mike Rosario is being asked to be a more selective shot taker and Greg Echinique could spend markedly more time at center rather than power forward.

"The only thing that changed is now we have more depth, so now (Hill) wants me to be more of an all-around player,'' said Rosario, who averaged a team-high 16.2 points per game but shot just 39.1 percent from the field last season. "Still score, but now I don't have to do it all.''

Scoring was the Scarlet Knights' issue last season. They averaged 61.2 points and shot 40.1 percent from the field.

As the 2009-10 season commences, the concern is whether Rutgers will defend and rebound enough to be competitive.

"I expect us to be much more efficient and better offensively,'' Hill said. "We'll mix our defenses up. Play a little man, play a little zone, rebound the basketball and get out and run. And see what happens.

"It was a dogfight last year. We were better defensively. We weren't as good offensively. I'm concerned to the opposite this year.''

Hill said senior center Hamady Ndiaye will be a game-time decision with a hyper-extended knee, although Hill acknowledged he expected him to play.

However, with limited practice time and some lingering soreness, Ndiaye's minutes could be limited, which will allow Echinique to spend more minutes at center rather than his less comfortable power forward.

The most anticipated new face is actually someone who has been around the program for more than a year.

Forward Jonathan Mitchell, transfer from Florida who was a reserve on one of the national championship teams, makes his debut. He brings maturity, above average passing skills and a mid-range jumper to what Hill believes will be a markedly improved offensive team.

Junior college transfer James Beatty was expected to come and take over the point guard duties, but he and junior Mike Coburn have been neck-and-neck for the starting spot. But when Beatty is in the game, get ready for loads of running.

"I think the point guards are learning we are a running program, and that's something coach Hill wants done,'' Rosario said. "Their job is to get the ball out and just push it and get it up to the wings.''

Beatty averaged 13.4 points and 7.9 assists for Miami Dade College last season, and throughout September pickup games and in practice he has shown a willingness to run at the slightest opportunity.

"I think it's going to take a little bit of time to get it how we want it to be,'' Beatty said. "Defensively, we have a ways to go,'' Beatty said. "We have a lot of rotations that coach likes to do. It's different. It's definitely a challenge on defense.''

Sophomore Pat Jackson also should have a more pronounced roll and a trio of freshman -- forwards Austin Johnson and Dane Miller and 21-year-old Kosovo product Muhamed Hasani -- are also expected to contribute off of the bench.


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