KEYS TO THE BOSTON COLLEGE GAME
Two months ago, Rutgers Head Coach Gary Waters spoke of playing in the championship game of the Big East tournament. In early February, most Rutgers fans would be happy with simply playing the tournament. The Scarelt Knights have won but a single game since the clock struck twelve on New Year's Eve. With a1-6 conference record, Rutgers is DFL in the Western Division of the Big East. Seton Hall (5-4) has secured its position among the middling Big East teams while West Virginia (3-4), with a big road win at Villanova and a favorable inter-division schedule, has moved nearly out of reach for the Scarlet Knights. Only Georgetown (2-5), with two bad home losses, appears catchable. Rutgers likely will need to finish with 6 conference wins to avoid tieing Georgetown in the cellar. A win over Boston College at the RAC must be one of those wins if the Scarlet Knights are going to visit the Garden in March. Here are five keys to a much-needed win against Boston College.
1. Tempo. The Eagles are the second highest scoring team in the Big East at 85 ppg. However, Head Coach Al Skinner's crew also give up more points (83) ppg) than any team in the league. Rutgers obviously doesn't have the firepower to get into a shootout with Boston College. The Scarlet Knights must slow the tempo of the game and keep the final score in the 60's. Rutgers also must accomplish this while applying pressure to Boston College for the full 40 minutes. Skinner only uses a 7-man rotation. Furthermore, his three big guns - Sr PG Troy Bell, Jr SG Ryan Sidney, and Fr PF Craig Smith - each play nearly the entire game. Waters must rotate defenders on these three - Jerome Coleman and Calvin Wooten on Bell, Mike Sherrod and Juel Wiggan on Sidney, and Kareem Wright and Sean Axani on Smith. Make them work hard for their points on the offensive end. And run them relentlessly on the defensive end. Wear them out in the halfcourt.
2. Attack Smith. Craig Smith gives Skinner an inside presence that Boston College has generally lacked since Skinner first arrived in Chestnut Hill. At 6-7 and 265 pounds, Smith is a big kid. He likely will be too strong for Sean Axani or Herve Lamizana. Kareem Wright will have to guard Smith. The key to success for the foul-prone Wright will be to defend Smith immediately on the offensive end. Waters should start Wright in place of the ineffective Axani. And Waters must focus the offense on Wright from the opening tipoff. Pound the ball inside to Wright and go after Smith. Wright's tremendous size gives him the ability to draw fouls. Kareem must get Smith into foul trouble and get him off the floor. Defensively, Kareem must rely upon double-teams to defend Smith. Hold his ground and let his teammates force Smith to give up the ball, as the Scarlet Knights did with Seton Hall's Kelly Whitney last Sunday.
3. Dribble Penetration. Boston College doesn't spend much time playing defense. Their FG% and 3P% defense are also among the worst in the league. The Rutgers guards - most notably Coleman and Ricky Shields - must forego their obsession with 3-point shooting and take the ball to the basket. Dribble penetration will force the Eagles to play defense, rather than simply relying upon Rutgers to miss from beyond the arc. Dribble penetration will get Boston College into foul trouble. It will create passing lanes for the big men inside, which Rutgers must do more proficiently. And it will open up the 3-point line at it's shortest distance, rather than three to five feet further, from which the Scarlet Knights all to frequently shoot.
4. Zone Defense. Last year in the first round of the Big East tournament, Rutgers threw a zone defense at Boston College and the Eagles struggled mightily, scoring only 22 first half points. Waters had his longer players - Jason McCoy and Herve - on the wings. This effectively closed off much of the court to Boston College. Boston College was not a good perimeter shooting team and the long zone forced the Eagles to shoot from the perimeter. Waters must employ a similar zone against the Eagles. Use it to protect Kareem Wright from foul trouble. But, unlike the zone futilely employed against West Virginia, keep Kareem in the middle and let the perimeter defenders focus on the real shooting threats - Bell and PF Andrew Bryant.
5. Transition Defense. Sloppy transition defense was Rutgers' undoing against Seton Hall. Seton Hall scored 21 of their 58 points in transition. The Scarlet Knights must hustle back on defense and force Boston College to beat them in a halfcourt game. Coleman, Shields, and Wiggan each were guilty of dogging it on defense. Waters needs to give a quick hook to any of his players who are letting their man outrun them downcourt for easy baskets. Plays guys who will play defense. The whole length of the court. Not just 47 feet. If the Eagles can get their running game fired up, the Scarlet Knights will get run out of their own gym.