Battered Rutgers looking to rebound vs. 'Cuse

A tumultous start to the New Year has the Rutgers men's program reeling with three straight losses, and it doesn't get any easier as No. 5 Syracuse comes to town for a Wednesday matchup. Will the RAC be filled with Syracuse fans again? Remember Jonny Flynn's dunk on Mike Rosario last season? Well, the Scarlet Knights know about those things, and plenty else heading into this gut-check game.

PISCATAWAY -- A star player's transfer, a player's only meeting, three Big East conference losses and a frustrated fan base.

Now, the No. 5 team in the nation is coming to the once-vaunted Rutgers Athletic Center, a building that felt more like the Carrier Dome when Syracuse was last here.

So, how's 2010 going for you?

Because it is not even remotely close to what Rutgers (9-6, 0-3 Big East) thought its New Year would be like

"It's a little rollercoaster ride,'' Rutgers junior power forward and team leader Jonathan Mitchell said. "The team is kind of searching for an identity. This is the time where we really have to come together during an adverse time and pull away with something positive.'' Wednesday's game against Syracuse will be the first time Rutgers plays at home since center Greg Echenique announced he was transferring, and first game since back-to-back poor performances on the road in the nation's toughest conference brought coach Fred Hill's job security into question. And, for better or worse, it is coming against a team that thoroughly embarrassed the Scarlet Knights at the RAC last season. From the 82-66 defeat, to Jonny Flynn's facial dunk on guard Mike Rosario, the face of the Rutgers program, it was a disaster that sits fresh in the minds of the Scarlet Knights. "I remember sitting on the sideline noticing there was a lot more orange than red in here,'' said Mitchell, who sat out last season under NCAA transfer rules. "And how they came here, and this was their court, and how they took over the game and the Johnny Flynn dunk in the second half. "That was probably the most memorable moment in the Big East last year.'' This time around there is concern all around for Rutgers, beginning with the expected near-capacity crowd. Although the throng of Syracuse fans who made their way into the RAC last season isn't anticipated, a large contingent of Orange fans are still expected to be present. "I hope it's soldout,'' Hill said. "And I hope there's a lot of Rutgers fans in the stands.'' Aside from the off-the-court distractions, which prompted the player's-only meeting, Rutgers must also deal with Syracuse's talent, and it's active 2-3 matchup zone. Wes Johnson, a 6-foot-7 wing, has scored 19 points in four of the last five games. The other outing he hit for 20. Johnson is averaging 17.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per and his aided on the boards by 6-9 forward Rick Jackson, who is one of five Orange players scoring in double figures (10.2 ppg) and also averaging 7.1 rebounds per game. Couple that with Rutgers center Hamady Ndiaye's foul-trouble propensity against better teams, and the only other true center on the roster being freshman Brian Okam, and is could make for a difficult evening in the paint. "Whenever you're in a stretch with adversity and tough times, you want to look at the character of guys,'' Hill said. "I think we've got tough guys, and we have the opportunity to play the No. 5 team in the country. Rutgers has never beat a No. 5 team in the country. "So I always look at when there are tough times, look at the opportunities that are available.''

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