Rutgers, like WVU, depends heavily on freshmen. The difference is that the Scarlet Knight newcomers have been much more productive in the early going, surpassing the accomplishments of most of the veterans in the Rutgers lineup.
A pair of freshmen guards, Jerome Seagers and Eli Carter, have been very good in starting roles. Carter is scoring 13.5 ppg and was the Big East rookie of the week based primarily on his 31-point outburst in the Knights' double overtime win over Florida. Seagers adds 7.7 ppg and is also a solid playmaker with 32 assists against 18 turnovers. Off the bench, fellow freshman Myles Mack, a Top 100 recruit, is second on the team in scoring with 11 ppg, and teams with Carter as a solid three-point threat. Austin Carroll chips in wiwh 10 minutes of action per game, but averages fewer than three points per appearance.
At swingman, there's more experience, and also solid productivity. Junior starter Dane Miller averages 6.9 ppg and 5.5 rpg, while sophomore backup Mike Poole averages 6.9 ppg and 3.1 rpg. Miller, in particular, is very efficient, and doesn't hunt shots or force action that he shouldn't. He hits a team best 54.5% from the field. Miller and Poole also combine to give Rutgers some interior defensive strength, combining for 28 blocked shots to date.
The frontcourt relies mostly on six-foot, eight-inch Gilvydas Biruta, a sophomore who tallies 10.9 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. He can step out to the three-point line if uncovered, and is a solid, if unspectacular, defender. Fellow starter Austin Johnson, a junior, chips in with 5.4 ppg, but he actually sees less time on the floor than Mack or Poole. Freshman center Derrick Randall is also seeing about 10 minutes per game, and averages 1.9 pints and 2.8 rebounds.
Rutgers also recently got two more players back from injury. Highly touted Kadeem Jack made appearances in Rutgers' last two games after preseason foot surgery, but didn't dent the stat line other than with one blocked shot. Malick Kone, who had arthroscopic knee surgery, has played in six games and is settling in well, contributing 4.9 points per game.
Overall, the Knights present a balanced scoring squad. Certainly Carter and Biruta require defensive attention, but at least six other players can also score if not accounted for. RU's biggest weakness? Ball handling. The Scarlet Knights have 213 turnovers against just 132 steals and 183 assists.
It's another winnable road game for West Virginia, but in light of the poor performance the Mountaineers put on in New Jersey last week, this contest is anything but a given.
Rutgers Athletic Center
WVU 10-4, 1-1
RU 8-6, 0-1
WVU - 24
RU - 207
To turn that around, West Virginia must pass the ball on offense. That sounds simple, but too often this year the WVU attack bogs down with a lot of standing and dribbling in place. Those "drives to nowhere" in which two or three fakes, moves or crossover dribbles put the ballhandler right back to where he started, bleed the shot clock and lead to bad possessions. Those have to be eliminated if the Mountaineers are to have a chance to win against most Big East teams.
Second is the factor of playing and winning on the road. While the Mountaineers do hold the impressive "neutral" site win over Kansas State, it still has to achieve the hurdle of winning in true road venues. West Virginia's freshmen played like, yes, freshmen, against Seton Hall, and turned tourist on a number of plays as they stood and watched the action. The Rutgers Athletic Center can get loud and rowdy, and although it's not the Carrier Dome it can be reasonably difficult to play in if the stands are full and the home team is doing well. After WVU's poor showing in one of the least intimidating venues in the Big East, this is a cause for concern until the Mountaineers show they can keep their poise and play hard on every possession.
With Rutgers' shaky ballhandling, look for a bit more pressure from WVU at times. The Mountaineers did unveil a fullcourt press for several possessions against Seton Hall, and while they won't be running it out on every play, it could be a good change of pace against a Scarlet Knight team that has problems protecting the ball. Huggins will also push his team to play with the intensity it showed while it mounted a rally against Seton Hall. While that ultimately proved futile, West Virginia's best stretches of play on offense came when it was backed by tough defensive work.
With injuries (Pat Forsythe, Deniz Kilicli) and offensive ineffectiveness (Kevin Noreen, Keaton Miles, Dominique Rutledge) dogging the front line, WVU is looking to its guards to be more productive not only in scoring, but in helping set up opportunities for others. The problem to date? Each guard has been good in some areas, but poor in others.
Truck Bryant is providing the scoring, but is shooting just 39.5% from the field, and has just four more assists than turnovers. Jabarie Hinds leads the team in assist to turnover ratio (53-31), but has struggled defensively and given up more points than he's created at times. Gary Browne has had good defensive moments, but his decision-making, especially with the ball, has been poor. He's also hitting just 54% from the line -- an aberration for a player that knocked free throws down regularly in high school.
West Virginia may not need all three of its guards to make stellar improvements across the board in order to win, but it does need for them to shore up those areas of their games that have been most deficient. If Bryant and Browne can make better decisions, and Hinds can improve on defense, the Mountaineers will be able to overcome those injuries and other issues that plague them up front. As head coach Bob Huggins says, however, there's no more time for patience. This process has to start now.
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Rutgers and West Virginia share a common league history, with both having played in the Eastern 8 and the Atlantic 1. As a result, they, have met every year save one since 1972-73. Rutgers is 16-15 at home overall against WVU, and 5-16 in Big East regular season play.
Just as it did against Seton Hall, WVU comes into the contest with a six-game winning streak over the Scarlet Knights.
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Despite drawing intense defensive pressure, WVU's Kevin Jones still managed a double-double with 15 points and ten rebounds against Seton Hall. Jones also continues to hold the top spots in the Big East in both scoring and rebounding. Jones isn't the kind of guy that's going to get points by forcing up shots or going one-on-one, so he has to have his teammates involved if he's going to continue to post those sorts of figures.
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The Rutgers basketball philosophy for 2011-12 is "Details, Discipline, Determination". It even appears as the header on the school's basketball game notes.
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Rutgers has taken 792 shots to date, with only 190 of those coming from three-point range. WVU has 822 overall attempts, with 257 of those from long range.