DePaul plays Rutgers tonight. At one point this season it looked like this game would be between two down-trodden cellar-dwelling teams. Well, the standings still say the Blue Demons and Scarlet Knights are at the bottom of the Big East, but Rutgers has shown some life lately. I did a Q&A with Shawn Layton of Rutgers blog On the Banks of the Raritan to get some insight into the Scarlet Knights before tonight's game at Allstate Arena.
1) CCB: DePaul already fired Jerry Wainwright this season, considering the results at Rutgers is Fred Hill on the hottest seat in the Big East now?
OTB: I think Hill's seat got significantly cooler after Sunday's win over Georgetown. Three weeks ago there was no hope Hill would be back on the banks next season, but he may have saved his job. A lot of fans still want him gone, but you have to give the guy some credit for keeping the team focused enough to avenge a 25-point loss to the Hoyas with a three-point upset. If the players lost all respect for Hill they probably wouldn't have beaten Notre Dame and St. Johns, let alone Georgetown. The team's best players are a sophomore, a freshman, and a red-shirt junior playing his first season with the team. It takes some time for a young team like this to come together.
2) CCB: How did the loss off Gregory Echenique change what Rutgers was trying to do this season?
OTB: The loss of Echenique certainly put a strain on RU's bigs. Senior Hamady Ndiaye has been getting a lot more minutes than originally anticipated, he played 38 against Notre Dame and St. Johns, and he's been a beast. He's the best shot-blocker in the league and he gives RU a ton of energy. He's a fan favorite and a workhorse. Fortunately, he's been able to stay out of foul trouble which has been a big lift for the team. Greg was a better offensive threat on the interior and could open the floor for our guards to knock down outside shots. Our first couple of Big East games were rough because our outside guys put too much pressure on themselves to pick up their scoring after Greg's injury and subsequent transfer to Creighton. Greg's departure forced Hill to give more minutes to freshmen Brian Okam and Austin Johnson. While it hasn't been easy for Okam and Johnson, they're starting to show some promise. Johnson played 15 minutes against Georgetown and was a tremendous help slowing down Greg Monroe. Throwing Johnson and Okam into the fire will only bode well for their future at RU.
3) CCB: Mike Rosario is probably the only player a casual Big East fan has heard of the Scarlet Knights' roster. What are his strengths are weaknesses?
OTB: Rosario is a great shooter who draws a lot of attention. He also makes good decisions in the open floor and can finish pretty well on the break. hen he gets hot, he can do anything. He had a magical performance against Notre Dame - any miss came as a shock. He struggled when Big East play got underway because he tried to do too much. He started to come around in the team's loss to Marquette and then he busted out with a huge game against the Irish. I think he has more trust in his teammates now that they've established themselves as legitimate scorers. He will get frustrated at himself, especially if he's missing shots, and make poor decisions on defense as a result - reaching in and stuff like that. He's human.
4) CCB: Is there someone else DePaul fans should know about before the game?
OTB: Two guys - Jonathan Mitchell and Dane Miller. Miller was just named Big East Rookie of the Week for the second straight week after posting a double-double, including an amazing put-back with 20 seconds left, against Georgetown. J-Mitch, a red-shirt junior, is coming off a career-high 24 points against the Hoyas. Both knocked down critical free-throws in the final minute to secure Sunday's upset. Mitchell made Big East Honor Roll this week as well. I personally love J-Mitch's game. He has a pretty left-handed shot and he rarely takes bad shots or makes bad decisions. He was Mr. Basketball for the state of New York and played for one of the Florida Gators' title teams under Billy Donovan as a freshman. Miller, on the other hand, will make freshman mistakes, but he's also the team's best athlete. He threw down a couple of highlight reel dunks against Louisville and is just scratching the surface of his potential.
5) CCB: Rutgers won two Big East games recently against Notre Dame and St. John's. What went right in those games? Can Rutgers use similar strategies against DePaul?
Rebounding and turnovers. RU turned the ball over 19 times in a losses to South Florida and Marquette, 18 against Syracuse, and 20 against West Virginia. Against Georgetown, they turned the ball over just eight times and gave the ball away just 12 times against Notre Dame. The Georgetown game was the only Big East contest in which RU was out-rebounded and still won. Winning the battle on the glass was a big part of the story in the team's wins over the Irish and the Red Storm. RU must continue to take care of the basketball and compete on the window in order to be in any game. I think it's that simple.
A big thanks to Shawn. You can catch my answers to his questions about DePaul - including the recruitment of 8th grader Jahill Okafor - later today.