Rutgers 2009-10 Preview: Scarlet Knights Climbing Up With Hill

Calvin W BoazCorrespondent IIOctober 19, 2009

NEW YORK - MARCH 10:  Mike Rosario #3 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights drives the ball against Tory Jackson #2 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the first round of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 10, 2009 in New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Head Coach: Fred Hill; 32-60 in 3 years

Previous Season : 11-21 overall; 2-16 Big East (15th)

Departures : G Anthony Farmer, G Corey Chandler, G Earl Pettis, G/F Jaron Griffin, F JR Inman, F Christian Morris

Additions : G James Beatty, G Muhamed Hasani, F Jonathan Mitchell, F Dane Miller, F Austin Johnson, C Brian Okum

Rutgers has struggled to win since Quincy Douby left school early after the 2006-07 season to pursue a career in the NBA.

But the Scarlet Knights might have finally found another star in Mike Rosario as he led the team in scoring as a freshman. 

Last year, Rutgers was inconsistent early in the season as it lost to teams such as Saint Bonaventure, Lehigh, and Binghamton. A 9-4 start turned sour quickly when consecutive losses to North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Connecticut marked the beginning of a nine game losing streak.

DePaul and South Florida were the only Big East teams the Scarlet Knights were able to defeat all season long.

Projected Starting Lineup

PG James Beatty , 6'2,'' 195 lbs, Jr.

Fred Hill has been searching for a true point guard since being named the head coach, and he finally has one.

Beatty averaged 13.4 points and 7.9 assists for a Miami-Dade Junior College team that had a 26-3 season. As a high school senior, he was named the North Carolina 4A State Player of the Year.

Beatty's arrival could not come at a better time since combo guard Corey Chandler was dismissed in August for violating athletic department policy. The depth at guard was further thinned when Earl Pettis decided to transfer to LaSalle.

Beatty should be able to add creativity to an offense that often has difficulty scoring.

SG Mike Rosario , 6'3," 190 lbs, So. (16.2 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 39 FG%, 84 FT%)

Rosario was the first McDonald's All-American to attend Rutgers.

He proved the honor was no mistake as he set a freshman scoring record at Rutgers with 517 points. Rosario led the team in 3-point baskets and free-throw shooting percentage.

He worked on his game this summer by playing on Puerto Rico's Under-19 team. Going into the season, Rosario needs to improve his ball handling as he dished out 45 assists while committing 94 turnovers last year.

SF Patrick Jackson , 6'6", 210 lbs So. (0.6 PPG, 0.6 RPG, 7 FG%, 80 FT%)

Coach Hill needed to see enormous improvement out of Jackson after a sub-par freshman year. Jackson did not disappoint on the team's trip to Spain during the off-season.

He led the team in scoring during the four-game trip with nearly 14 points per game. He also displayed a willingness to battle inside by averaging 7.3 rebounds per game.

Based on the numbers he posted in Europe, Jackson is now expected to emerge as one of the most improved players in the Big East.

PF Gregory Echenique , 6'9," 265 lbs, So. (8.4 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 51 FG%, 67 FT%)

Last season, Echenique set the school's freshman rebounding record. His 78 blocks placed him second in school history for rejections for a freshman.

Following a similar path as Rosario, Echenique played for Venezuela's Under-19 team this past summer. The coaching staff is looking for the burly Echenique to average a double-double this year.

C Hamady Ndiaye , 6'11," 235 lbs, Sr. (5.6 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 2.2 BPG, 59 FG%, 65 FT%)

Despite playing most of the season with back problems, Ndiaye continued to be a defensive presence for Rutgers. Although still limited offensively, Ndiaye proves invaluable with his rebounding and shot-blocking ability.

With Echenique helping inside, Ndiaye can take less chances defensively and stay on the floor for longer periods without fouling out.

Projected Contributors

G Mike Coburn , 6'0," 185 lbs, Jr. (4.0 PPG, 2.1 APG, 1.6 RPG, 40 FG%, 68 FT%)

Coburn is a valuable player off the bench with the ability to play either guard position. He also provides leadership on a team lacking experience.

Coburn needs to keep his turnovers low and increase his shooting range to aid in the improvement of the Scarlet Knights.

G Muhamed Hasani , 6'3", 190 lbs, Fr.

Hasani was offered a scholarship without ever being seen by Coach Hill on the recommendation of Tim O'Shea, the head coach of Bryant.

In 2007, Hasani was recognized by the Basketball Federation of Kosovo as its best player under the age of 21.

Still only 20 years old, Hasani has lots of international experience and will provide Rutgers with another option at point guard.

F Austin Johnson , 6'8", 230 lbs, Fr.

As a senior for Blair Academy in Blairstown, NJ, Johnson averaged 18 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists. Johnson will need time to develop but should pick up minutes due to his athleticism and passing ability.

F Tomaz Kokosinski , 6'7", 235 lbs, So.

Kokosinski only participated in three games last season and didn't score a point in any of them. He joined Rutgers as a walk-on and was a member of the 2008-09 Big East All-Academic Team.

Kokosinski is a hard worker in practice, but will find it difficult again to see much playing time.

G Mike Kuhn , 6'1", 185 lbs, So. (0.5 PPG, 0.0 APG, 67 FG%)

Kuhn averaged 1.5 minutes per game last season as a walk-on. As a senior at Christian Brothers Academy in Lincroft, NJ, he averaged 15.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 5.0 assists while serving as team captain.

Since Rutgers is thin at the guard position, Kuhn's ball-handling skills will probably be put to more use this season.

F Dane Miller , 6'7", 210 lbs, Fr.

Miller is a versatile player who would rather shoot outside than bang inside. He was rated as the 37th-best forward by out of high school.

Miller averaged 21 points and 15 rebounds as a senior at Rush-Henrietta High School in New York. His ability to run the floor will allow Rutgers to play at a faster pace.

F Jonathan Mitchell , 6'7", 225 lbs, Jr.

Mitchell sat out last season as a transfer from the University of Florida. As a true freshman, Mitchell played on a national championship team.

The former New York Mr. Basketball is a natural lefty who averaged 3.1 points and 1.8 rebounds two seasons ago. Mitchell will provide Rutgers with perimeter shooting and rebounding while battling Jackson for a starting spot.

C Brian Okam , 6'11", 245 lbs, Fr.

Okam is a versatile big man who will learn from Ndiaye as he adjusts to the college game. Okam did not play in high school last season because the Florida High School Athletic Association ruled him ineligible to participate.

Key Games

Nov. 14 Marist : It is always good to start off the season with a solid win at home.

Nov. 27 Massachusetts (Legends Classic in Atlantic City): This game will serve as a tool to evaluate how much improved this team really is.

Dec. 28 @North Carolina : Rutgers played well in a losing effort season against the Tar Heels last season.

Jan. 2 Cincinnati: It is vital that the Scarlet Knights start conference play on a positive note.

Feb. 2 St. John's : A key home game against a team Rutgers should be able to handle.

Season Outlook

Rutgers should be able to get to a strong start before facing North Carolina and starting conference play.

Much of Rutgers' success will depend on the play of Beatty at the point guard position. Turnovers have been a problem for the Scarlet Knights recently. Rutgers was next-to-last in the Big East in scoring last year and needs more quality possessions during the course of a game to increase its point production.

Under Hill, the Scarlet Knights have struggled to find more than one productive scorer each year. However, both Rosario and Echenique should average double-digits in points this time around. Based on his play earlier this year, Jackson should be able to establish himself as a reliable scoring option.

Rutgers has only been able to win five conference games over the last two years. This team should win at least that many this season alone. An NCAA bid is unlikely, but a trip to the NIT is a goal that the Scarlet Knights should be able to reach.