Rice forecasts higher win total
A booming band greeted a crowd of students as they filled the College Ave Gym, signaling the start of this year’s installment of MidKnight Madness.
The event, which introduces the Rutgers men’s basketball team to the student body each season, featured a 10-minute scrimmage and a slam dunk contest.
And this time, a new face for the Scarlet Knights stole the show.
Lee Junior College transfer Vincent Garrett dominated the dunk contest, as head coach Mike Rice predicted, pulling off two between-the-legs dunks that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
“I kind of knew I was going to win already,” Garrett said. “I just did dunks I used to do in high school. It was nothing new. I used to do a lot of dunk contests in high school. Winning another one was not a problem.”
While Rice enjoyed the fanfare and the excitement, he is more focused on the upcoming season, one he believes can be his best at Rutgers.
His confidence comes with the talent on his roster that has remained from last season.
Only forward Gilvydas Biruta is gone from last year’s team after transferring to Rhode Island to rejoin his former high school coach Dan Hurley.
Despite most of the team remaining intact, the roster still has only two seniors and more than half of the roster consists of sophomores.
But Rice still maintains confidence in his young squad and believes this is a different team than the one that went 6-12 last season in Big East play.
It starts, Rice said, with a physical difference.
“Eighteen-year-old boys come to college and barely have ever lifted,” he said. “Now, they’re just different. Even in practice the last month, you just see a difference in … what they’re able to do with that added strength and muscle.”
Rice uses junior guard Mike Poole as an example because he said Poole has gained 22 pounds since he first arrived at Rutgers.
The extra size will come in handy in conference games, Rice said.
“If you don’t think that’s a difference, you don’t know the Big East,” he said. “Now Mike won’t get bumped off his drives, he’ll be balanced. Those little things mean maybe one point or two points.
But those one or two points can translate to the difference between wins and losses, Rice said, considering Rutgers’ average margin of defeat in conference games was only 3.9 points.
But that is not the only area in which Rice expects improvement.
Rutgers averaged nearly 15 turnovers per game last season, while averaging less than 13 assists per game, giving them an assist-to-turnover ratio among the worst in the conference.
Rice believes this year will be a different story.
“Their decisions,” Rice said of what will improve this season. “[Their] response from a bad call, bad play. That’s all a part of maturing, developing. I think that is going to be a difference in why maybe was can be successful.”
He said he is excited to show the fans what direction the program is heading.
Although Rice cannot say exactly when, he is confident the team will start to win soon.
“I can see progress,” he said, “and I can see guys’ chemistry developing and maturing.”