Rutgers implements defensive changes
The Rutgers men’s basketball team’s two most recent games have been a case of two different worlds.
On offense, the Scarlet Knights have found their flow, led by sophomore guards Eli Carter and Myles Mack. In both contests, the Knights scored 81 and 87 points, respectively.
But the team’s defense has not caught up.
Because opponents have gotten to the basket, they have been able to hang around in games.
In the first half against Boston University, Rutgers held an 18-point lead but allowed the Terriers to score 18 points in the final five minutes of the first half.
The Knights escaped with a two-point victory.
The following game, they allowed UNC-Greensboro a season-high 80 points. That led to some changes.
“It’s a work in progress,” Rice said. “We’re not as small as we usually were. We’ve changed our formula and we’re not switching one through four, and it has kind of affected the way we’ve [played].”
Rice said the team is bigger and stronger than it has been in the past, but that added bulk means it is a bit slower, and as a result the defensive style has changed.
Rutgers has resigned itself largely to zone defense this season, rather than a man-to-man style.
Rice knows the team is still getting used to it.
“You have a formula,” he said. “Now we have to defend screens the right way instead of switching all of them, and that’s the accountability [and] the discipline of being consistent and guarding the same way every time.”
But while the new formula limits one-on-one situations in which quicker players may win out against slower opponents, the opposing offenses could create mismatches.
Mack found it out Nov. 16 at Princeton.
The 5-foot-9 Mack native found himself matched up several times against 6-foot-7 forward Ian Hummer.
Rice said the way to handle that situation is simple.
“You have to fight,” he said. “You have to get to [a player’s] knees and we have to play great team defense. We have to come to [Mack’s] aid when they throw it in there, but that’s becoming instinctive on the defensive end and we’re not there yet.”
The Knights occasionally experience that in practice drills, when guards may be matched up against much bigger forwards.
Senior forward Austin Johnson believes the mismatches in practice are key in the growth of defending bigger players.
“We’re often in positions where we need our teammates to have our back,” Johnson said. “They have to attack guys’ knees and drive them away, bigger guys [built] like [sophomore forward] Derrick [Randall] and [junior forward] Wally [Judge] sometimes in the games.”
The experience in this new style of defense, Johnson said, will come in handy later in the season.
As the season progresses, the Knights will know their defensive scheme better and it will only improve, Johnson said.
“[We have to] be more cognizant of what we’re trying to accomplish defensive-wise,” he said. “I think the last few games we have been making more of an effort to see what we can do offensively. Now that we see that defense is definitely going to drive us to win some games, we’re definitely going to be more cognizant of what we have to do to be successful.”
Rutgers needs that defensive consistency, especially since it has only six games left before it begins conference play.
Historically, the Big East is home to some of the biggest and strongest frontcourts in the country.
“We definitely want to show what we got early, but also show that we can do it against the better [teams] in our league,” Johnson said.
But for now, the Knights are still adjusting to their defense.
Mack believes the way the team will excel in the new style is simple.
“We just have to jump to the ball and just follow the concepts that the coaches give us and we’ll be fine,” he said.
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow Joey Gregory on Twitter @JGregoryTargum.
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