The hero from that game, Jonathan Mitchell, has since graduated and is now playing overseas in Spain. Along with JMitch, Rutgers lost both players from its starting backcourt in James Beatty and Mike Coburn. Also gone is guard/forward Robert Lumpkins, who played a fifth year as a graduate student at Rutgers after coming over from New Mexico State, where he played three years. He began his collegiate career at a Texas junior college.
As for the returning players and newcomers, each was instructed to find a summer league in order to prepare for the season. Six of the seven freshmen played together with returning players junior forward Austin Johnson and sophomore guard Austin Carroll for Ned Stevens Gutter Cleaning in the Jersey Shore Basketball League. Joining them was former McDonald's All-American forward Wally Judge, who is sitting out this year after transferring from Kansas State to Rutgers. As per NCAA rules, no more than two returning players are allowed to play on the same summer league team. This resulted in junior forward Dane Miller suiting up for Investor Savings Bank, the JSBL champion. Carroll's classmate, sophomore forward Gilvydas Biruta opted not to take summer classes at Rutgers, instead returning home to represent his native Lithuania in the U20 European Championships. Lastly, sophomore Mike Poole and second semester freshman Kadeem Jack took their talents to New York City, where Poole showcased his talents at Nike Pro City at Baruch College and Jack played in the Dyckman outdoor summer league.
As for the newcomers, they got the opportunity to play with each other as well as Johnson and Carroll at the JSBL. While it was evident that the first years had not played with each other, it was also very clear that they could ball. The athleticism the freshman guard trio of Myles Mack, Jerome Seagears, and Eli Carter showed had Rutgers fans in awe, something the Scarlet Knights have not had in a long time. In addition, forwards Greg Lewis and Derrick Randall proved to be legitimate Big East bodies down low, and will provide instant front court depth, something that will be necessary with the recent injury to Kadeem Jack. Malick Kone figures to be in the mix as he brings a very well-rounded game to Rutgers.
A lot of questions have come up about the leadership. With no scholarship seniors, who will be the leaders of the ballclub? Well, the team does in fact have two seniors in redshirt senior Charlie Rigoglioso and senior Mike Kuhn. Both walk-ons have played basketball their entire time at Rutgers, with Rigoglioso having a brief stint at Moravian. The two figure to show the freshmen the ropes and lead the "Bomb Squad" while sporting new numbers this year. Rigoglioso has given up #15 to Derrick Randall, while Mike Kuhn has traded his #22 to Kadeem Jack and will now wear #44.
While there are a lot of new faces, it appears that Coach Rice has the personnel that he needs to run his system. The system that led to three consecutive NEC championships, including two NCAA tournament appearances, while at the helm of Robert Morris. The Scarlet Knights will run the floor in an uptempo offense and look to pressure the ball a lot on defense. Look for the same switching in positions 1-4 that was seen last year as well, which should create a lot of mismatches and favorable opportunities for Rutgers. This will in turn lead to everyone getting a good amount of playing time, however, as is usually the case some will play more than others.
This year figures to be an exciting one On The Banks, but the team's success will hinge on the freshmen's ability to buy-in to Coach Rice's intensity, attention to detail, and being locked in at all times. It will ultimately be upto the returning players to lead by example and hope that their work ethic rubs off on the younger guys. Climbing the ladder in the Big East is a daunting, yet not impossible task.
Overall outside the top 6 teams, the Big East is expected to be wide open. Rutgers was picked 11th by the coaches at Big East Men's Basketball Media Day, the highest they have been picked since the league expanded to 16 teams prior to the 2005-06 campaign. Like I said above, the team will only go as far as the players are willing to take it. The returning players know what is expected of them. The returning players worked very hard this summer, trying to take their games to the next level in an effort to help Rutgers return to the Big Dance, something that hasn't happened since a March 1991 loss to Arizona State in Atlanta.
The Scarlet Knights are back in action on Sunday, November 6 in their exhibition against Rutgers-Newark. Their first regular season game is Friday, November 11 at the RAC, when they take on the Dartmouth Big Green.
While the starting lineup is anyone's guess at this point with so many new faces, I'll take a crack at it myself...
G Myles Mack
G Mike Poole
F Dane Miller
F Gilvydas Biruta
F Austin Johnson
There you have it.. your 2011-12 Rutgers Scarlet Knights Men's Basketball team.