In preparation for the game against Rutgers, I was glad to get an invite for a Q&A from Shawn over at the Rutgers blog, On the Raritan Banks. Here are his answers to my questions and you can check out his site later for my answers to his Qs.
1. Following a promising 9-2 start, Rutgers ran into the meat of their schedule in a hurry - a nine game stretch including games at UNC, WVU, and Georgetown and home games against Villanova, and Syracuse. I know it's the Big East and everyone has tough schedules, but is there any thinking that teams like Rutgers might have a better shot at the NCAA Tournament if they weren't in the juggernaut that is the Big East? I guess what I'm asking is, are there times when Rutgers fans might dread having to play in the Big East?
I've certainly wondered how things may have turned out if RU was back in the Atlantic-10. Although the A-10 is having a better year than the ACC, it is still several rungs below the Big East. That being said, I'm still a big fan of the Big East. True, RU gets spanked from time to time, but I can still make the short trip up Route 27 to the RAC and watch players like Scottie Reynolds, Wes Johnson, Greg Monroe, and Luke Harangody when they come to town. Honestly, I'd rather have us struggle in the Big East and eventually turn into a legitimate conference contender than dominate at a mid-major. The key is to eventually turn the program around. Right now, the team would struggle against the nation's top mid-majors. I still have patience, but I'm sure others are losing it with each losing season in the Big East.
2. Everyone knows about Mike Rosario, but I think a big part of the game will be how the centers play against each other. Hamady Ndiaye and Gary McGhee are similar in ways that I think at times, both have probably frustrated fans who want more from them. Though both have experienced some growth this year, Ndiaye has really played well at times and has probably had a better year than Pitt's big man, Gary McGhee. What are some of the strength's/weaknesses of Ndiaye's game?
An obvious strength of H's game is his shot-blocking ability. He leads the Big East with over four blocks per game and is four shy of tying the school's all-time mark set by Roy Hinson (355). He has to be a front-runner for Big East Defensive Player of the Year. A glaring weakness-stone hands. He gets a lot of easy dunks, but he should probably have twice as many stuffs this season. He has difficulty handling passes that premiere big men put away with ease. He's picked up his scoring once sophomore center Gregory Echenique transferred to Creighton and left his heart on the floor every night. The fans love him at the RAC and it was a shame the team couldn't get a win for H against Seton Hall on Senior Night.
3. Ndiaye, of course, leads into a former frontcourt player for Rutgers, Greg Echenique. He had a very good freshman year for Rutgers and looked like he was going to be an excellent player early on this year. Corey Chandler (who of course had issues with his transfer to Binghamton) was the first prized recruit to bolt, now Echenique. What were the circumstances of each player leaving?
Chandler was dismissed for behavioral issues. He was dismissed at Binghamton as well. I have no problem losing a talented player that was too problematic. Hopefully things will work out for Corey Chandler. As far as Ech goes, that's a different story. I wish him well too, but I think he may have over-reacted. I've only got rumors and speculations to go by concerning his transfer. I do know we suffered without him this season and he leaves a big hole to fill for next year. Let's hope he gave up too early, Rutgers turns things around, and the Scarlet Knights get a chance to pay Creighton in the next three years and make Ech regret his hasty decision. Who leaves the metropolitan area and basketball mecca for Nebraska? Apparently Gregory Echenique. Whatever dude.
4. It may sound a little foolish, but as good as Mike Rosario was last year as a freshman, I was expecting a little more from him this year. While I don't think it's a big deal that his scoring hasn't improved, I'm a little surprised that his shooting percentages haven't. At times he can be a good shooter, but others, he really has struggled much the way Pitt's guard Ashton Gibbs has. I'm wondering if there's any frustration towards him for that by Rutgers fans. And because of that, is there any chance he leaves school early after next season (provided he doesn't try to this season, which I can't imagine would be the case)?
Again, I've heard some rumors that Rosario might leave to play professional ball overseas ala Brandon Jennings and then try his luck with the NBA draft. I personally don't see it. I think Rosario likes his team and has developed more confidence in newcomers Dane Miller and Jonathan Mitchell to carry some of the scoring load. I agree with your thoughts on Rosario's efficiency. While he did lead the team with 17 points in Thursday night's loss to Seton Hall, he shot 4-16 from the floor. His shot selection was also questionable in the second half when the Seton Hall lead was in striking distance. More a shooter than a slasher like Dane Miller, Rosario needs a legitimate inside presence to open the floor for him. While Rosario can slash and get to the rim, he does have trouble finishing among the muscle for which the Big East is famous. Rosario has a similar build to a guy like Brandon Jennings, Rosario is listed as two inches taller and about 10 pounds heavier, but he lacks the ability to finish among the big fellas that will be needed at the next level. That's what he needs to work on and why he'll be back on the banks next season.
5. With a chance to finish over .500, Fred Hill has finally gotten this team to turn around at least a little bit this year. What are the long-term hopes for him? He's recruited pretty well and I'm wondering if people think he's the long-term fix for the program? What kind of guy is he?
I personally like Fred Hill. He never lost control of his team and has to get a lot of credit for turning a team around that many had pegged to be the worst team in Big East history. Finishing above .500 would be huge considering the team must win Saturday's game at Pitt to make this a reality. This will be tough to accomplish. Everyone likes to think a famous coach would come in and dramatically turn the program around. This is unlikely. Hill might not be the wrong guy for this program. Like you said, he can recruit. He signed Rosario ,the school's first McDonald's High School All-American, and Miller, the likely Big East Rookie of the Year, in back to back recruiting classes. Those are huge steps and I feel pretty confident that he's back at least for next year. It's a definite if his team knocks off your beloved Panthers on Saturday.