By Matt Sugam
A few games into Big East play, Mike Rice began to realize a trend in Rutgers’ schedule. His team was constantly facing teams coming off long layoffs while the Scarlet Knights had a quick turnaround.
So Rice had his assistant Brad Wachtel dissect the schedule. What he found was a schedule front loaded with teams coming off at least four full days off in between games when facing Rutgers five out of the first eight Big East games following the opener.
And that doesn’t include the Notre Dame game, who had three full days to prepare while Rutgers played a 9:00 p.m. game at home two nights before the game in South Bend.
Not to mention that Rutgers has yet to have an extended layoff since conference play began. So in those six games, Rice has had half the time to prepare his team than his opponent has had.
While the third-year head coach is quick to point out he’s not making excuses or complaints, he’s well aware of the scheduling tendency. One that continues Sunday when Rutgers travels to Hartford to play UConn, whose last game was last Saturday.
“It seems like every week we seem to face a team that has five or seven days of preparation,” Rice said on this week’s Big East conference call. “We face UConn who has seven and then we’re at Cincinnati with eight.”
And so, Rutgers is left with much less time to game plan than their opponents.
“The preparation time that goes into it – it’s difficult,” Rice said. “Because now your offense, you’re trying to give your guys an advantage and in this league, there’s tremendous coaches in the preparation that takes place, so UConn is going to prepared.”
In turn, Rutgers has to play a more precise, clean basketball game.
“You just have to go out and excecute even harder, whether it’s making layups, free throws, or taking care of the ball,” Rice said. “There’s so much aspects of that you have to take care of when you face a team that has a week off or has a Big Monday game going into a Sunday.”
While Rice likes the flow a team can get into during the season with a game every few days, he knows those long layoffs that are the equivalent of a bye week are crucial. And he knows it’s not easy to play against teams coming off them on such a regular basis.
“You’re going to make adjustments, you’re going to attack your weaknesses, you’re going to make sure your scouting report is as detailed as it ever is,” Rice said. “There is a certain flow of when you got your Wednesday, Saturday or even your Wednesday, Sunday and you get in the flow of it, but when you have that many days off you can get a lot of work done.
“Young teams and trying to tighten some of the things up and add some things which you need to do. You always need to give your guys an advantage and you’re always looking to do that and when you have that many days off you’re able to do that.”