By Matt Sugam
PISCATAWAY – Five games into the season, Rutgers is in the midst of a three game stretch drawn out in as many weeks. It’s a football-like schedule where they only play one game a week.
After defeating UNC Greensboro on Sunday, Rutgers travels to Ole Miss on Saturday, before taking on Iona the following Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
It’s not an uncommon scheduling lapse in college basketball – especially this time of year – and it’s one Rutgers head coach Mike Rice is pleased his team has.
“It’s different, but it was set up this way to give these guys preparation time, to attack our weaknesses and get to improve,” Rice told SNY.tv after practice earlier this week. “So I like the mindset of this team the last two days of practice anyway and we’ll see how it goes as we get further into more practice and more practice.”
Rice hopes that attitude continues. After all, there’s one major benefit that a three week stint like this – where you don’t have to spend every practice preparing for an opponent – is ideal for. Self-improvement.
And Rice has made the offense the focus of development.
“We got to tighten some things up on offense. We’re scoring. We’re just not scoring sometimes with the discipline and details that we want,” Rice said. “We’re using too much of maybe our talent over the teamwork aspect and getting to kind of understanding the formula and where it should give you an advantages is something we have to go every day.”
Then of course, there’s the academic side of things. It’s a side Rice values just as much as the on the court play. And with finals just around the corner, school can become more of a focus.
“I didn’t go to one of those preseason tournaments or one of the holiday tournaments for a reason,” Rice said. “We’re going to give these guys time to prepare academically so they don’t fall behind.”
Rutgers (4-1) also had more than enough time to game plan for Ole Miss (5-0). Playing in Oxford for the SEC-Big East Challenge, it’ll be both teams first time playing another BCS opponent. Which presents new challenges.
“They’re monsters. They’re a top SEC team physically, athletically, skill wise, they’re a really really good basketball club,” Rice said, adding, “it’ll be kind of the first test for a lot of them physically because we’re kind of looking all of them in the eye and they may even be stronger than us so I think it’s going to be an interesting first test against as big and strong of an opponent as we are.”