Rutgers finally will leave the cozy confines of its bandbox arena when it visits DePaul at Chicago on Thursday night.
Not only will the Scarlet Knights (3-0) have to deal with all the inconveniences of being on the road, they also will have to try to solve the problem of the slow starts that have bedeviled them.
Despite playing three low-major teams — Lehigh, Merrimack and New Jersey Institute of Technology — the Scarlet Knights trailed at halftime in each of those games before rallying in the second half.
“We’ve got to get off to better starts,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said after a 75-61 victory over NJIT on Tuesday, “but give NJIT some credit for that, too. They were making some tough shots.
“The rotation isn’t perfect yet. Guys are figuring it out. (The returning players) have played a lot of minutes but the rest of our rotation is new.”
Pikiell was referring to players such as LSU transfer Aundre Hyatt (8.0 points per game) and freshman Jaden Jones (6.0).
“We have four experienced guys and they know how hard it is to win on the road,” Pikiell said.
Expect the Scarlet Knights to lean on two of those experienced players: Geo Baker (12.7 points, 4.3 assists) and Ron Harper Jr. (15.7 points).
DePaul (2-0) is playing more up-tempo under new coach Tony Stubblefield despite being short-handed. They scored 97 and 99 points in wins over Coppin State and Central Michigan, respectively.
NCAA clearance issues have affected their depth, and Kansas transfer Tyon Grant-Foster missed the victory over Central Michigan because of an undisclosed non-COVID medical condition. His status for Thursday’s game is unclear.
Stubblefield addressed the issue after the win over Central Michigan.
“Depth isn’t our strength right now,” he said, “but it’s like I told those guys in the locker room: At the end of the day we’re going to play the game and there’s no excuses. We’ve got to find a way to figure it out.
“Nobody wants to hear any excuses. The guys that we have in that locker room, we have great confidence in.”
Javon Freeman-Liberty has averaged 23.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists to open the season for the Blue Demons.
–Field Level Media