#16 Rutgers Women's Basketball Preview

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Overall rank: #16
Conference rank: Big East #5
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Rutgers Team Page

On the surface, the Rutgers women’s basketball program looks solid. Beneath it, the Scarlet Knights have had anything but solid times. This summer saw the exit of three players from the Rutgers roster, and while none really factor in to Rutgers’ chances to do well in Big East Conference play, their losses will be felt when it comes to team chemistry. On the other hand, notable coach C. Vivian Stringer is back on the sidelines for her 17th season in New Jersey and her 41st year overall. The exit of three players will be muted somewhat by an incoming freshman class that could help Rutgers improve on last year’s play.

2010-11: 20-13, 11-5
2010-11 Postseason: NCAA (lost to Texas A&M in second round, 70-48)
Coach: C. Vivian Stringer, 863-308 overall, 343-173 at Rutgers

Who’s Out:
There were no seniors on Stringer’s roster a year ago, but the Scarlet Knights lost three players in the offseason. Daisha Simmons, a freshman guard, joined freshman forward Briana Hutchen in transferring out of Newark. Hutchen and Simmons joined Alabama’s women’s basketball program at the end of August and will sit out the 2011-12 season. In July, junior forward Julie Paunovic left the program for unspecified reasons. Paunovic had been ineligible that fall semester and had battled knee issues upon her return; she tore a medial collateral ligament in her right knee in February and missed the rest of the season. The grand total of their contributions in terms of scoring was 4.4 points per game. The chemistry may be missed, but the scoring will not.

Who’s In:
Stringer brought in five freshmen to the lineup for 2011-12, including three guards and two swing players. Of the guards, 5-9 Briyona Canty was rated the top guard in the country in the ESPNU HoopGirlz 100 poll and was a McDonald’s All-American. Syessence Davis, a 5-7 guard, was a McDonald’s All-American nominee and a player of the year in her junior and senior seasons along the Jersey shore. At 5-4, guard Shakena Richardson was a 2011 Women’s Basketball Coaches Association All-American and a three-time all-state selection. Davis and Richardson both played at Neptune (N.J.) High School so they should be familiar with each other’s style of play. Christa Evans, a 6-3 forward/center, helped lead Jackson (N.J.) High School to back-to-back conference titles for the first time in school history and averaged 15.8 points and 10.8 rebounds in her four seasons at Jackson. The big prize in the recruiting class is Betnijah Laney, a 6-0 guard/forward who was Delaware’s Player of the Year and was the No. 2 rated wing in the country in the ESPN HoopGirlz poll. Laney and Canty played for the East squad in the McDonald’s All-American game.

Who to Watch:
In addition to Stringer’s highly-touted freshmen, the top scorers all return. April Sykes, a 6-0 guard/forward, came in at 14.1 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. Khadijah Rushdan, a 5-9 senior guard, averaged 11.8 points and 5.8 rebounds and dominated her team in assists (160). Junior Monique Oliver, a 6-2 forward center, also had double-digit scoring (10.9) to go with strong rebounding (5.9).

Final Projection:
Assuming everyone sticks together and there are no injuries, which dogged the Scarlet Knights for part of last season, this could be another good year in New Jersey. Stringer won’t reach 900 victories overall this winter but she will set herself up well for a run at the record come the fall of 2012. As for her team, Sykes, Rushdan and Oliver need to continue scoring at their current clip and get some help in order to continue. Rutgers’ non-conference schedule includes matchups against Georgia Tech, Temple and Florida, but the big matchup comes December 13 when Tennessee comes to campus. A strong Big East slate begins after the first of the year and continues through February 27.

Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA

Projected Starting Five:
April Sykes, Guard/Forward, Senior, 14.1 points per game
Khadijah Rushdan, Guard, Senior, leader in assists at 160
Monique Oliver, Forward/Center, Junior, 5.9 rebounds per game
Chelsey Lee, Forward, Senior, 10 career double-doubles
Betnijah Laney, Guard/Forward, Freshman, DNP last season

Madness 2012 WNBA Draft Rankings:
#24 April Sykes

Madness 2011 Women's Basketball Recruit Rankings:
#7 Briyona Canty
#9 Betnijah Laney
#16 Shakena Richardson
#45 Syessence Davis