The senior is giving the Mountaineers an option other than Aaric Murray on and around the blocks on offense and as a shot blocker and changer on defense. Arguably the best raw athlete on the team, Rutledge brings size and an explosive rebounding skillset to a team still searching for a second inside option as Deniz Kilicli continues to struggle.
A more explosive raw talent than Murray or Kilicli, Rutledge runs the floor well, can finish around the rim and serves as a very good defensive option close to the bucket. There’s no questioning his physical ability. The mix of his vertical jump, strength and 6-8, 245-pound frame can be overwhelming for some lesser foes, and Rutledge can absorb the pounding of a major conference slate. He showcases some length, and rebounds well. He has also improved on finding the outlet man to start transition.
“He makes some athletic plays that we don’t have anybody else that can make,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “Dom, the last couple of games, has made some plays for us.”
But, as Huggins has often noted, Rutledge still lacks consistency, and at times mentally checks out of the game. The Newark, N.J. native has yet to piece together solid enough stretches to warrant more than his current average of 13.7 minutes per game, and there are times Rutledge will give West Virginia three solid trips, followed by a pair where he forces a longer jumper – anything much beyond eight feet is a stretch – or commits a mental error. Huggins made clear that while Rutledge was on the floor on the final few possessions of the Eastern Kentucky game, getting him the ball in position to be fouled was never an option.
“Don’t get carried away,” Huggins said. “We weren’t going to throw him the ball. I had him in the game because I wanted to make sure we had him back there for defense. We weren’t going to throw him the ball. (But) he can make some plays. We actually put him in to play the 1-3-1, which worked out real well for us.”
Rutledge also adds some physical intimidation to a team that lacks it sans Kilicli, who has had issues being able to score effectively around the rim. Rutledge still needs to mature in his total game. He likely won’t ever be a 30-minute a game player, and he continues to rely heavily on his instincts rather than executing assignments. But as a bit of dash and base physicality, the forward is as good as they currently come for West Virginia.
“It’s been carrying me a lot,” Rutledge said of his instinctual play. “That, as well as listening to the coaches. They put me in the right place on the floor to make plays. A lot of it is a combination of my work ethic and being in the right place.”
Rutledge, who averages 3.6 points and 3.4 rebounds, was the first Mountaineer to call out the team’s mental approach when it allowed 45 second half points and actually trailed at one point late against Eastern Kentucky after leading by as many as 14. The comments showed some maturity, and that Huggins’ comments are at least sticking with Rutledge over the long term, if not at times during the game.
“We have to do a better job of stepping on their throats, stepping on throats when they’re down,” Rutledge said. “Killer instinct. I think you have to have that mindset where you want to win, want to blow guys out. I think we all have to do what we are asked. If everybody takes care of their role, we are going to beat teams. I think we all have to do a better job of listening, executing and playing hard. I just don’t think we wanted to play in the second half (versus EKU).
“It was effort. We didn’t seem like we wanted to play in the second half. We did a bad job, executing (offense) and on the defensive end. They scored 45 points in the second half and only 22 in the first. It’s a matter of us keeping up the intensity. It’s a matter of us playing lackadaisically. It’s defensive intensity. Our team strives on defensive intensity and making stops. That gets our offense going.
Rutledge will be key against Oklahoma on Saturday. The Sooners (9-3)average 37.5 rebounds per game, and rely on a series of players that are about Rutledge's size. Oklahoma doesn't possess excessive size, and should be a match-up in which Rutledge can thrive if he plays within himself and executes basic instructions within the game plan. He managed two points and four rebounds in WVU's 77-70 loss to Oklahoma in the Old Spice Classic on Nov. 25.
"Once we don’t come out with the same intensity, we kill ourselves, we bury ourselves," Rutledge said. "You can’t do that in the Big 12 against Oklahoma. That’s going to kill us.”