Did Rutgers Improve in Mike Rice's Second Year?

After following all the Selection Sunday hoopla, the question has to be raised, is Rutgers any closer to getting an NCAA bid under Mike Rice?

Back in his first season the Scarlet Knights finished 15-17 (5-13 BE). This year, minus 3 seniors (and key cogs) but added 7 highly ranked freshmen, they finished 14-8 (6-12 BE).

Let's look closer, shall we?

More after the jump...

2010-2011 OOC Wins: Fairfield, Miami (home), Norfolk State, NJIT, Marist, Auburn (neutral court), Fairleigh Dickinson, Monmouth (home), St. Peter's

This squad basically beat who it should have beaten. The best win was Miami at the RAC, when a lot of people thought the Hurricanes were going to at least be a bubble team. Turns out they weren't and basically fell apart after Rutgers beat them. They survived a long scoring drought against Auburn to blow them out on a neutral court. They did what they had to do.

2011-2012 OOC Wins: Dartmouth, Sacred Heart, Hampton, UMBC, Monmouth, Stony Brook, NJIT, Florida

Clearly the key win here is the Florida game. Rutgers' OOC portion of the schedule was very underwhelming until Myles Mack and Eli Carter poured it on to beat a top 10 team in double overtime. What is interesting however, is when the Scarlet Knights beat a cupcake, they blew them out. The only "close" win in the bunch is a 6 point victory over Dartmouth. The rest of the games were won by basically double digits, including two games where the Knights scored more than 90 points.

2010-2011 OOC Losses: Princeton, St. Joseph's, and North Caronlina

Princeton was an overtime loss, but should have been a regulation win. Tied with seconds left, Dane Miller drove to the basket, was unable to decide whether he wanted to shoot it or pass to Austin Johnson and charged. St. Joseph's couldn't miss down the stretch, and UNC ran Rutgers out of MSG.

2011-2012 OOC Losses: Miami (road), Illinois State (Cancun), Richmond (Cancun), LSU, Princeton

In the 2nd game of the season, Miami couldn't miss and despite a Rutgers run, the NIT bound Hurricanes beat Rutgers handily. Illinois State and Richmond also ran out to huge leads on the Scarlet Knights, who never really got back into either game. In the LSU and Princeton games, Rutgers lost close games, when the freshman guards passed up open looks.

Verdict: The 2010-11 team was ready to play when the season began. They helped Mike Rice get Rutgers to their best out of conference start since the 40s. Conversely, the lack of seniors and an abundance of freshmen at key positions killed Rutgers. At times, the team played scared or like they were unable to take a punch. But there were moments players and fans will never forget--namely the Florida win--that the 2010-11 team was unable to deliver.

2010-2011 Big East Wins: Providence (home), USF (home), Seton Hall (road), Villanova (home), DePaul (road)

Rutgers beat four teams that weren't very good (remember Seton Hall had a terrible year last year) and one top ten team on a miracle. Rutgers did what they were supposed to. With 3 seniors and no superstars, Rutgers won at home, and was competitive. They beat bad teams and managed two road wins against weak teams. The Villanova game was memorable, but for most of the game, Rutgers was out of it--trailing by ten with 2 minutes left. If not for a barrage of 3s, Rutgers would have been 4-14.

2011-2012 Big East Wins: UConn (home), Pittsburgh (road), Notre Dame (home), Cincinnati (home), Seton Hall (road), and St. John's (home)

Here's where the roller coaster really gets going. Rutgers beat a then top 10 UConn by seven, following it up with a win over Pittsburgh. At the time, no one knew Pitt was going to be as bad as they were. They beat Notre Dame before the Irish got hot, and shut down a very good Bearcats team. They ended Seton Hall's NCAA bid in OT and got revenge on St. John's in the first seconds. Good wins against good teams. All save for St. John's earned some sort of post season bid. They got up for good teams.

2010-2011 Big East Losses: Villanova (road), Marquette (home), UConn (road), Georgetown (home), Cincinnati (road), Pittsburgh (home), St. John's (road), Notre Dame (road), Seton Hall (home), Syracuse (OT, road), Louisville (home), West Virginia (home), Providence (away)

This team was remarkably consistent. They got blown out in the early stretch (Villanova pulled away, Marquette pulled away, the team quit in UConn according to Rice, and Georgetown got 'em). But in the middle of the season, the team seemed to hit its stride and loss 3 close ones in a row in 1 possession games. They couldn't build on their wins and fell to SHU right after the Villanova win. After getting robbed by the refs at Syracuse, they air came out of their sales and they blew games to Louisville and WVU. With a chance to finish over .500 and play in the postseason, they blew a HUGE lead to Providence.

2011-2012 Big East Losses: USF (road), WVU (home and road), Georgetown (road), DePaul (home), Providence (road), Louisville (road), Seton Hall (home), Notre Dame (road), Syracuse (home), Marquette (road), and Villanova (home)

At the time, USF was a disappointing loss--Anthony Collins hit a floater on what should have been called a charge. The Bulls took advantage and went on a roll to the NCAAs. WVU pounded Rutgers, the 2nd loss coming when it looked like Rutgers could get on a roll. The Georgetown loss, with a ton of fouls, seemed to take a lot out of this team mentally, and they really weren't able to recover from it. They lost to a few teams they shouldn't have lost to (namely DePaul), and couldn't recover until late in the season. This team didn't take every team seriously.

Verdict: The 2010-11 team played up to their potential. They were under-manned and under-talented, but were able to hang with most teams. With 3 seniors, they were mentally tough and were always able to bounce back after losing a big game or being faced with a double digit deficit. This lead to the team playing their best in the Big East Tournament, winning another game against Seton Hall before losing a heartbreaking, ref stolen game to St. John's.

The 2011-12 team showed talent, but a mental weakness. They were able to sky to some really big wins. But every time they had a chance to go on a roll, they didn't respond. Bad losses got them down, and they didn't know how to dig deep and fight back. This is something that should come with more experience. By the numbers, they got better later and came away with one more conference win than their predecessors. They looked like they came to play against Villanova in the first half of the Big East Tournament, but when the Wildcats adjusted and the shots stopped falling, they couldn't respond. Though it didn't look like it because of the schedule, this team too got better throughout the year.

The 2010-11 would not have gotten much better with another year to grow. Mike Rice squeezed every last ounce out of their talent. The 2011-2012 team should get better next season. They know what it is to play in the Big East and they should develop a mental toughness. Adding that to their talent should push them to win more games, and-hopefully-make a postseason tournament.

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