David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Should he stay, or should he go?
Rutgers basketball is admittedly in their toughest stretch of the season right now. The schedule is going to get a lot more manageable in a few weeks, and who can forget how the team was cheated of a win against Notre Dame (one of numerous Big East officiating screwjobs against Rutgers during the Mike Rice era.) The team still has time to turn it around. They're young, with the core of the team being only sophomores. He definitely walked into a bad situation and has done a good job of the initial rebuilding legwork.
However, most of the league is young too (and recruiting better than Rutgers this year), and losses like tonight's, or that home beatdown against St. John's are getting downright depressing. It's year 3. Rutgers should at least be showing a pulse, not getting lumped in with perennial disasters like Nebraska and Penn State. Not when we could have had Fran McCaffery if Tim Pernetti had fired Fred Hill just a few weeks earlier.
I don't think Mike Rice is a total disaster. He's clearly not Fred Hill in the W/L column. This team is capable of beating good opponents; they just usually happen to fall short, mainly due to self-inflicted wounds. Rice shows flashes, he really does, but his inexperience at a high DI level is really shining through. That was always the risk with hiring a coach out of the Northeast Conference. He really needed a stint in a true mid-major like the CAA or Atlantic 10 before getting a shot at a major conference. If it ultimately doesn't work out for Rice at Rutgers, it's for that reason that I don't necessarily think it would be the end for him. His problem more than anything else was just inexperience. He was so desperate for a high level job, and Rutgers was so desperate for a candidate that wanted to be in Piscataway that he did not take the proper precautions to make sure that he was ready to make that leap.
We'll see how it goes, but the recent flap with Eric Murdock's allegations definitely opens the door at least a crack. You can't help but wonder what a more experienced coach could do with this group, even with any possible personnel turnover. For one thing, Seth Greenberg is out there. He has an established relationship with Tim Pernetti, and lord knows USF and Virginia Tech have been absolutely nothing without him. You could make a run at Fran Fraschilla or Eddie Jordan again, or the latest mid-major coach du jour. There's always a risk in perennial rebuilding, but you can't help but feel like Rutgers has the talent to win in 2013-2014, and the past few games are really making everyone start to question that.
We'll give Rice this though; at least he's not Kevin Willard, who saw Seton Hall get blown out by Georgetown tonight, and has been an utter disaster in recruiting. Rice at least can point at specific accomplishments to argue for light at the end of the tunnel. He's overachieved at points, while Willard squandered a lock Sweet Sixteen team two years ago. Arguments about injuries this year fall thin; if you don't recruit, of course you're going to have no depth. Rice is a disappointment, but at least he's not sitting in the hottest college basketball seat in New Jersey tonight.