The Big Ten, a Midwestern league, that-in basketball-is arguably the best conference in the country.
And, unfortunately, Rutgers is not one of the best basketball teams in the country. It is a team in transition, still recovering from a scandal that nearly destroyed the entire athletic department. A team that-when it was in the previous "best conference in the nation"-never once had a winning conference record. A team which is entering it's 25th NCAA Tournament free season.
So, what is Rutgers going into the Big Ten with?
The Head Coach
Eddie Jordan is entering his second year on the job. Jordan is a Rutgers alum, and hero--the point guard who took the Scarlet Knights to their only Final Four in 1976. Year 1 was a rough and tumble affair. Jordan took over in April of 2013 after the infamous Mike Rice scandal. When he was hired, there were 4 scholarship players on the team after nearly everyone transferred out of the school. He was hired even before Julie Hermann got the AD job. Jordan and former Rice staff members David Cox and Van Macon were able to recruit 7 more players so they could field a team. It was also revealed Jordan never completed his degree while at Rutgers. He is reportedly working toward that degree as you read this.
The season wasn't great as the team went 12-21 overall and 5-13 in conference.. They finished it up with an embarrassing 61 point loss to Louisville in the AAC Tournament.
After the season, Jordan allowed 3 rising seniors to transfer out of the school and fired David Cox (and eventually other assistant Kyle Triggs). He brought in two players, an under-recruited wing out of North Carolina named Ryan Johnson and a center who was formally committed to Pittsburgh in Shaquille Doorson. He hired his former assistant coach form the Wizards Mike O'Koren and Greg "Shoes" Vetrone to fill the open spots on his staff.
Jordan continually mentioned that not only did the team need to improve, but so did he. Hopefully, he's learned about himself and how to run a college program better this off-season.
Jack and Mack are the keys to Rutgers basketball. Both are former Mike Rice recruits and have been the best players on the team over the past 4 years. Mack can shoot it. Jordan spent last season transitioning Mack from combo guard to undersized point guard. Jack appears to be on the verge of breaking out as a power forward and could be an NBA player when all is said and done. Kone is a role playing wing.
Daniels is an incoming JUCO who once played for Miami. A long guard, he's expected to start alongside Mack and provide major scoring punch. Lewis is a redshirted Rice recruit who has seldom played due to injuries and illnesses. He was expected to take on a more important role last season, but didn't. He's now expected to add depth in case of foul trouble. Okoro was famous for being denied a hardship waiver, and then getting it overturned without appeal. He played few minutes last year.
Sophomore: Junior Etou
Etou was Jordan's first major recruit. Originally projected to be a power forward, Jordan switched him to wing in the middle of last season to add some height and length to the team. Etou, once he gained some confidence, was fun to watch. He rebounds with tenacity, can get to the basket with a variety of moves, and occasionally hits the three. His biggest moment was scoring the game winning basket against Temple in the conference opener.
Freshman: Mike Williams, Ryan Johnson, Ibrahima Diallo, DJ Foreman and Shaquille Doorson
Here is where Jordan is going to make his bones two or three years down the line. Williams was the best shooter in New York City last year and will have to play major minutes off the bench as both the back up to Mack and Daniels. Expect Jordan to try and teach Johnson the shooting guard position too. Diallo is a 6'11" center and like Doorson, is expected to be a project. Foreman is a wild card. A power forward/wing would has a ton of talent, it was rumored Calipari was taking a look at him before he surprisingly committed to Rutgers. Expect major minutes off the bench.
The Scarlet Knights play at the Louis Brown Athletic Center (affectionately known as the RAC). The arena just under 40 years old and in need of a major overhaul. Before he was fired, former athletic director Tim Pernetti was trying to raise money to improve the area. But once he was gone those plans were scrapped by Hermann and replacement ideas haven't been officially announced yet. Either way, with the money Rutgers has, new facilities are a ways off, unless a random surprising donor steps up and decides to get it done. (*plays lotto* *loses* Oh well)
When the building is full (it holds just over 8,000) and the game is exciting, the arena is one of the loudest in the nation. However, since 2006, the team hasn't been good and fans (especially students) have turned their eyes to football and not shown up in the RAC. When they do show up, they're often not willing drive the team with noise, instead reactionary. There's potential for the arena, if the team can succeed.
Recruiting 2015 and Beyond
Jordan's number 1 target for 2015 is Isaiah Briscoe, a major scoring point guard. Recently, Briscoe cut his list, and Rutgers survived the cut. Beyond that, recruiting is something of an enigma right now. With the season ending the way it did, and two-thirds of the coaching staff being turned over, the targets aren't very clear at the moment. However, new names are popping up each day. Most experts are skeptical whether or not the new conference will help Jordan bring in targets. The most important factor is the success of the team.
Early 2014-15 Outlook
Jordan bemoaned the chemistry of the team and coaching staff last season, as evidenced by the high turnover this off-season. By bringing in O'Koren and Vetrone and some more team-oriented players, the chemistry should be better all around with everyone pulling in the same direction. That will help, but a lack of a back-up point guard, and overall youth and unproven depth will hurt.
The team needs to improve its defense immensely, and O'Koren's X's and O's capabilities and added length to the team should help that. Overall, though, the team could play ten times better than they did last year and still take their lumps. Jordan is going to be behind the 8 ball in his first season in the Big Ten.
Here's what Rutgers fans should look for if they want to be optimistic about the rest of the Jordan era:
-Fewer blowouts. No 61 point losses. Stay in the games with even the better teams.
-No WTF losses. Last year's team lost to William and Mary and Fairleigh Dickinson University. That can't happen again.
-An upset or two. Come on, beat someone ranked.
-Make the home court a bit more formidable. Teams used to be scared of coming into the RAC.
-Turn Kadeem Jack into a pro. Jack has the build and the talent to be in the league, but Jordan must cultivate and mold that talent. If you're into recruiting, this could be the key to the season. If Jordan can show he has the ability to develop Jack and NBA connections to get Jack into the league, it will entice better players to come here.
If you're a Big Ten fan, feel free to tell us about your team in the comments. If you're a Rutgers fan, what will keep you optimistic about the Eddie Jordan era?
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