Jerry Carino, who writes for Gannett Newspapers, specifically one of the best local basketball blogs out there--Hoops Haven--has graciously agreed to answer a few questions about the Rutgers basketball program. Here he covers Mike Rice's first season coaching the Scarlet Knights and looks ahead toward next season.
Check out the interview after the jump...
OTB: How would characterize Mike Rice's first season at Rutgers? Why?
JC: Positive. Team defense improved dramatically. The players were mentally tough, bouncing back from debilitating losses with great efforts. Offensively there was good ball movement, spacing and unselfishness. Clearly, Rice knows how to teach the game of basketball and gets guys to buy in. The recruiting class speaks for itself. Off the court, Rice was great with the media and with everyone else at the school. And there was no off-the-court trouble, although much of that credit goes to the players themselves.
OTB: What would you consider this season's biggest success? Biggest failure?
JC: Big picture, the biggest success is that there is a positive vibe about the program, which was nonexistent 12 months ago. Small picture, it was impressive that Rice ditched his preferred style (run and press) and stayed competitive by grinding out possessions. He understood his personnel and adapted to it. There were no failures per se, but endgame management was uneven. Princeton, Pittsburgh, St. John's, Syracuse, at Providence -- five games lost in the closing seconds. They were what, 1-5 in games decided on the final possession? Some of that is on the players, but I think in retrospect Rice would change the way he handled at least three or four of those.
OTB: Losing the seniors next year is big. Do you think the upper classmen (Miller, Johnson, or Graham) will be able to fill the leadership roles that have been lost?
JC: No, not even close. First off, those seniors were very good leaders. The leadership void is issue No. 1 next year. Graham has some leadership traits, but it's tough for someone who hasn't worn the uniform to fully step into that role.
OTB: We've all heard about the recruiting class coming in. In your opinion, which of the seven would be considered the best incoming players?
JC: I haven't seem all seven in action, but Jack, Mack and Seagears are the big three. Very good additions who should make an immediate impact.
OTB: What type of season should Rutgers fans look toward next year? What could be considered a success?
JC: I would expect probably another .500 season overall. I know Rice is concerned about outsized expectations for next year. Very hard to win with a freshmen-driven team in the Big East. Don't underestimate the leadership and intangibles that upperclassmen provide. There will be ups and downs and flashes and lapses. Plus it's hard to say how the newcomers will handle Rice's hard-driving ways. It worked this year because the seniors took it well - they were so desperate to be successful - and everyone else saw the seniors taking it and fell into line. The guys you asked about earlier as potential leaders, I'm not sure how thick their skin is. I guess we'll see.
OTB: In your opinon, is Mike Rice the guy to eventually get Rutgers to the tournament?
JC: I stopped making proclamations like this a few years ago. I was convinced Gary Waters (like Rice, a very good coach) would do it, and it didn't happen. I will say that, with one year in the books, Rutgers fans have every right to feel good about their coach and the direction of the program.
OTB: Both Rutgers and St. John's will be very young, but talented next year. Seton Hall is in a state of flux, but it seems they'll have the most experience of the 3 Big East locals. Who do you think has the best season in 2011-12?
JC: Good question. I see Rutgers around .500 overall, Seton Hall a little under. Not sure what to think about St. John's, which brings in a super class but is starting from scratch. My advice to Rutgers fans who will read this is to enjoy the developmental aspect of next season and not go too crazy about the record. Two years from now it will be time to make a move in the standings. Next year, like year two for any new regime, is simply the next layer of the foundation.
OTB: Thanks so much for giving us a few moments of you time!