When you thinks back on the 2013-14 Rutgers basketball season--Eddie Jordan's first as head coach--that's what you remember. A brutal, blowout loss to the Louisville Cardinals. A team that only trailed for something like 2 minutes in the American Athletic Conference Tournament--to the Scarlet Knights--completely annihilated them. And that blowout deficit has hung over the team and fandom for the past seven months.
In was a tumultuous early off-season too. Eddie Jordan fired assistants David Cox and Kyle Triggs. He allowed Jerome Seagears, D'Von Campbell and Craig Brown--all about to go into their senior seasons--to transfer out. Jordan put an emphasis on chemistry, bringing in assistants Greg SHOES Vetrone and longtime colleague Mike O'Koren. He landed Shaquille Doorson and Ryan Johnson to fill some of the holes on the team. He landed a top 100 point guard to play the season after this one.
From June until now, the coaches have been visible and active, out recruiting for 2015, 2016 and even beyond that. There was a long breath of fresh air, and the fanbase felt it.
But still, 61 points.
It's a hard number to forget.
But here's the thing: the team last year wasn't as bad as the 61 point loss would lead you to believe. No, they weren't a good team. They lost to Fairleigh Dickinson and William and Mary while the team was riddle with injuries. They needed last minute heroics to beat Army and Yale.
But they weren't sixty-one points bad.
They improved significantly as the conference season went on. They beat the teams they were supposed to beat in Temple, UCF, South Florida (thrice), and Houston. They were bad on the road, but they hung around at home. They hung with UConn (on the road and at home), Cincinnati, Memphis (where Eddie sent a message) and even the dreaded Louisville Cardinals (for a half).
So now the calendar turns, and Jordan and company look to flip the page. They have a team with three seniors who have to be hungry to win, and will do what is asked of them in Myles Mack, Malik Kone, and Kadeem Jack. Jack--who erupted to score over 30 twice last year--has NBA potential. There are other pieces as well: Junior Etou played small forward and flashed some grit. Newcomers Bishop Daniels and Mike Williams will be asked to score.
This isn't a perfect team, it may not even be a good team. There is a lack of depth and no back-up point guard. Back-ups at the forward positions will need seasoning and experience. There are a lot of developmental projects. And the Big Ten is like the old Big East. A grind, to say the least.
But, with luck, this might be a fun team. When your best players are seniors at key positions, there is always the opportunity to surprise. This season will fall on Mack and Jack, the remnants of a former era.
It is on them, and Jordan, to lead this team together. To ensure good chemistry. To get everyone else to fall in line and know their role. To make the RAC exciting again.
And to get that number 61 out of everyone's mind.
This is the first in a series of basketball preview posts. Look for On the Banks to take a look at the guards, the schedule, and finally an overall view of the future.
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