With basketball practice underway, it is time to start getting excited for the upcoming 2015-2016 Rutgers basketball season! Dave and Aaron take a closer look at the schedule, breaking down the non-conference and conference schedules. Can Rutgers work it's way to a winning record for the first time in ten years? Let's take a look.
Beat the Teams we should
Dave White: In each of Eddie Jordan's first two years, he's lost the proverbial WTF game. Or more than one. Starting now, that can't really happen. In order to build a program, show recruits you mean business these are must win games. You have to go 6-0 here. Bar none. Will they? I think there's a good chance this season if Corey Sanders and Deshawn Freeman are the real deal.
Aaron Breitman: Rutgers-Newark is a Divison III team. Central Connecticut and Fairleigh Dickinson were the two worst teams in the Northeast Conference last season. Central Arkansas finished last in the Southland conference a year ago. UMASS-Lowell finished in the middle of the pack of the America East conference and beat Fordham and NJIT twice. Rutgers should and needs to win all of these games handily. Howard finished 16-16 last season and return six of their top seven players this year. The biggest reason this game worries me is it is only the second game of the season and the Bison are an experienced group. Still, a clean sweep of these six games is a MUST!
The Difficult Neighbor
Dave White: Monmouth has the talent to win their conference, and they gave Rutgers fits last year. Myles Mack had to hit a 3 at the buzzer to win the game. I expect Monmouth to be a difficult opponent this year.
Aaron Breitman: Monmouth has road games against USC, UCLA and Georgetown. It plays Notre Dame at a neutral location. All before coming to the RAC on December 20th. As Dave said, they lost at the buzzer last season, so this team will come in well traveled and looking for payback. They are an experienced team and will be a tough test. Rutgers will have a full week to get ready for this game.
ACC & A10 Foes
Clemson or UMass
Dave White: There are some interesting games on the horizon here. George Washington may be the toughest of the bunch. They've had Jordan's number the past two years. Wake Forest appears to be on the rise, but are at the same point of their building process as Rutgers. As for Clemson/UMass... Rutgers handled Clemson last year, can they do it out in Vegas again? UMass has a ton of talent and could give the squad problems.
Aaron Breitman: George Washington won 22 games last season, highlighted by a victory over Wichita State. They are a veteran team and were strong on the boards last season. This game will be a litmus test for Rutgers. As Dave said, no reason why Rutgers can't beat Wake Forest at home or Clemson/UMass in Vegas. Winnable games that are very important to pick up before conference play begins.
Big East Battles
Dave White: I would like nothing more than to sweep all three of these games. Rutgers gets Seton Hall at home, and they play St. John's so early in the season neither team will have gelled yet. Creighton is no slouch.
Aaron Breitman: Creighton is a must win in Vegas. They finished last in the Big East a year ago. St. John's has a brand new roster and a brand new coach with Chris Mullin. This game is big for recruiting purposes as Mullin and Eddie Jordan are going head to head on several key New York City players. After losing to Seton Hall two seasons in a row, it's time for Eddie to get his first win over our blood rival. Win all three of these games and Rutgers will garner more respect, at least locally.
Big Ten Conference
Dave White: The first three games are a killer. Last season, Rutgers had the tougher marquee teams visit the RAC, and while it didn't work out for that team, it would certainly help this team to have that scheduling luck. But it's not to be. Jordan's young squad is going to be at Wisconsin and at Maryland--who could be number 1 in the country. Rutgers needs to find a win early in conference schedule to build some confidence, but it is going to be some tough sledding.
Aaron Breitman: The first three games of the schedule are against Indiana at home, then at Wisconsin and at Maryland. All within an eight day stretch. How Rutgers comes out of that three game gauntlet will help determine the rest of the season. The game immediately following that stretch is at home against Nebraska, so they can't be mentally or physically beaten headed into a must win.
Best Chance for a winning streak
Dave White: Nothing is easy in the Big Ten, but I'm looking at the Purdue-Iowa-Michigan section of the schedule. In my opinion, college basketball is all about confidence and momentum when you're young. If Rutgers can take two at home with Iowa and Purdue (no easy task), maybe they can saunter into Michigan and surprise. Otherwise, you have to look late in the season, as Aaron is about to tell you.
Aaron Breitman: The entire month of February provides winnable games and the best opportunity to string together a few wins in the conference. In a four game stretch, Rutgers plays at Illinois, home against Penn State, at Minnesota and at Northwestern. The fact that I think the best chance for an actual win streak involves three road games at the end of February means a) I'm crazy and b) the conference schedule is brutal.
Dave White: I can't point to any specific game, but the first nine games in conference are so tough, but you still have to find two wins. Because if this team can't get going early in the conference season, it could kill confidence and bury them before the "winnable" games show up on schedule. Hang tough and find a win or two in the first half of the schedule and get rolling late in the year.
Aaron Breitman: If Rutgers could pull out six conference wins, it would be a major step. As much as Rutgers is unanimously picked last in the conference, Nebraska is picked right ahead of us, more or less by everyone for 13th place. If we can sweep them, it would pretty much guarantee Rutgers would not finish in last place. Penn State at home and Northwestern on the road will not be easy, but they are winnable. We play Minnesota, picked in the bottom half of the conference, and Illinois, who lost four major contributors from last season, twice each. A split with both would give Rutgers six wins and a baseline for progress. Any upset of a top or middle tier in the conference would be gravy!