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AD Pat Hobbs Must Make a Decision on Men's Basketball

After last night's blow out loss to an Atlantic-10 team, it's obvious Rutgers basketball is well on it's way to another losing season.

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Last night's loss by 34 points to GW dropped the men's basketball team to a 4-6 record on the season. Rutgers has suffered those six losses by a total of 94 points, four of which were by a total of 91 points, including two thirty point losses. Records of the opponents they have lost to are 41-13, while the record of their opponents they have beaten are 7-20.  Division III Rutgers-Newark is not included because they are a Division III basketball team. The harsh reality is setting in, this team is worse than last year. They will be heavy underdogs at home against Monmouth on December 20th. something that should never happen. This year was supposed to be about progress, but after ten games into this season, it is has been hard to find any at all.

Looking at the KenPom ratings makes it clear how far Rutgers is behind, not just in the Big Ten, but in the state of New Jersey.  The NY Post had a poll of top 10 local teams this week, including NYC schools, and Rutgers didn't make the list. Programs like Monmouth and NJIT have made major progress in recent years. Rutgers used to be fighting against Seton Hall and Princeton for the top team in the state.  Now the rankings put us behind Rider and Saint Peters.  That is completely unacceptable.

This season will definitely get worse. A loss to Monmouth would ensure a losing record against non-conference opponents. Their last two games are against Fairleigh Dickinson and UMass-Lowell before starting the gauntlet of the Big Ten schedule. It's very possible they will not meet, let alone eclipse, their 10 wins from last season.  Let's play along and give Rutgers wins over FDU and UMass-Lowell.  Unfortunately, it's possible this team could go 0-18 in conference play. For now let's say they match their 2-16 record in the Big Ten from last season. That still only puts them at 8 wins.  Eddie Jordan won 12 games his first season and 10 in his second. Stepping back on two wins, two seasons in a row, is literal proof the program is not progressing, and in fact, getting worse. There is no question they are on pace to make Sports Illustrated look smart in declaring Rutgers the worst power 5 team in the country before the season started.

There is no denying that Eddie was dealt an extremely difficult hand when he took over the program in April 2013. After the Mike Rice scandal that set back the program in a major way and gave Rutgers a black eye in the national media landscape, only 4 scholarship players remained. The transition to the Big Ten was just one season away.  It was a brutal situation to step into and Eddie did so, bringing positive energy and integrity along with him. He has been a class act his entire tenure, handling the graduation controversy like a man. He faced it head on and made it a moot point by working hard to complete his degree.  There is no question that Eddie is a loyal son of Rutgers and took the job when few people would have.

However, it's clear now things are not getting better. Eddie owns a 25-49 record in 2+ seasons and has seen losses by wider margins this season versus last season to both Seton Hall & GW.  After beating Clemson on the road last season, they were blown out by them this season on a neutral court. With four open scholarships available for the recruiting class of 2016, there are no current commits. The staff did an amazing job getting Kwe Parker to commit in August, but it was short lived, decommitting in October.  Instead of countering that loss by landing another player quickly, another two months have passed and the cupboard is still empty.

While Eddie and the staff did a great job landing top 60 recruit Corey Sanders and JUCO star Deshawn Freeman, it hasn't been enough. The 2016 class in New Jersey is loaded with talent and Rutgers isn't really in on any of the top players. Taurean Thompson is the only one that has been on campus in the past few months. The staff has done a better job locally with the class of 2017, going after Andre Rafus and Nate Pierre-Louis from Roselle Catholic.  They have also long recruited hard the talented duo of Isaiah Washington and Sidney Wilson from New York City powerhouse St. Raymond's.

It's becoming a question as to whether Eddie and the staff will have trouble filling all four scholarships for the class of 2016 with talent they need to land in order to elevate the program.  They are being creative, getting former top 60 recruit from the class of 2014 and recent Texas A&M transfer Alex Robinson on campus last weekend.  He is sitting out this season and would be eligible to play next season.  He would be an upgrade over Bishop Daniels and has a lot of potential. Adding Robinson with Kansas State transfer Nigel Johnson next season, and pairing them with Sanders and Mike Williams, would give Rutgers their best backcourt in many years.

They are also pursuing under the radar but talented players with high upside, like Issa Thiam and Chuba Ohams. JUCO player Niem Stevenson is also a top target.  With Rutgers pursuing many top local players in the class of 2017, it's possible Eddie chooses to save a scholarship for that class.  With Deshawn Freeman the only player set to graduate after next season, if Rutgers fills all four spots with this current class, they would only have one open scholarship for 2017.  It would make sense if they are unable to fill all four scholarships in 2016 with viable talent, to push one back for 2017.  Without any transfers having to sit out next season, it would still leave Rutgers with 12 active scholarship players versus just the 11 this season, due to Johnson sitting out his transfer year. Of course, this math assumes the yearly pattern of multiple players transferring out does not occur this off-season.

With everything being said, the future of the basketball program will ultimately be determined by new athletic director Patrick Hobbs.  He made it clear in his introductory press conference that after finding a football coach, his number one priority will be fundraising for the new facilities project plans. With the way this basketball season has started, the reality now is that Hobbs will have to answer a lot of questions regarding Eddie Jordan and the future of the basketball program from donors. It's year three of Eddie's tenure and things have gotten worse, not better.  What type of obstacle Hobbs will face because of that is yet to be determined.  The bigger question is what does Hobbs think about the future of the program under Eddie's leadership?

Hobbs will surely be sympathetic to the fact that the facilities currently in place for the men's basketball program is far below where they should be.  I think the key question Hobbs will have to answer is whether Eddie is doing things the right way to build the program into a successful one. I don't mean questioning the integrity or priorities regarding academics and our student athletes.  I mean how Eddie is recruiting, the relationships he has established with local coaches in New York and New Jersey, and how are the players developing under his leadership. Those are the questions that matter to the future success of the program.

If Hobbs thinks Eddie is doing those things the right way, then he needs to loudly endorse him sooner rather than later.  Because he will be asked those same questions from boosters, donors and fans alike, early and often on the fundraising trail. And that is where Hobbs will face a catch 22 type question. It might be easier to fundraise with a new coach in place if too many potential donors don't believe in Eddie's direction of the program. However, if Eddie doesn't work out, it would be better to recruit a coach after money is raised and facilities work is already underway. That is the only true way to show that the basketball program is being fully supported, concerns previous candidates like Danny Hurley have rightfully had.  The other question for Hobbs is can Rutgers afford to fire Eddie financially, buying out his staff and starting over again with an entirely new staff?

So what does this all mean? The men's basketball program is far away from being competitive on a consistent basis.  Is Eddie Jordan the coach to make this program successful in the long term?  We don't know yet, but I think he deserves through next season to fully answer that question.  He pulled a rabbit out of his hat last spring, landing impact recruits Freeman and Jonathan Laurent.  He needs to do the same this spring, although a third consecutive season of 20 or so losses will make that harder to accomplish. However, if Eddie can land recruits like Robinson and Thiam, adding in transfer Johnson next season, Rutgers will be better.

How much better and how much closer to being a winning program, only time will tell. As unpopular a thought this might be, Eddie deserves another season after inheriting a program at the bottom. At the same time, it might be better for Rutgers to wait another season if they do decide to replace him.  Fundraising and facilities plans will hopefully be farther along, more money would hopefully be available to spend on a new regime, and more potential candidates would be interested. No matter what happens, it's clear something must change.  Rutgers is on it's way to another losing season and are not competitive against good teams.  It is up to athletic director Patrick Hobbs to evaluate the program and decide what the best direction is moving forward.  He has given us confidence in his first few weeks that he will make the right decision, whatever that may be.