With all the announcements, recruiting, and facility talk this offseason, there has been barely a mention of next season's schedule for the men's basketball team. The only confirmed game so far has Rutgers traveling to play former Big East foe DePaul on Thursday, November 17th. This game is part of the 2nd Annual Gavitt Games, which Rutgers took part in last season, losing to St. John's on the road.
While Rutgers switching to the Big Ten was the absolutely right move for the university in the long term, leaving the Big East affected the men's basketball program more than most other sports. There is a feeling among some fans and those in recruiting circles that with Rutgers no longer playing traditional east coast schools, it hurts the program with local recruits. Many New Jersey and New York City kids have grown up on watching the old Big East. They never dreamed of traveling to West Lafayette, Indiana to play Purdue in the snow in February.
Heck, I certainly miss being able to go to Madison Square Garden in March to watch the inevitable Rutgers loss in the early rounds of the Big East Tournament. Seeing Rutgers win a rare conference tournament game at the garden were some of my favorite Rutgers sports memories ever. Following the Big East week after week during it's prime in the 1990's and 2000's was special.
Well, The Big East as we knew it is dead and it's not coming back, no matter what Jon Snow tells you. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad Rutgers is in the Big Ten and it was absolutely the right decision. My point is Rutgers can do a better job with their non-conference schedule than they have in recent seasons. Rutgers should play a schedule relevant to it's history, recruits, and fanbase.
What I am proposing is not for this upcoming season, although I think certain schools mentioned should be included right away. The point is Rutgers isn't ready to play this type of non-conference schedule yet. And that is the key word, YET. Once head coach Steve Pikiell and staff get their claws fully entrenched into the program, progress should absolutely be expected. As Dave White said, " we need juice back at the RAC." That is what I think this proposed schedule would do. It would also help appeal more to local recruits and our own fanbase, who remembers the history with some of these programs.
Not only should we try and play a couple former Big East foes, let's work in a couple former Atlantic-10 opponents as well. Let's regularly play other New Jersey and New York City schools who happen to be low to mid-major schools.
Here is a schedule format for Rutgers that is east coast heavy that would appeal to recruits, as well as generate renewed interest among our fanbase. Even if Rutgers was a decent team last season, they weren't likely to get more than 3,000-4,000 fans at a home game against UMASS-Lowell or Central Arkansas. We need to pack the RAC and if we are ever to go dancing, we need to play quality opponents aside from the Big Ten to get there. It's a win-win.
Two Big East Opponents: Seton Hall (Locked In); St. John's, Villanova, Pitt, UConn
Seton Hall is our biggest rival and always will be. Now that Pat Hobbs is our AD, there is zero chance of them ever coming off the schedule. Personally, I'd like Rutgers to play St. John's every season. It was my favorite Big East opponent to play with the exception of Seton Hall. They are the biggest college basketball team in New York City (apologies to Syracuse and UConn). We will be recruiting a lot of the same players for years to come. Conceding it may be unrealistic to play them annually, we could potentially tap into our newly established connections with UConn and Pitt. Of course, Jay Wright might be interested in playing Rutgers again for recruiting purposes of his own. Maybe call him in year 3 or 4.
Two Atlantic 10 Opponents: Fordham; Temple; St. Joseph's; George Washington; St. Bonaventure; Rhode Island
Before Rutgers played in the Big Ten and before the Big East, we were proud members of the Atlantic-10. I still root for the A10 schools because they play solid, tough basketball and the conference still feels like my childhood home. The conference tournament used to play in the Palestra in Philadelphia and it was like watching Hoosiers in real life. We have played George Washington a lot recently and have lost by more points year over year. My preference would be to play either Temple OR St. Joe's and either Fordham OR Rhode Island. I feel strongly that we should be playing Temple or St. Joe's every season. Don't sleep on Philly, which also helps with recruiting that city as well as South Jersey. Fordham and Rutgers don't have much history but it could be a small selling point for NYC recruits. Rhode Island could develop into a great rivalry as long as Danny Hurley is the coach.
Two Smaller City Area Schools: Manhattan; Iona; Stony Brook
I know Stony Brook is in Long Island, so it's a bit of a stretch location wise. However, the connections to Pikiell make them a candidate for Rutgers to play moving forward. Manhattan and Iona are solid mid-major programs that Rutgers should definitely play. Picking two out of three gives Rutgers competitive games against local competition. Last season we would have lost to all three teams. Think about the future.
Four Jersey Schools: Princeton; Monmouth; NJIT; Rider; St. Peters; Fairleigh Dickinson
Coach Pikiell, please add Princeton ASAP. They should have never been removed after playing each other 120 times in the past century. Keep Monmouth too. You can't be the best college basketball team in New Jersey without beating the best teams in the state. After those two, pick two out of NJIT, Rider, St. Peter's and Fairleigh Dickinson. We have played all of these schools in the past decade, but they fell off the schedule one by one. Pick them back up, even rotate year after year.
Three Open Games: Holiday Tournament Games; ACC-Big Ten Challenge; Gavitt Games
That leaves three open games a season. If the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and Gavitt Games continue, then you have two power conference teams added to the schedule. If Rutgers wants to play in a holiday tournament, there is room on the schedule to do so. The format proposed gives a structure that adds appealing games, while also giving flexibility. If we want to start a home and home series with a PAC-12 opponent, there is still room to do so.
My Dream Schedule
It's my idea so you had to know my ideal schedule was coming. Here it is:
Rhode Island/St. Joe's
ACC/Big Ten Challenge
Coaches Choice: Random Opponent OR Stony Brook; UConn; Pitt; George Washington (former schools coached by our own staff)
Am I crazy? Would you miss Rutgers-Newark or UMASS-Lowell? Sentimentality be damned? No matter what, I CANNOT WAIT for Rutgers basketball to be relevant again. This schedule is meant for then, hopefully sooner rather than later.