Say this about head coach Steve Pikiell, he is fearless. After a mundane press conference to start off Big Ten Media Day, when appearing with Geo Baker and Eugene Omoruyi for an interview with BTN host Dave Revsine later in the day, Pikiell raised the bar higher than expected for this season. Revsine asked Pikiell how progress should be measured for this season and he answered with a surprising goal:
“We are going to make a big jump here. We’ve talked a lot about it. Our goal is to go to the NCAA Tournament. I know we haven’t been there in awhile. I think this group, we only have one senior, but we have a lot of younger guys who’ve had a lot of experience. I think every year I’ve been here, we’ve taken another step. This year, I look forward to taking that next one and that’s the big one, get to the Tournament.”
Usually quotes given at media days are pretty uneventful, but this is certainly a notable and unexpected comment by Pikiell. The team was picked to finish last for a fifth consecutive season, they have just one senior, only five players with prior Big Ten experience, and there are only eleven eligible scholarship players on the roster. The schedule is the most difficult it’s been since Pikiell arrived and there are plenty of questions about this team.
Despite all of those challenges, Pikiell appeared confident in stating the NCAA tournament as the goal for this season. It’s something Rutgers basketball hasn’t accomplished since 1991 and the program hasn’t had a winning record since the 2005-2006 season. Credit Pikiell for not being afraid to raise expectations to a high level and it’s obvious he is feeling very good about this year’s team. However, it’s a bold statement that seems unrealistic for this season. Finishing better than last place and with a winning record seems like a more manageable goal for such a young team.
Part of the issue with the disappointment and anger fans have with Rutgers football this season is that head coach Chris Ash set the goal for a bowl game. While it would be shocking if the basketball team regressed at the level that football has this season, it certainly puts more pressure on the basketball team. Pikiell has always stated the ultimate goal for the program is to make the NCAA Tournament, but he hasn’t declared the team ready to aspire to that goal before now. If Rutgers did actually make the NCAA Tournament this season, Pikiell should be the unanimous coach of the year in the Big Ten and even receive national consideration for that award as well. It will be interesting to see how Pikiell addresses expectations moving forward this preseason and whether he sticks with such a lofty goal for this team. Rutgers Media Day is October 30th.
You can watch the complete interview with Pikiell, Baker, and Omoruyi here: