The contrast between former Rutgers head coach Fred Hill and his successor Mike Rice is a stark one that is very easy to see; and if nothing else, Rice's vision of what the Scarlet Knights can become should serve as reason enough for fans to believe that excitement and meaningful basketball will soon return to Piscataway.
Rice shared his vision of the program and the new brand of Rutgers basketball he intends to unveil this season when addressed by the media this morning at Madison Square Garden, where Big East media day was held. The coach stated to me that his biggest challenge will be "turning around a program that hasn't been relevant in the Big East," not to mention one that has been decimated by the transfers of star guard Mike Rosario and role player Patrick Jackson. Rice only has nine scholarship players on his roster this season, led by forwards Dane Miller and Jonathan Mitchell.
If anyone can turn it around for Rutgers, Rice is the guy. Having taken Robert Morris to the NCAA Tournament in each of the last two years; including a near-upset of Villanova last year when the Colonials were seeded 15th, Rice told me that there was a similarity between Robert Morris and Rutgers despite their conference affiliations (Big East and NEC) being two different worlds. "Neither school had been to the NCAA Tournament in two decades," said Rice of the correlation between Pittsburgh and Piscataway.
As far as what you can expect to see from the Scarlet Knights this season, Rice proclaimed that Rutgers will play an "aggressive, intense style" of basketball that "focuses on teamwork over talent." In the rough and tumble Big East, intensity is the name of the game, and Rice was quick to point that out in his media session this morning.
Rutgers doesn't have it easy early, as they play home games against MAAC favorite Fairfield and ACC mainstay Miami after their season opener at Princeton on November 12th. The Knights get even more of a test later on as they face North Carolina on December 28th at Madison Square Garden before opening the Big East slate and 2011 on the road against Villanova on January 2nd at The Pavilion.