Friday, April 6, 2012

Big East In Review: Rutgers

Youth and 14-18 record aside, Mike Rice still improved in his second season at Rutgers, taking Scarlet Knights to 11th-place Big East finish after ending his first campaign in the No. 13 spot.  (Photo courtesy of Newark Star-Ledger)

Just like St. John's, Rutgers entered the 2011-12 season in a similar situation.  After the loss of four seniors, three of whom were starters for head coach Mike Rice in his maiden voyage on the banks of the old Raritan, the Scarlet Knights seemingly rebuilt from scratch with one of the program's highest-rated recruiting classes in recent memory.  The end result was a 14-18 record which included within it just as many lows (losses to Illinois State, Richmond and DePaul) as there were highs.  (Upset wins over Florida and Connecticut as well as a near-upset of Big East regular season champion Syracuse)

In this campaign, Rutgers did uncover a hidden gem in the form of freshman guard Eli Carter.  Carter, a former star at St. Anthony's in Jersey City under Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley before transferring to prep school at Brewster Academy, was Rice's only player to average double figures this past year.  With a 13.8 points per game clip and 35 percent three-point shooting rate, Carter picked up the slack left by former point guard James Beatty by performing just as well on the ball as he did off it.  When Carter served as the Scarlet Knights' shooting guard, Jerome Seagears was Rutgers' main facilitator.  The Maryland native's three in overtime to defeat Seton Hall at the Prudential Center helped keep the Pirates out of the NCAA Tournament; and when Seagears was not at the controls of the Rutgers offense, fellow rookie Myles Mack was.  A starter at the beginning of the season, Mack came into his own once Rice brought him off the bench, highlighted by a 22-point performance in the Scarlet Knights' victory over Stony Brook at Madison Square Garden.  Junior forward Dane Miller was the team's leading rebounder despite an inconsistent offensive season that saw his productivity dip amid expectations that he would replace Jonathan Mitchell as the face of the program, while Mike Poole and Austin Johnson joined Mack as the main sources of production off the bench.

Rice's other incoming recruits were hampered by injuries (Kadeem Jack and Malick Kone) and lack of playing time, (Derrick Randall and Greg Lewis) but all four along with Austin Carroll; who will return with a medical redshirt, will help pick up the slack vacated by the transfer of sophomore forward Gilvydas Biruta.  Biruta averaged nearly ten points per game despite frequent foul trouble, and was without question the most important player on the court for Rutgers more often than not.  It is widely expected that he will resurface at Rhode Island, where he will reunite with former Wagner coach Dan Hurley, who coached Biruta at St. Benedict's Prep.

Rutgers does not have any incoming recruits for 2012 now that Jordan Goodman has decommitted, but the cupboard is more than full with a group of players that will once again surprise a lot of people next season.  Mike Rice set a goal of a winning record in the Big East prior to last season, and with everyone healthy as the coach prepares for his third year at the helm, the path to the upper half of the conference could be clearer even with the obstacle of having to replace Biruta, as Kansas State transfer Wally Judge will be eligible after sitting out this past year. It is widely expected that Judge will make an impact similar to former Rutgers big man and NBA draft pick Hamady Ndiaye, which will make for even greater optimism on the banks of the old Raritan.


  1. You forgot that Wally judge will be available after sitting out this year due to transferring in. He should easily start and fill the void left by Biruta

  2. Good call...I'll add that in. Thanks!

  3. The team went backwards this year because of Mike Rice. The players quit playing for him after being subjected to relentless verbal abuse and negativity. No one who follows this team is surorised that Biruta defected and one of the key recruits de-committed. Who would want to play for this guy?

  4. Yes, the team did quit on Rice at one point during the season, but he deserves credit for realizing that it was his fault and changing his methods once he figured out he was the one to blame for the team not playing well. Even last year as well as this year, Rice's teams still look like they would run through a flaming brick wall for him on the court, which is something we didn't see enough in the Fred Hill era, no disrespect to him.

  5. who decommitted?

  6. Jordan Goodman...but this was before last season even started. The kid did the same thing with Texas Tech too after he backed out of Rutgers.