With his imminent hire soon to be official, Steve Pikiell represents new hope for Rutgers, who must be patient with him as he rebuilds Scarlet Knights. (Photo courtesy of Richard Restivo via Big Apple Buckets)
Rutgers will introduce Steve Pikiell at a press conference Tuesday, moving on from Eddie Jordan after three years marked by futility spread across two conferences and just seven wins overall this past season.
In eleven years at Stony Brook, Pikiell built the Seawolves from the ground up, taking a program just seven years into the Division I level and turning it into a consistent winner in the America East. Although Stony Brook only won the conference for the first time last week, the program has won 22 or more games in six of the past seven seasons, and reached the postseason five times before earning the first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance in school history with their America East championship triumph over Vermont.
So, what can the Scarlet Knights and their long-suffering fan base expect from the man in whom Pat Hobbs has placed his trust in the men's basketball program? Here are just a few things to look forward to in Piscataway:
Not to say that each of the last three Rutgers coaches (Jordan, and before him, Mike Rice and Fred Hill) did not focus on this, but judging by the box scores and win-loss records, it was easy to place blame on them for a lack of effective defense. Pikiell's Stony Brook teams have consistently ranked among the top of the nation in defensive efficiency, and this past year, the Seawolves were 20th-best in the country, surrendering just 64 points per game on average. Pikiell's scheme, a basic man-to-man with elements of pressure mixed in at just the right time, seems tailor-made for the rough-and-tumble wars that Rutgers will face in Big Ten play.
- Proven recruiting success.
How Pikiell was able to pluck Jameel Warney out of nearby Roselle Catholic and land him at Stony Brook over the likes of Iowa and Tennessee remains a mystery to some, but the new Rutgers coach has had success in the Garden State even before watching Warney develop into a three-time America East Player of the Year. Bryan Dougher, who is Stony Brook's director of basketball operations; and may join the staff in Piscataway, came out of Scotch Plains to be the Seawolves' all-time leading Division I scorer before Warney surpassed his record this year. Pikiell has also scored in the southern part of New Jersey with Wenonah's Carson Puriefoy, and in New York as well, signing Dave Coley out of Thomas Jefferson High School. With the right staff in place, the splashes he has made in the past can become more frequent sooner rather than later.
- Teams who compete in almost every game, and schedule accordingly.
Part of this is written after watching a particular game this year in which Rutgers blew a 16-point lead to St. John's in the second half, a St. John's team that only won seven other games the rest of the season. If you look back at Stony Brook's schedules and box scores over the past few years, you will see that the Seawolves have remained competitive in non-conference games against high-major opponents, very seldom do they get blown out. On that same topic, Pikiell will not be afraid to play greater competition the way Rutgers teams of the past may have been. Having scheduled high-major teams such as Washington, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Vanderbilt, Maryland and Seton Hall while at Stony Brook, there is no reason to think this trend will not follow Pikiell into New Jersey.
- Patient confidence.
That would be the best way to describe Pikiell's approach into building a winner, and hopefully those close to the program will give him the time he needs to get it turned around. It took five years to fully resurrect Stony Brook, and a similar rebuild at Rutgers will probably take the same amount of time. However, it would not be the least bit surprising to see the Scarlet Knights come close to competing for a National Invitation Tournament bid in year three or four, provided they can make some headway in the Big Ten.
- Someone who embraces the fans and the community.
Unlike his predecessor, who famously proclaimed he "doesn't give a crap" about what the fans think, Pikiell appreciates everyone involved with his program. He has always gone out of his way to thank fans for coming, either directly or through his postgame press conferences, which almost always conclude with a round of handshakes for all in attendance, confirming his appreciation for their support. Most importantly, Pikiell will spearhead the initiative for the new practice facility that Rutgers fans have clamored for, just like he led the charge to renovate Island Federal Credit Union Arena and increase Stony Brook's commitment to a successful basketball program. The RAC may very well be a wasteland now, but if the support is there, the commitment will come.