Rutgers Season Preview

Fresh start. More than anything, that’s what Rutgers basketball is looking for now. This isn’t a program with a storied history—this March it will likely be no NCAA Tournament appearances in the last 25 years, with only 5 wins in the Tournament in school history.

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But there have been bright spots. The 1975-76 team went 31-2, and the losses came in the last two games of the season (National Semifinal loss to Michigan, and then a loss in the Third Place Game). Usually when a team has this kind of spike, it’s because there was some transcendent talent on the team (for instance, Walt Frazier on Southern Illinois). But there was no such NBA legacy on that team—the two guys that had more than a cup of coffee in the NBA was a freshman named “Jammin” James Bailey, and junior point guard Eddie Jordan. The team was coached by Tom Young, who coached the team for nearly another decade, but never achieving nearly the same level of success.

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Before last season, the school hired Jordan to come back and coach the team after a mixed NBA coaching stint. As Rutgers is remaking its image in the wake of the Mike Rice practice scandal, it makes sense for the program to reach back to its glory days. But ultimately, a big bag of nostalgia isn’t going to fill the RAC (for those unfamiliar, Rutgers officially plays at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, but it’s mostly known as RAC for its original name, the Rutgers Athletic Center. Sorry, Louis.). Wins will.

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It’s obviously too early to tell if Jordan will work out at Rutgers. A Pete Carril disciple, you’d expect Jordan to emphasize a methodical offense with a lot of backcuts, but so far he’s sticking to the typical October script and emphasizing “uptempo.” My feelings on that subject goes back a ways, but suffice to say I don’t necessarily believe Jordan (or any coach) when he says that. I also really don’t believe that Jordan will find much success this way:

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With Rutgers' speed and athleticism, they have the ability to wear out teams. If the Knights can keep the ball moving up and down the court, keep opposing teams running after every missed shot or rebound, that's going to create offensive opportunities late in games. In close games, it could mean the difference between a last second win and a last second loss.

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Nope, nope, nope. I guarantee that at no point will Rutgers send Frank Kaminsky to the sidelines for dehydration, or that Rayvonte Rice will only be able to log 21 minutes because he can’t keep up. If there’s one thing Big Ten teams uniformly hang their hats on, it’s that no one is going to be able to run off missed shots. This has less than zero percent chance of working.

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(Of course, that’s the writer of the article talking, not Jordan. Even if Jordan did say it, what coaches say about their teams in October has something like a 3% chance of being true that season.)

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So what can we expect? Well, first we can expect a lot of Mack ‘n Jack: seniors Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack collectively consumed 51 percent of the team’s possessions while they were on the floor last season. Jack figures to be one of the better big men in the conference, and is pretty much the epitome of a traditional Big Ten center. He’s kind of what you’d expect of a Terence Dials, minus 30 pounds. Mack is a diminutive 5-9 point guard that excels at everything except the obvious Achilles’ heel for a diminutive 5-9 point guard—he made just 45 percent of his attempts at the rim last season. Other than that, there’s not much coming back, thanks to three transfers and a couple graduations. Sophomore Junior Etou and senior Malick Kone are the only returning rotation players, and both struggled mightily last season. I actually like incoming freshman Mike Williams quite a bit—he should play a lot, and might not be overmatched despite his 3-star status. D.J. Foreman might also fall into that camp, as the 6-7 power forward averaged 15 points a game, shooting 60 percent and leading his AAU team in rebounding on the EYBL circuit. I am concerned, however, that a guy who was basically playing center led his team in turnovers. Very Hammonsey.

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The rest of Rutgers’ 6-man freshman class comes from off the beaten path, so I won’t try and guess how good they are.

Bottom line: Jack and Mack will be one of the better duos in the Big Ten. The problem is that they probably have the worst supporting cast in the Big Ten. Rutgers is rebuilding, and it’s not going to happen overnight.