Season in Review: Rutgers Scarlet KnightsPosted by Will Tucker on April 26th, 2013
Rutgers went 15-16 (5-13 in conference play), earning the No. 11 seed in the Big East Tournament, where they blew out DePaul before losing to Notre Dame in the second round. Mike Rice declined an invitation to the CBI, marking the seventh consecutive year Rutgers did not appear in any postseason tournament. Subsequently, an ESPN exposé involving footage of Rice abusing players in team practices got him fired and got AD Tim Pernetti shoved out the door, disgracing his athletic department in the process. New Jersey’s governor even called Rice an “animal” and said he should have been fired in November; not exactly ideal publicity heading into the offseason.
We had pegged Rutgers #15, dead last in our preseason Big East rankings, based on poor frontcourt depth, lack of senior leadership and uncertain expectations for transfer big man Wally Judge. Big East coaches ranked the Scarlet Knights #11 in the preseason.
When Eli Carter (14.9 PPG, 86.4 FT%) suffered a season-ending injury in February, his team actually developed a more cohesive offensive identity in his absence. Wally Judge (7.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG) in particular benefited from the opportunity to adopt a more assertive role; he showcased his abilities with a 20-and-10 performance (shooting 9-of-9 from the field) against DePaul in the Big East Tournament. And Mike Rice finally got fired -– does that count? Seriously, a clean slate is most obvious silver lining for Scarlet Knights fans after the former Robert Morris coach won 16 Big East games in three seasons. New head coach Eddie Jordan, who took Rutgers to its 1976 Final Four before embarking on an NBA coaching career, rekindles a nostalgic connection with the program’s heyday, and comes from a professional environment that doesn’t tolerate player mistreatment.
The most obvious explanation for the Scarlet Knights’ disappointing season is the injury to star player and two-time leading Rutgers scorer Eli Carter. The loss of the 6’2″ sophomore forced Myles Mack (13.6 PPG, 2.7 APG) and Jerome Seagears (6.5 PPG, 2.6 APG) to play 35 or more minutes in six and three of their final seven games, respectively. But it’s not like the Scarlet Knights were doing much of anything with Carter, anyway. The guard dominated the ball with a 29.2% possession rate, and his team had already suffered a six-game losing streak with Carter at full strength after a promising 3-2 start in Big East play.
The fears of a player exodus came to fruition soon after Rice’s dismissal, and Mack and Judge are, for the time being, the only starters expected to return to play for Eddie Jordan in 2013-14. Carter, Seagears, Mike Poole (4.4 PPG, 3.0 RPG), role player Malick Kone and reserve Vincent Garrett all intend to transfer, with more departures possible. Moreover, senior contributors Dane Miller (6.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.6 APG) and Austin Johnson (5.7 PPG, 2.5 RPG) graduate, leaving very little depth in the frontcourt behind Judge and Kadeem Jack (5.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG). Class of 2013 commitments Shane Rector and Chris Griffin demurred and subsequently committed to other schools, leaving 6’5″ junior college transfer Craig Brown as Rutgers’ only incoming Mike Rice recruit in the fold after Jordan secured his letter of intent. With the cupboard as bare as it is and negligible recruiting prospects, it’s difficult to envision what Jordan can do to prevent his program’s performance on the court from regressing further next year in the wake of the Rice scandal. If Rutgers manages to win five conference games next season, it will likely speak more to the diluted competition pool of the American Athletic Conference than any linear progress.