PISCATAWAY – Tuesday was Rutgers basketball media day at the Louis Brown Athletic Center. Head coach Mike Rice addressed the media and the players were available to the media before an open practice. Here are a few things to take away from the day along with some quotes from the always candid Rice.
The goal is an NCAA tournament berth
After doing more with an undermanned, undersized and under-talented team last season than anyone expected and bringing in a top 15 recruiting class, the expectations from outside for Rutgers are higher than they have been in recent memory. And the bar is set high within the team as well. Both Rice and the players said the main goal for the season is an NCAA tournament berth — something Rutgers hasn’t had since the 1991 season.
Rutgers is ready for the extra attention
With the aforementioned overachieving coach and a top 15 recruiting class, there is an unfamiliar hype around Rutgers basketball. This is something that both the head coach and his players are excited about. But with New Jersey fans, that buzz can quickly turn to boos if losses pile up.
Rutgers will rely on young leadership
With six freshman and two seniors that will seldom see the floor, the Scarlet Knights will rely on a quartet of sophomores and juniors for leadership. While it’s not uncommon for juniors (Dane Miller and Austin Johnson) to take on leadership roles, it’s a bit uncommon for sophomores (Mike Poole and Gilvydas Biruta) to. With a second year head coach, it will be critical for those players to help teach the freshman Rice’s system and prepare them for Big East play.
Kadeem Jack’s loss will be felt
While Rice expressed confidence in freshmen Derrick Randall and Greg Lewis to fill the void that Jack’s injury leaves, he also knows the team would be much better with Jack. Rice noted how Jack was the hardest working player on the team, which is something that usually leads to becoming the teams best player. Sprinkle in his freakish athleticism, and Jack’s absence from the lineup will surely be felt.
The freshman class is as good as advertised
At least in practice. The upperclassmen noted how talented the freshmen were. That was evident in practice as well. Whether or not that transfers into games — especially in the Big East — remains to be seen.
Cupcakes will no longer make up the non-conference schedule
Rice said to prepare for the best conference in the country, your out of conference schedule has to be against the nation’s top teams. So while it’s nice to have a Jersey flavor with St. Peter’s, NJIT and Rider, Rice seems more than willing to give up such games for some tougher competition.
What he said
“I found out I have the best home court arena when a Big East head coach commented he could yell out his social security number and nobody would hear him.” — Rice on what he learned in his first year as Rutgers head coach
“I had a reporter ask me at the Big East media day ‘how can you top last year’s season?’ Steam started to come out of my ears. I kind of looked at the reporter and I noticed he was a young reporter but maybe the perception was that we did get the most out of that team. That they did accomplish some things that will help Rutgers basketball in the future” – Rice on last year's team
“We certainly don’t want to lower expectations. We’ve created an energy and a buzz around this program.” – Rice on the high expectations in the buzz around the program
“It [the Big East] is the best basketball conference in the country — at least for 27 more months.” – Rice on playing in the Big East
“We have to have a winning record in the Big East and I put it upon them…I don’t want to put a number on it, but I want to have a winning record. It hasn’t been done here.” – Rice on goals for the Big East
“We’re going to play and we’re going to swing, and we’re going to swing hard and at times we’re going to get hit, but it’s the old saying you can’t blink.” – Rice on his defensive system
“There’s days that they love it — days they’re energized by it — and there’s days they probably would like to be anywhere else in the world than the practice floor at the RAC…The level of demand never stops here, whether they are freshmen or seniors” – Rice on how the freshmen have handled his demanding practices