Rutgers basketball fans kept waiting to hit rock bottom.
In typical New Jersey fashion the university and it’s fans became impatient 10 years ago. Gary Waters had just led the Scarlet Knights to a 19-14 season, 7-9 in the Big East, when the Big East was still THE Big East. Kenpom had them as the 71st team in the nation– nothing to write home about, but respectable enough that there was light at the end of the tunnel.
Instead of keeping Gary Water on the banks Rutgers turned its program over to Fred Hill, a man who had built his reputation as a recruiter. Quincy Douby, the last Rutgers player to be drafted into the NBA was gone — Rutgers finished 207th.
2008 brought highly coveted local recruit Corey Chandler, it didn’t work out — the team finished 11-20 overall and 3-15 in the Big East. 2009 brought in another highly touted local recruit in Mike Rosario, along with a talented big body in Gregory Echenique.
The 2009 team had a ton of talent, but for as much talent as they had, they possessed even less discipline. Rutgers finished 11-20 overall and 2-16 in conference and 159th in the nation.
In 2010, Dane Miller and Jonathan Mitchell came on board. Mitchell, a junior who had sat out the previous season after transferring from Florida was a do it all forward/wing. Dane Miller fit the same role, a slasher who ran on pure athleticism at times. Rutgers finished 15-17 overall, 5-13 in the Big East.
That would be Fred Hill’s last season as Rutgers head coach. As he departed so did Mike Rosario (transferred to Florida) and Greg Echenique (transferred to Creighton).
After going in the recruiting direction with the Fred Hill hire Rutgers turned to a hard working X’s and O’s guy in Mike Rice for 2011. He took the remaining talent and mixed in two freshman — a New York City guard in Mike Poole (would end up redshirting) and big man Gilvydas Biruta.
The result was the Scarlet Knights best campaign since Gary Waters’ final season. Rutgers finished just 5-13 in the Big East but 15-17 overall, good for a final KenPom ranking of 78th.
There was hope on the banks, the 2011 team played hard and was fun to watch. Mike Rice got the most from a team led by seniors Jonathan Mitchell, Mike Coburn and James Beatty.
Adding to the fans optimism was a 2012 recruiting class that infused the program with talent. Guard Myles Mack, Eli Carter and Jerome Seagers were joined by wing Malick Kone and big man Kadeem Jack.
Mack and Carter were local Paterson products, Kadeem Jack was from Queens. The Scarlet Knights had not only brought in talent, they had landed local talent. The team finished 14-18 overall and 6-12 in the Big East. The final KenPom ranking of 120 was a step back, but it was to be expected with such a young team.
After the 2012 season sophomore Gilvydus Biruta decided to transfer to Rhode Island (where former Rutgers assistants were now employed). At the time there wasn’t much concern, in hindsight it was a sign of things to come.
For the 2013 season, Rutgers would add Wally Judge who was now eligible after transferring from Kansas State. It helped ease the blow of losing Biruta the previous offseason. The Scarlet Knights now had talent which had gained valuable experience the year prior.
Half way through the season things started to get ugly. They finished the season 5-13 in the Big East and 15-16 overall — one Big East Tournament win away from their first .500 season since Gary Waters roamed the sidelines.
Rutgers needed to do damage control, they went with program legend Eddie Jordan.
Jordan returned home with a NBA pedigree as he had both played and coached in the league. Many viewed it as a way to move past unfortunate recent events, while reminding both fans and potential recruits of Rutgers illustrious past.
In 2014, Rutgers would be playing in the American Athletic Conference, a one-year stop mover before their new home in the Big Ten. While expectations were low following a flood of transfers after the firing of Mike Rice, the AAC set Rutgers up with a softer conference schedule than the Big East they once competed in.
The team would finish 12-21 overall, 5-13 in conference. At the time it was easy to overlook, the program had just been through a lot. Talent had been lost and pieces needed to be plugged in last minute.
In hindsight there was still plenty of talent left in the program. Myles Mack, Jerome Seagers and Kadeem Jack were now all juniors. Rutgers had committed a fatal flaw when they handed the program over to Eddie Jordan — he had no idea how to run it.
College isn’t the NBA, in the NBA players are often as talented as they think they are– in college that’s rarely the case.
More than anything college players need to be broken down, their game dissected and torn apart before being rebuilt into a superior finished product. While John Calipari at Kentucky often has NBA level talent, he’s great at doing this.
Now in the Big Ten, Rutgers would finish the 2015 season with an overall record of 10-22 and a conference record of 2-16. Overall KenPom would have them ranked as the 198th team in the nation.
In 2016, now with both Mack and Jack gone, the Scarlet Knights would bring in talented playmaking guard Corey Sanders. Sanders would be joined by Deshawn Freeman and Jonathan Laurent, Rutgers was once again young but somewhat talented.
Poor play and injuries defined the 2016 season.
Rutgers would go on a 17 game losing streak, double digit conference blowouts were more likely than wins. There was a 22-point loss to Wisconsin, followed by a 25-point loss to Maryland, followed by a 34-point loss to Nebraska, followed by a 26-point loss to Ohio State, followed by a 50-point loss to Purdue…
…followed by a…you get the point.
Rutgers finished last season 7-25 overall and 1-17 in Big Ten play. Their lone Big Ten win coming in their final conference game — at home over Minnesota.
KenPom had the Scarlet Knights ranked as the 279th best team in the country come seasons end. Their offense ranked 303rd, their defense ranked 235th. Rutgers would be labeled by most national media reporters covering college basketball as “the worst Power 5 program in the country”.
Here’s to digging our way out of this hole together.
E-mail Zak at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @playorbplayd.
Photo Courtesy of sheilnaik, Flickr