Rutgers Basketball Is Building A Brand
It’s been hard to care about Rutgers basketball for decades. They have been perennially bad for three decades. The last time they made the NCAA tournament was in 1991.
Bob Wenzel was the last coach to lead Rutgers to the tournament that year, and since then, they have hired six different head coaches to end that long drought. Maybe they finally found their Eureka in second-year Rutgers basketball head coach Steve Pikiell.
Since Pikiell was hired last year, the improvements by the Scarlet Knights have been noticeable. They are playing defense, and they are making teams such as Wisconsin and Florida State earn their wins against them. Players such as Corey Sanders and Mike WIlliams are coming along well. When they beat Ohio State last year in the Big Ten tournament, there was a feeling Rutgers was building something from there, and that’s why this season should pique everyone’s interest.
Strong Start For Steve Pikiell & The Rutgers Men
Rutgers improved to 10-3 this season, but it’s not the record that has people noticing. It was their Saturday win against Seton Hall, who is expected to play in the NCAA tournament in March. This is as close as a signature win as the program has had in a long time. This win provides much-needed hope for a program that needs it badly.
Highlights from the 71-65 win over 15 Seton Hall
No one is saying they are a tournament team. They are a year or two away from that. What we are saying is this program is finally heading in the right direction, and it starts with Pikiell.
For once, Rutgers finally found a coach that can teach and develop players. That has been missing forever. We thought Mike Rice was close to that until he had emotional issues. Pikiell has had success with that coaching at Stony Brook. When he played for Connecticut, he was known as a player that was a coach on the court. He certainly has it as coach.
His strength and his work at Rutgers have been a selling point for recruits like 3-star wing Ron Harper Jr., highly touted JUCO forward Shaq Carter and 4-star Montez Mathis from Maryland. He has had high school coaches convinced to bring their best players to Rutgers, and players feel he can make them into NBA players.
A win against Seton Hall no doubt will get more recruits as they were in attendance on Saturday to watch it. This certainly would tell them they can be part of something special along with Pikiell’s current new class.
Big Ten Dreams
There’s no reason to think Rutgers can’t succeed in the Big Ten. If Northwestern can end their postseason drought, certainly Rutgers can with the resources and talent available around the country. It’s the mindset Pikiell has brought here that some coaches such as Fred Hill, Gary Waters and Eddie Jordan had a hard time doing to the point they realized this is the best they could have done.
The process itself has been fun and more rewarding than the actual results for Rutgers right now. No one could have said this since Wenzel was the last coach. Kevin Bannon, Waters, Hill and Jordan never gave anyone the impression that they knew what they were doing in running a basketball program.
It’s understandable if there are cynics out there. That’s the way it goes when a program has been so bad for so long. Rutgers is going to have to earn the area’s respect, and that means playing in a NCAA tournament game. Making the NIT is not going to cut it anymore.
Still, the Rutgers fans know something good is going on. A win against Seton Hall certainly is going to move the needle for sure. Where Rutgers goes from there is another story.
The Scarlet Knights have to build on this. That means winning more games in conference play, and winning at least a game in the Big Ten tournament this year. They don’t have to make the tournament for this year to be successful, but they have to keep trending upward.
This team seems to be up for the challenge. Pikiell has the right guys to get it done, and the coaching is there to make this happen.
It’s been so long since Rutgers basketball has entered into our conscience. Maybe they are not all the way there just yet, but the fact Rutgers basketball is being mentioned in a proud site like this shows they are about to do something.
Yes, Virginia, there is hope again, and it starts with Pikiell.