Rutgers Ready to Reach Rice's Goal?

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Mike Rice enters his second season as men's basketball coach at Rutgers, and he is going in with lofty goals. Rice said he wants a winning record in the Big East, which the school has never accomplished, and his players discussed why they thought that was possible.

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – It is the last year of the Big East, as everyone knows it, and second-year men's basketball coach Mike Rice set the lofty goal of making it Rutgers' best.

During the team's annual media day earlier this week, Rice said the goal is to win at least 10 conference games, a figure that would not only give the Scarlet Knights a winning Big East record for the first time, but likely propel them to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991.

"We have to have a winning record in the Big East," Rice said. "I put it on them. It hasn't been done here. I think we have the talent (but) not necessarily the experience. I'm not going to put a number on it, but if you tell me at the end of the year that we didn't, I'll be upset.

"No one will be more upset about it than me. If we do that, the postseason will take care of itself. That's what our goal is; I'm not going to shy away from it."

Twice since joining the Big East in 1995-96, Rutgers finished with a .500 mark in the league, with the last time being 2001-02.

And just to re-enforce how difficult that could be, keep in mind Rutgers won a combined 10 conference games (26 losses) in the last two seasons.

Yet, given an influx of talent from a highly-rated freshman class, the players are quick to talk about why the Scarlet Knights could do it.

"I don't feel like Rutgers has experienced anything like this in a long time, a collective group of so many talented guys that have the potential to take this program to the top," junior center Austin Johnson said. "I feel that it is something special. It's something I haven't experienced for the two years before this. We have a collective group of really talented people."

Rutgers returns wing Dane Miller, center Austin Johnson, big man Gilvydas Biruta, who will play power forward this season, wing Mike Poole and guard Austin Carroll.

But it is the infusion of freshmen – guards Jerome Seagears, Elijah Carter and Myles Mack, wing Malick Kone, power forward Derrick Randall and center Greg Lewis –is giving the Scarlet Knights plenty more bodies (and athletic, at that) than when they 15-17 (5-13 Big East) last season.

"I feel like we have a lot of depth, and everybody improved," Miller said. "Not just a little bit, but a lot. I feel like the urgency is there, and you have to do certain things to win games. I feel like everyone knows that. I feel if we bring it in the game like we bring it in practice, then we can make it happen.

"But it's easier to say it and do it."

Rutgers' last postseason appearance was 2006, which is also the last time it posted a winning record.

The need to replace Jonathan Mitchell's team-leading 14.4 points and 56 rebounds per game, and his leadership and 3-point shooting, is glaring. Experience is also lacking on the team, but a change in style, brought on by having more capable bodies, could benefit Rutgers.

"I feel we're deeper than last year, more athletic, and a style coach Rice wanted to play last year was conservative," Poole said. "We didn't want to run. We didn't want to kill ourselves. Now, we're deeper. We can play different types of styles."

Rutgers' exhibition game is Nov. 6 at 2 p.m. against Rutgers-Newark at the RAC.

The Scarlet Knights open the season Nov. 11 by hosting Dartmouth at 7:30 p.m.

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