Rice: Rutgers Closer to Desired Results

Three regular season games stand between Rutgers and what will be the last Big East tournament of its kind. Losers of nine out of their last 10, the Scarlet Knights are likely headed to the sidelines of the postseason for the seventh consecutive season. With a roster filled with sophomores, however, head coach Mike Rice sees his program as close to turning the corner.

It means little in the midst of a 1-9 streak through the most significant stretch of the season, but Rutgers coach Mike Rice finally sees some of the development he wants.

With two full seasons now to develop his stacked 2011 recruiting class, Rutgers is "close" to turning the corner, Rice said.

"I hate to say it because I hate, hate to talk about ‘close,'" Rice said. "Because all anybody cares about is wins and losses. I have to go back and look, last year, stats, games. Even having our leading scorer out, we're close and we just have to become more consistent."

Consistency has been the operating phrase surrounding Kadeem Jack's improvement in the post and Myles Mack's emergence as a legitimate scoring threat.

Rutgers has not had a meaningful March since Quincy Douby led the program to an NIT tournament push. Turning the calendar to March today, 2013 will be more of the same with Rutgers (13-13, 4-11) needing a miracle finish to change anything after a 1-5 February.

"If you can't see [improvement], then yeah the frustration's just there," Rice said. "And I don't blame anybody for being frustrated because it's been long enough for us to win. But it's my job to have to accentuate the positives with some of these younger guys and these younger guys are developing. They're getting better."

Even with Elijah Carter out for the year and Greg Lewis red-shirting, the sophomore class took tremendous strides this season, Rice said.

Rutgers has just two blowout losses (losses of 15 points or more) this season, compared to six last year. The margin of defeat in Big East games is closing, but until they become wins, Rice said he understands the frustration of a fan base hungry for an enjoyable basketball product.

"To the regular fan it is [tough to see]," Rice said. "There's no question. But someone whose life it is, that eats, breaths, sleeps Rutgers basketball and the development of these young guys [I see it]. …

"Myles Mack was not a very good half court player and now he's creating. Now he's getting in the lane. Now he's making others better. That was never Myles Mack. Now you have Kadeem and Derrick [Randall] and Jerome [Seagears] finally [getting there]."

The Catholic Seven, soon to be called Big East, departure significantly changes the meaning of "close" for Rutgers basketball, however. Winning in a league saying goodbye to teams like Georgetown, Villanova, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Marquette, does not have the same meaning.

But the Rutgers roster has confidence that the 2013-14 season can be the turning point.

"We're a lot better, more confident," Mack said. "We know the system. We know how to play in the Big East. It's harder than anyone can imagine and you need experience. You can't just step up in win; you have to know how to play in the Big East. … We're getting it."

Senior Austin Johnson, preparing for his final home game next week against Marquette, said the best way for Rutgers to turn the corner next year is to stop the current skid. Facing No. 7 Georgetown tomorrow, Rutgers has as few as four games left this season to turn it around.

"You have to play every game like it's your last," Johnson said. "We're trying to build a foundation for winning, for the future and that takes a lot of time because it hasn't happened here in a long time. We have to take advantage of each and every opportunity and that means finishing strong to give those guys the momentum they need going into next year."

Scarlet Report Top Stories