Rutgers left East Lansing with a hard-fought defeat last night to #4 Michigan State. They took the Sparty’s to OT and came up short…again. In December, they lost a close game at home to Michigan State; though the final deficit was ten points, that game was as close as it gets. That’s what happens when you have two programs match up like Rutgers and Michigan State. The better team with the better players under the better coaching can play a full 40 minutes whereas young, growing programs often fall in the late minutes. It happened in December, and it happened again last night. The Scarlet Knights kept the game within reach, took their first lead in the final minutes, and even had a chance to win at the end of regulation. One better offensive possession and one last defensive stop, and Rutgers could have and should have been shooting FT’s late to secure the road upset. Also, this Corey Sanders crossover was worth every minute I committed to this game. My guy put this man six feet under in a body bag with casts on both ankles…
Coach Steve Pikiell signed an extension yesterday afternoon, and the team responded in last night’s game. Steve Pikiell has barely had a cup of coffee in Piscataway, but he’s already got this team facing and jogging in the right direction. I think he landed a New Jersey recruit in his first week on the job, something Eddie Jordan failed to do in his tenure at RU (that guy stunk by the way). The bottomline is that Rutgers Basketball still has a ways to go before earning any respect in the Big Ten, but at the moment they’re re-building a reputation for themselves. Tom Izzo, legendary Michigan State coach, had high praise for Rutgers after last night’s game, and he didn’t have to say anything at all. They play tenacious defense and push the tempo because that’s the identity of the team based on the talent; until they have physical big men who play both ways and more dynamic players, they’re not going to play half court basketball. That’s their game right now, and it’s been working. Seton Hall and Wisconsin would agree.
In recent years, Rutgers has arranged a notoriously bad non-conference schedule for themselves. Going 10-2 before Big Ten play starts is all well and good, but they’ll need to test themselves if they want to progress. Also, if they’re ever on any sort of bubble, quality wins always take precedence. Steve Pikiell seems well aware that the program needs to walk before it can run, but there’s no denying that there are legitimate legs underneath. Physical basketball and pesky defense are pillars of success for any winning program, now Rutgers just needs the talent. Deshawn Freeman and Mike Williams are gone after this year (I think). Corey Sanders is probably gone but it would profoundly behoove him to stay, progress as a player, serve as a leader, and continue to help grow Rutgers Basketball. Peter Kiss is transferring to RU next year for a potential 3 years of eligibility; he’s a (decently) highly touted, lights out shooter who’ll be dangerous in all competition.
The move to the Big Ten has been difficult to say the least for Rutgers. They’ve taken their lumps and will continue to do so. Almost 2 years ago I said that the transition had been a disaster and will continue to be so; I more or less declared Eddie Jordan as the sole reason for Rutgers’ many basketball woes. He’s long gone as are the days of getting blown out every game. Just a few years ago they were, literally, the worst power conference team ever. While you can only go up from there, the sights have been set higher in 2 short years. I won’t look ahead to Big Ten title games and tournament births yet, but .500 basketball isn’t too ambitious based on the makeup of today’s team. Rutgers hasn’t been .500 or better since 2005, so maybe I am asking a lot. They’re 11-7 as of this morning and only 1-4 in the Big Ten, but anybody with eyeballs can see the progression. Things are looking up for Rutgers hoops.