Rutgers' Mike Rice has long road ahead

May, 4, 2010
5/04/10
11:16
AM ET
It appears, after a coaching search that extended deeper into the offseason than most, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights have found their man. That man: Robert Morris coach Mike Rice.

Pretty much everyone seems to agree Rice is the right fit for Rutgers. His record at Robert Morris -- two NCAA tournament appearances, 73-31 overall, and 46-8 in the NEC -- was sterling. His recruiting ties to New Jersey and Pittsburgh are just what Rutgers needs. His passion and fire and sundry other David Eckstein-esque coaching intangibles come well recommended. If anyone can succeed at Rutgers in the wake of former coach Fred Hill's messy departure -- or so the consensus says -- it's one Mr. Mike Rice.

Unfortunately for Rutgers fans, one coaching hire, however good that hire is, does not a program make. Rice will inherit a brutal situation. Rutgers went 15-17 in 2009-10, including a paltry 5-13 mark in the Big East. Even if Rutgers' entire team returned, this would be a difficult team to turn around. But that's not the case: The Scarlet Knights just lost leading scorer Mike Rosario, who transferred to Florida. Even worse, Big East defensive player of the year Hamady Ndiaye graduated, leaving Rutgers with few options in the frontcourt. Rice will have to hope 6-foot-8 recruit Gylvidas Biruta will be good enough to produce at the power forward spot in his first year. Biruta is the No. 36-ranked power forward in the country in the class of 2010. After Biruta, though, Rutgers doesn't have much in the way of leftover talent. Rice will have to produce that on his own.

It's not to say that Rice can't do it. Anyone good enough to get Robert Morris to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1992 clearly knows his way around building an East Coast program. But Rutgers will have to hope that Rice's recruiting success translates to the Big East, a far more competitive and cutthroat environment than the NEC. (Duh.) Rice wouldn't be the first coach chewed up and spit out by the powerful conference. He certainly wouldn't be the last.

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