Rutgers enters the Big Ten this season with fellow newcomer Maryland. The Rutgers athletic department, especially their basketball program, has had a rough few years. The cupboard is still barren after the Mike Rice scandal, and that remains as the main issue facing 2nd year head coach Eddie Jordan. Only four players remain on the team from Rice's tenure. All four of those players are starters this season. It is nearly impossible to replace that many players in such a short period of time. Jordan brought in a large recruiting class this year in an attempt to fill roster spots. Unfortunately two of those players will not see the court this year due to the NCAA ruling them ineligible. Lack of depth is a glaring issue at all positions, and it is extremely difficult to compete in the Big Ten without a deep bench.
Projected Starting Lineup
C: Greg Lewis (Jr., 6'9")
F: Kadeem Jack (Jr., 6'9")
F: Junior Etou (So., 6'7")
G: Bishop Daniels (So., 6'3")
G: Myles Mack (Sr., 5'10")
This lineup is pretty much set in stone at this point, barring any injuries. In the first game you may see junior wing Kerwin Okoro replace Kadeem Jack, who is questionable with a thumb injury. If this were to happen, Etou would shift from small forward to power forward. Aside from that, don't expect this lineup to change.
Coming off the bench will be the aforementioned Okoro, senior Malick Kone, and true freshmen Mike Williams, D.J. Foreman, and Shaquille Doorson.
What to Watch For
New Conference, New Challenges - This will be Rutgers' first season in the Big Ten after 1 season in the AAC and 18 seasons in the Big East. The Scarlet Knights haven't faced a Big Ten team since the 2005-06 season. Last season Rutgers played 9 games against sub 140 RPI conference foes. They were 6-3 against those teams, including 3 wins over 227th ranked South Florida. Rutgers played 11 games against conference opponents with an RPI better than 100, and lost every single one of those games.
13 of Rutgers' 18 conference games this year will come against teams that finished better than 100 in the RPI, and they will play no games against teams ranked lower than the best conference team they beat last season. In so many words, Rutgers is playing in a much tougher conference this season than last season.
Freshmen Impact - There are four freshmen on the roster, and all four will likely see playing time this season. Forwards D.J. Foreman (6'8") and Shaquille Doorson (6'11") will be rotating in for Lewis and Jack. Mike Williams will be the first true guard off the bench, coming in for Mack and Daniels. Walk-on Jake Dadika will be a shooting threat off the bench. Their performance this season will dictate how far Eddie Jordan is willing to reach into his bench. If none of them can prove themselves, Rutgers will only be able to go 7-8 deep on the bench. To be able to compete in the Big Ten, you need to be able to get production from your 9th and 10th players. Rutgers won't be able to do that without impact freshmen.
Starter's Health - The starters for Rutgers will need to remain healthy this season. A major injury from any of the starters would put them on the fast track to a 2 win Big Ten season. Things haven't started out well in this department, as Kadeem Jack may have to sit the first game or two due to his thumb injury. Luckily, his injury appears to be minor, and it shouldn't hamper him for long. Junior Greg Lewis had rough campaign last year, mostly due to nagging injuries. Those injuries are in the rear-view mirror for Lewis, but those injuries will always be in the back of the Scarlet Knights' fan's minds.
Who to Watch For
Kadeem Jack - The junior is primed for a great season in the difficult Big Ten. Jack has been labeled as an NBA prospect, and he will have a chance to prove that this season when going up against some of the best big men in the college ranks. Jack can expect to be double teamed often this season due to lack of other scoring options down low. He will have the chance to play against future NBA players on a weekly basis and prove his worth to scouts.
Myles Mack - The electric senior guard will be playing in his final season. It will be interesting to see the undersized Mack go up against some of the bigger guards in the Big Ten. Does he have the quickness to get up shots over guys like 6'6" Caris Levert? He is going to be seeing 6'4" and taller guards from nearly every Big Ten team.
Bishop Daniels - The JuCo transfer will be in his first season with Rutgers, and he will step right into the starting shooting guard spot. The former Top 100 recruit will certainly be athletic enough for the big stage, but will he be able to control himself on the court? He is known as a guy who likes to push the pace, but he will also turn the ball over often. Daniels will need to limit his turnovers and become a better shooter to help the team grow.
Junior Etou - The sophomore is poised for a breakout season for the Scarlet Knights. Eddie Jordan has described him as an "NBA level defender right now." If Etou can show that he can score this season as well, he will be in the conversation to make an All-Big Ten team.
Rutgers faces a mixed bag in the nonconference schedule, with tough games against George Washington, Seton Hall, at Clemson (B1G/ACC Challenge), Vanderbilt and Virginia / LaSalle (Barclays Classic). Besides those teams, they play a bunch of low-major teams. Let's say that they win 1-2 of the tough games, and lose 1-2 cupcake games (a la Farleigh-Dickinson last year, who is also on this year's schedule!!). I'll put them down for 8-5 in the nonconference slate (they were 6-7 last year).
Then they hit conference play. The going will get tough here, and I don't see many wins in the schedule. I'll give them a win in the opener, which is at home against Northwestern. After that, they have another winnable game at home against Penn State. Then they hit the meat of their schedule, with this brutal stretch: @Nebraska, Wisconsin, @Maryland, @Minnesota, Michigan. I don't think they have much of a chance to win any of those games. I'll give them a win later in the season at home against Purdue. Throw in an upset, and that puts them at 4-14. I think the ceiling for this team is 6-12, but I have a hard time seeing that happening after a poor performance last season.
Projected Regular Season Record: 12-19 (4-14)