Rutgers Basketball: 5 Reasons Rutgers Will Soon Become a Contender in Big East

No NameContributor IIIMarch 10, 2011

Rutgers Basketball: 5 Reasons Rutgers Will Soon Become a Contender in Big East

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    No, I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid.

    Yes, the Scarlet Knights were a blown call away from upsetting St. John's in the second round of the Big East tournament and moving on to the quarterfinal round. 

    No, they will not even make the NIT.

    Yes, Rutgers finished the year 15-17 overall and with a pathetic 5-13 Big East conference record.

    No, had the Scarlet Knights been able to knock off the Red Storm, they would not have beaten Syracuse in the quarterfinals. Not even close.

    Yes, Rutgers will produce an extremely competitive roster next season and might actually make some noise in the Big East.

    Why? Because they're from Jersey for starters...

5. Gilvydas Biruta

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    The 6-8 forward from Newark powerhouse St. Benedict's is only a freshman and all indicators point to one thing—him getting better.

    Biruta averaged 9.6 points per game and 5.5 rebounds. He's athletic, physical and has the capability of banging bodies with the rest of the Big East. Did I mention he's from Lithuania, too?

4. Dane Miller

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    Next season, Dane Miller will have the luxury of having two rather productive seasons under his belt and thus poised to have a breakout campaign.

    In his first two years at Rutgers, Miller has put up almost identical numbers, showing no real growth. This will change next year as his minutes go up into the 30s, and he assumes more of a leadership role on the team.

3. Home Games at the RAC

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    No, it doesn't have the reputation of Cameron Indoor or the Smith Center, but hey, it's home.

    The Scarlet Knights always seem to play better at the RAC as the constantly raucous crowds have a knack for propelling Rutgers to overachieve. Such was the case this year when Jonathan Mitchell completed a four-point play to help knock off No. 9 Villanova at home.

    If Rutgers can put a decent squad out there and win a few games, expect the RAC to be hoppin' night in and night out.

2. Mike Rice

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    This was the job description of the position Mike Rice applied for:

    "Perennial loser program in college basketball's toughest conference seeks head coach and expects him/her to bring team back to respectability without anything really to work with."

    At 15-17 on the year, yeah, the NIT would have been sweet, but Mike Rice, you did one hell of a job.

    Rice is attempting to build the program from scratch. Steve Lavin is getting considerable attention for the job he did in his first year with St. John's this season, and while it's absolutely warranted, Lavin is a big-name guy who inherited a roster with nine seniors.

    Rice is trying to establish a basketball attitude at a school which just recently found out that if you actually hire a coach who wants to put the effort in (Greg Schiano) well, you just might win a few games. The road ahead won't be easy, but Mike Rice is a good coach who really cares about this program's future.

1. New Jersey Is a High School Basketball Mecca

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    One day, when the stars align and all is right in the world, the best high school players in the state of New Jersey will want to play for Rutgers. It sounds far fetched, I know, but I have hope that this day is on the horizon.

    New Jersey boasts what is arguably the best high school basketball scene in the country. St. Anthony and St. Patrick's are always somehow in the top 10 in the nation, and St. Benedict's is also never far off from there. Jersey breeds amazing basketball players, and the lack of a competitive state university sends them to far off places like Duke, North Carolina and Kansas.

    Remember Dahntay Jones? Yeah, he should have stayed at Rutgers.

    What's worse is that with the emergence of the Big East in the past several years as the best conference in college basketball, the cream of the crop of Jersey basketball are taking their talents elsewhere within the Big East to places such as Pittsburgh, Villanova and UConn.

    Remember Newark East Side standout Randy Foye? Yeah, he should have went to Rutgers, too.

    If the Scarlet Knights can emerge as a true contender in the Big East, the local Jersey boys will follow. And when that happens, just watch out, things could get scary.