NEW YORK – Rutgers coach Mike Rice didn’t dance around the issue. He wants to go dancing.
Entering his third season, and with a roster full of talent and expectations, Rice knows it is time for his program to make a jump.
“It’s year three. You have to be moving your program forward,” Rice said during Wednesday’s Big East media day at the New York Athletic Club. “It’s not easy moving a program forward in the best conference in the country, and it takes some growing pains. It takes some hair loss, it takes some yoga breaths, but it’s one of those things where I think it’s happening.
“We’ll see how much different it is over the next four months, but the pieces are better, we’re experienced and now we have to throw the ball up and see what happens.”
The Scarlet Knights went 15-17 in Rice’s first season but slid back to 14-18 last year.
Their last postseason appearance was an NIT berth in 2006, and Rutgers has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 1991.
“Realistic for this team in finishing in the top seven or eight, and we feel like we’re an NCAA Tournament team,” said Rutgers junior guard Mike Poole, who added he felt the team improved markedly in one major area. “Maturity. We had a lot of immature things going on around us last year, a lot of guys not being on the same page, but we’ve had time and everyone is willing to change and get on the same page.
“Guys didn’t know how to respond to losing, and since we lost last year, a lot of guys are changing their attitudes because they know what it will take to win.”
At media day, the Scarlet Knights were picked to finish 11th in the 15-team league.
“Realistic? I think we can finish anywhere from fifth to ninth in the conference,” Rutgers senior wing Dane Miller said. “If we do what we’re supposed to do and play defense … no one should score on us because we’re so long and athletic.
“If we put our egos away and listen to the coaches and put all the (egos) away, and have fun playing the game we’ll have a positive season.”