Twenty-one years have passed since Rutgers last played in the NCAA Tournament. That year they were an 8-seed and got bounced in the first round. The head coach – Bob Wenzel – was let go six years later and hasn't coached since. His replacement was Kevin Bannon, who also hasn't coached since being fired at Rutgers. Up next was Gary Waters who coached for five years before he resigned. Now he's the Cleveland State head coach. Then came Fred Hill, who hasn't been able to land a head coaching gig after his four years at Rutgers.
Not exactly a promising track record.
Now it's Mike Rice Jr.'s turn. He was 5-13 in the Big East as a first year head coach, and 6-12 last season.
But all that could be coming to an end.
Rutgers was a young team last season. Their freshmen combined for 82 starts. They would have returned all five starters had Gilvydas Biruta not pulled a surprise and transferred.
They have a pair of ball-handling guards making the all important freshman to sophomore jumps. 5-9 Myles Mack was a consensus top-100 recruit, and 6-1 Jerome Seagears was a 4* recruit by Rivals. Another of last year's freshmen – 6-2 Eli Carter – returns after leading the team with 13.8 points per game.
The loss of Kiruta hurts depth in the front court. But they have 6-9 redshirt sophomore Kadeem Jack, another 4* at Rivals, who missed a good portion of last season with a foot injury. And 6-6 senior Dane Miller, the team's best rebounder, also returns.
From the JUCO ranks they landed 6-5 Vincent Garrett who is a highlight reel who will end up on ESPN's top plays before the season is over.
And then there's Wally Judge. Remember that name? Judge was a consensus 5* top-15 recruit who signed with Kansas State. After two troubled seasons there he left and followed an old AAU coach to Rutgers. Judge is 6-9, is a power forward's power forward, and has had a year to work on his game while he was sitting out a season due to his transfer. By all accounts he's had a solid year of development, and could be ready to blossom into the player everyone thought he was going to be.
Combine Judge and that supporting cast, and there's your sleeper in the Big East.