The Dagger - NCAAB

Since Rutgers didn't fire Fred Hill until two weeks ago as a result of a prolonged battle over his buyout, the Scarlet Knights were too late to land potential candidates Fran McCaffery of Siena, Steve Donahue of Cornell and Kevin Willard of Iona.

The man they chose to replace Hill is at least as qualified as any of those three.

A young, energetic coach with deep recruiting ties in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Robert Morris coach Mike Rice on paper seems to be exactly the sort of coach capable of spearheading Rutgers' rebuilding process. He hasn't produced NCAA tournament victories like McCaffery and Donahue, but he did lead Robert Morris to three straight postseason appearances, narrowly missing a first-round upset of second-seeded Villanova this year.

Rice inherits a threadbare Rutgers program that lost most of its key players from a team that went 5-13 in the Big East and finished an uninspiring 15-17 season a year ago. Big East defensive player of the year Hamady Ndiaye graduated leaving a hole at center and leading scorer Mike Rosario transferred to Florida.  

It remains to be seen whether Rice can build a program at Rutgers the way he did on the mid-major level at Robert Morris, but the recruiting connections he forged both there and as an assistant at Pittsburgh and St. Joseph's will serve him well. The Scarlet Knights need to land enough elite local recruits like Rosario once was to remain competitive in the formidable Big East.

Maybe the most exciting aspect of the Rice hire for Rutgers fans is how much his background resembles that of highly successful Scarlet Knights football coach Greg Schiano prior to coming to the school.

Schiano has built a once-dormant football program with minimal pedigree into a perennial bowl team. If Rice can keep some local talent at home, rejuvenate fan interest at the school and make Rutgers a consistent NCAA tournament contender, he'll be as beloved as Schiano. 

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