Rutgers on verge of winless Big Ten Conference season
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Meaningless games at the beginning of March are nothing new in Piscataway. Rutgers is reaching a new low this season.
The Scarlet Knights have lost 17 straight games this season and 32 in a row in Big Ten Conference games dating to last season. The 17-game skid is the longest single-season losing streak in a program history that dates to 1906.
The latest was a 97-66 loss to No. 2 Michigan State on Wednesday night, the fifth time they have lost by at least 31 points this season.
''This year's been rough for us like everyone sees,'' Rutgers guard Corey Sanders said. ''But we wake up every day to fight and get better.''
Rough seasons are the norm at Rutgers. It hasn't made the NCAA Tournament in 25 years and now it may become the first Big Ten team since Northwestern (0-17) in 1999-2000 to go winless in the conference.
The Scarlet Knights will have two shots to end the skid. They will play their regular-season finale against Minnesota on Saturday before the conference tournament.
The Minnesota game is winnable. The Golden Gophers are shorthanded with guards Kevin Dorsey, Nate Mason and Dupree McBrayer all suspended for the remainder of the season.
''It just makes it easier for us to go out and fight and hopefully get us one,'' Sanders said.
Playing with a short bench is something Rutgers can relate to. The Scarlet Knights and coach Eddie Jordan have been without big men Deshawn Freeman and Shaquille Doorson basically for the season. Ibrahima Diallo returned to action recently after getting injured in December.
''From my vantage point, Eddie has to stay healthy. He's had those bigs out. And when you're at this point and you have all those injuries early and then your confidence goes,'' Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. ''I think you got to do what we did, do what everybody did. You got to upgrade your facilities. ... Eddie can turn this thing around. I think he's just got to get a break and get healthy and then add another player or two. That would really help things out.''
Whether Jordan gets the chance next season remains to be seen. He has a 28-67 record in the three years.
Dick Lloyd, a former Rutgers assistant and long-time radio analyst, said Jordan's tenure has to be put in context.
Jordan took over a program embroiled in scandal. Mike Rice had just been fired for hurling basketballs and gay slurs at players. Hired in mid-April, the end of the college recruiting cycle, he had to clean up Rutgers' image and scavenge for a recruiting class for his debut season.
''When it comes down to it, no, I don't think he was dealt a fair hand at all,'' Lloyd said.
Like Izzo, Lloyd believes Jordan can get the job done.
''To give up on a person after three years, and particularly the challenges that you were handed - cleaning up a situation, taking over where there's some negative vibes on the program, going into the Big Ten where your competition is tough, a lot of things that were tough there - so I think you have to take all that into account,'' Lloyd said.
Athletic Director Pat Hobbs - who was hired in late November - will be the one doing that.
Through a spokesperson, Hobbs declined to comment to The Associated Press on Jordan's status, saying program evaluations take place after the season. Jordan is in the third-year of a five-year contract.
''I'm going to be here tomorrow and we'll see,'' Jordan said when asked about his long-term job status. ''Again, that's not my concern. ... I'm not into predictions. I know it's a process. We all knew it was not going to be just two years, not just three years coming in, and when I signed my contract with (Rutgers President) Dr. (Robert) Barchi, we knew it was going to be a process and that's how I look at it.''
Jordan - who helped lead Rutgers to an undefeated regular season and Final Four as a player in 1976 - came back to Piscataway with fans hoping one of their ''favorite sons'' could lead them back to prominence. It has yet to transpire that way.
''Things are tough,'' Lloyd said. ''You got a streak going here and it's tough to look the other way and get away from looking at it from that standpoint, and it just gets tougher and tougher to turn that around as you get deeper and deeper into it. No question, it's a little rocky. Is it rock bottom? I don't know what rock bottom is to tell you the truth.''
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