An offseason that began steeped in turmoil and ended with a hint of optimism will come to a close tonight, as the Rutgers men's basketball program opens up the 2013-14 campaign and the Eddie Jordan era with a 7:30 p.m. home tip against Florida A&M.
It will be many Rutgers' fans first glimpse at the new-look roster, which played in front of a sparse crowd during its 90-60 exhibition win over Division II Caldwell College last Friday.
Despite the buzz that has swelled up in the weeks leading up to tonight's opener, Jordan himself expressed a bit of concern at this team's readiness earlier this week.
"I would like to say that we're on top of our game, but to me it seems like we've taken about a half a step backwards," Jordan said on Wednesday. "Maybe it's because we're putting all game situations in and tightening nuts and bolts so maybe that's slowing them down in terms of their energy and activity."
Heading into his team's final practice of the week yesterday, Jordan had a clear set of goals for his squad.
"I want to see a lot more discipline in practice," he said. "I want to make sure when we have people in the stands and officials, I don't want them to be distracted and doing things we normally don't do."
The Rattlers, tonight's opponent, compiled an 8-23 record last season, but return all but one contributor to the fold. They are led by All-MEAC guard Jamie Adams, who connected on 56 three-pointers and averaged 14.3 points per game in 2012-13.
Rutgers was able to get out and score in transition-a major emphasis of Jordan's-in its exhibition victory, but its full-court pressure defense showed the need for fine-tuning.
"It was important for me to see an opponent," Jordan said. "Still, it wasn't what we're going to see Friday. They're going to be a little bit better and a little bit more aggressive."
Jordan admitted there are plenty of unknowns going into tonight, likening it to "walking on the edge of the cliff and there's no bottom to it. Sometimes that's how you feel."
But his team does feature two guards entering their third years as starters in Myles Mack and Jerome Seagears, big men with experience in Kadeem Jack and Wally Judge and the program's first legitimate wing presence in quite some time in Pitt transfer J.J. Moore. Add those assets to the mix of other role players and the Rutgers faithful are justifiably curious to see how this season plays out.
So what does Jordan want to show the fans, starting tonight?
"That we're organized, that we work hard, that we have enthusiasm for each other, that we're helping our teammates out first and foremost and that we're happy for our teammates," he said.