Note: this post is from Dave.
Rutgers' basketball season has been finished for over a week now. The pain of the St. John's loss has worn off, as has the urge to bash the referees (really? There's 1.7 le--Okay, I'll stop.)
What were the highs and lows of Coach Mike Rice's first season?
Take a look after the jump...
I always like to end up on a positive note, so I'll start with the bad news first.
There were a few bad moments that stick out this season. The loss to UConn was a big one, as the team seemed to lay down and quit once the Huskies went on a bit of a run. Mike Rice refused to call timeout during a 20 point run, and let the team try to fight their way out of it. They didn't and were run off the court for most of the game.
The Providence loss. Another huge game that would have put the Scarlet Knights at .500 for the regular season. They were up 13 in the 2nd half, and went into a shell. The team didn't play defense. Marshon Brooks hit a running bank shot and then Coburn missed a second free throw to send the game into overtime. The team was better than this and should have held on to the lead. Too many mistakes.
The inability to follow up the Villanova game with a winning streak. The team came out flat in their next game against Seton Hall, expended all the energy they had in a loss to Syracuse, and then got destroyed by Louisville. West Virginia was them able to with stand them on Senior Day.
The St. John's loss. Need I say more? This was probably the most crushing Rutgers loss in the last 6 years, maybe more. The fact that there's still time on the clock. That the refs put the whistles away in the last minute. The fact that they took a chance to tie or win the game away from a senior class that played so hard. Just a soul crushing, mind numbing loss.
No postseason basketball. While you have to respect Rice and the team for agreeing not to go to the postseason without being over .500, you have to feel terrible for the seniors who played their hearts out. They had a chance to play on for the first time as Scarlet Knights, and couldn't close the deal. In another conference, who knows where this team would be.
The defense. It was a pleasure watching this team--game after game--step up and grind out defensive possessions. For too long under Fred Hill, the team would give up key baskets or not be able to stop opposing teams. This Rutgers team was able to stop teams more talented than they were. They were able to get the stops they needed and flummox the opposition. While not the most talented of teams, the Scarlet Knights improved on their weaknesses to the point where they were a pleasure to watch.
Beating Seton Hall. Twice. On the road. The Seton Hall Pirates were supposed to be a team that had NCAA written all over them. But, injuries and strange chemistry problems arose, and in the first meeting Rutgers took advantage. Dane Miller shutdown Jeremy Hazell and dropped 17 points himself, and the Knights walked away with a 66-60 win. Then, the two teams met in the first round of the Big East Tournament. SHU was hot coming in and RU was trying to rebound from the Friars loss. Rutgers was able to withstand a Hazell 3 to tie with a second left and took over overtime at the foul line. Fun to see.
The close losses. You're not supposed count moral victories, and judging by the press conferences, the team sure didn't. But for the fans, seeing Rutgers hang with Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Seeing them play smart and play hard in incredibly overwhelming situations was a pleasure.
The Villanova win. The Jonathan Mitchell miracle. This win could be the beginning of the turning point. Seeing this team battle from ten down with 3 minutes to go. Watching that three ball from Mitchell sail threw the net as the ref blew the whistle. The court got stormed. Amazing.
The seniors. James Beatty, Jonathan Mitchell, and Mike Coburn were the keys to the season. They bought into all Rice wanted to do and they carried the team. Rice will remember these seniors for a long time and so will the fans. There's going to be a drop off next year without them. Thank you, seniors, for a memorable year. And hopefully, for being the spark to set off something good.
More on individual players soon...