Rutgers is six and oh.
Read that again. Six wins and zero, zippo, zilch in the loss column. The last time that happened was in 1975-76, the year—led, ironically, by Eddie Jordan—Rutgers went to the Final Four. The undefeated season.
That’s pretty remarkable.
And recently, in the comments here, on Twitter and on message boards, I’ve started to see some expectations rise to crazy levels. Part of that is on the whole, Rutgers runs good stuff on the court. But maybe the fact that football had an awful season and women’s hoops hasn’t found a win yet is playing in here too. Rutgers fans are starved for a winner, and men’s hoops is out to a very hot start—one some didn’t expect. It’s put the spotlight on men’s basketball sooner than expected. I mean the Star Ledger ran a slideshow entitled “Who Are These Guys”—so they’re clearly not pandering to someone like me. They’re playing to the people who haven’t checked out the squeaky shoes in ten years.
Rutgers is six and oh, and some fans are expected 20 wins. That’s amazing.
It’s also not what’s going to happen here. Looking at Rutgers schedule, they’ve played only one team ranked in the top 200 and one of the teams they’ve beaten isn’t even a Division One school. Rutgers struggled mightily with Hartford—ranked 331 (out of 351) in KenPom—before pulling off a heart stopping win. Putting it nicely, the schedule has been kind to Rutgers.
So, when you start planning ahead for the Scarlet Knights, the schedule starts to get real on Wednesday when they travel to Miami (#25 in KenPom). Remember, Rutgers only won 7 games last year. Most of those losses were in very ugly fashion. This team still struggles shooting the ball and turns it over a lot. They’re still learning.
Don’t expect this team to go the NCAAs or even the NIT. There are going to be some bad losses coming soon, it’s the way the ball bounces. Steve Pikiell appears to know how to coach, and he will have this team competitive, but they’re not there yet. Even Pikiell himself said the team is only about 55% of where he wants to be defensively.
What I mean is this: don’t raise your expectations too high.
That said, Rutgers only won 7 total games last year. That was rough. There were a lot of games where fans (including me) left the RAC with 16 minutes left in the game.
And now... Rutgers is six and oh.
It’s okay to be happy about that. Fans should be excited. They should celebrate this. One of the toughest lines to walk as a fan is to be both reasonable and happy. There are statistics that back up the fact that this team is better.
Rutgers gets after it on the boards. Deshawn Freeman is averaging nearly a double-double. The team hustles and dives on the ground for the ball. They look—forgive the expressions—night and day differently from how they looked last season. Jerry Carino looked at the numbers and saw some good things.
Rutgers is six and oh, and that is cause for celebration. It’s a reason to be happy.
But it’s also not a reason to get over-excited or raise your expectations.
In a way, Rutgers basketball right now is kind of like a life philosophy: You be happy about the good when it comes. But there’s a good chance this feeling is temporary. But guess what? The bad is temporary too. Rutgers basketball will likely be up and down this season. With more downs that ups.
But that’s okay. Right now things are way, way up. Past where I expected to be. Celebrate that and enjoy it.
Let’s watch Rutgers travel to south Florida and give Miami a battle. And then take it from here. If you’re just checking for the first time in ten years: welcome. I think it’s going to be fun, but it’s probably not going to be easy. This team is going to hit some bumps in the road. Maybe lots of them.
But now they’re 6-0: It’s okay to be happy.
Jackson Donne is back in February. You can pre-order the next novel Blind to Sin, written by Dave White, here.