Dear College Basketball Gods,
Just give us tonight. Let me explain.
If you are a true Rutgers basketball fan, then you understand what the majority of the past three decades have been like. You know March has been where our last ditch dreams of things finally turning around go to die. Postseason runs have been few and far between. After moving from the Atlantic 10 to the Big East, Rutgers rarely won a game in the conference tournament. In fact, only once did the program ever win twice in the same Big East Tournament. We’ll get to that in a moment.
This decade, Rutgers is 3-7 in conference tournament play. It started with a 1 point loss to Cincinnati at the Garden in 2010, a game that I left thinking Fred Hill must be fired. And then he wasn’t, only to go nuts at a Rutgers baseball game and get dismissed anyway. That month of sticking with Hill cost the program precious time in finding his replacement. Now I’m rambling.
There was the glorious overtime victory against blood rival Seton Hall in Mike Rice’s first season that provided hope that real progress was happening. Only that game was followed by the controversial 2 point loss to St. John’s in the Garden, on a call the conference admitted the officials got wrong. We already knew they did, but no justice, nor miracle run, would result. The following year, Villanova blew Rutgers out and our March dreams that year were quickly halted before halftime.
In the last season in the Big East, Rutgers did defeat DePaul, only to fall short in the second round against Notre Dame. One last Cinderella run was not in the cards and instead a real life horror story came to be, as the Rice scandal soon followed.
Rutgers won in 2014 in a transition year against South Florida in the opening round, only to be handed arguably the most embarrassing loss in program history by Rick Pitino and Louisville. Losing by 61 points in your own conference tournament, when your conference is the AAC, was what we thought at the time must be the low point. Sadly, we were wrong. It only got worse.
What has followed were two nondescript performances resulting in double digit losses in the Big Ten Tournament the past two years. There was no hope going into the games that Rutgers would win. None.
That’s why today is different. Sure, Rutgers is still entering the conference tournament as the last seed and a 6-7 point underdog against Ohio State. But real hope exists. This team is flawed and to call them offensively challenged is probably being nice. It doesn’t matter, for the first time in a long time, it’s fair to believe Rutgers can win tonight.
Nineteen years ago this past Monday, loyal son Geoff Billet hit his game winning runner to stun Georgetown and send Rutgers into the Big East semifinals, the first and only time the program advanced that far. I was there with my father and we thought, there will be more days like this. How wrong we were. It’s more than sad that we have had no other conference run to celebrate and be proud of since. It’s actually depressing.
Don’t expect a run to the Big Ten semifinals this season, or even the Quarterfinals for that matter. Don’t have any expectations. All I am asking of the basketball gods is to watch out for us tonight. Rarely does Rutgers get those lucky bounces off the rim, or a call that goes our way. Just do us a favor and if you could find it in your heart, keep a favorable eye on our team tonight.
Don’t get greedy Rutgers fans, or the gods will see through us. Don’t even talk about that team from Chicago that is being fitted for the slipper to Cinderella’s ball as we speak. Only hope and wish for a win tonight. That’s all I hope for. Win tonight and this program will earn more respect in the Big Ten than they have accumulated so far in three seasons in the league. It would cap off a successful first season under Steve Pikiell and signal real positive change is taking place. It would provide a great narrative for the staff to have in their back pocket on the recruiting trail this spring and summer.
You and I want this win so badly. These kids have worked their butts off for coach Pikiell and the staff. They want it too and deserve a moment. Tonight is our Championship game. You can call that sad, but it’s true. Other fan bases can mock us, but they don’t understand real pain and suffering like we do. We wear it like a badge of honor.
For real progress to occur, baby steps in the right direction must happen first. A win tonight and Rutgers basketball will be relevant on day 2 of the Big Ten Tournament. Progress, that would be.
Just give us tonight. Please basketball gods, just let us have one moment this March when the games matter the most. Rutgers fans have waited patiently to celebrate something these past 4 years. This season marked real progress, but a win in the Big Ten Tournament would be the cherry on top we desperately want. Let tonight be the night.
Rutgers Basketball fans everywhere.
To read our preview of tonight’s game against Ohio State, click here.