Imagine, if you will, that there wasn’t a five game losing streak in the middle of the season. Instead, picture those losses spaced out during the schedule. Rutgers never goes into a big slide—and instead of big win streaks and big losing streaks, the schedule and results are just kind of... normal... for a good team.
Because that is what Rutgers is—a good team. And the reaction to their past two wins have been ridiculous—as if they were thirty point blowout losses.
The problem, however, has been with the fanbase. A tortured group that hasn’t seen basketball success in 30 years, only to have it tragically ripped out from under them last year because of a global pandemic. The rug has been pulled out from under us a ton over the past 30 years.
Toss in a weird stretch of awful football followed by a season of renewed hope and Scarlet Knights faithful are in a strange psychological place. And they are projecting it on to a good team.
I get it. It’s been rough. I’ve been there with you.
Think, though, about the history this team continues to make. Beating Michigan State for the first time—by THIRTY! Winning 3 road games with three more still remaining. Having wins over great teams like Illinois cause you to shrug your shoulders and say it was expected!
I’ll say it again. Rutgers is a good team. At this very moment, they are in the top 25. And even though we shouldn’t jump to conclusions about their destiny, it is very likely they are going to the NCAA Tournament. It’s time for fans to understand that.
And, what’s even better?
The past six games, they have looked like a Steve Pikiell style basketball team. They hustle, they grind, and they beat the hell out of the other team physically, in order to win a close game late. That’s what they did against Minnesota and it was beautiful. They played such good defense against Northwestern that even when the Scarlet Knights went into a scoring slump, the outcome was never truly in doubt.
Rutgers is going to win game and they are going to do it because they stop the other team. You may not like it. You might want to see threes, fast breaks and a dynamic offense, but that wasn’t going to last. In fact, in my four thoughts on Purdue, I talked about how it didn’t seem sustainable—while worrying about the Rutgers defense.
Now they’ve righted the ship and fans, we need to take a deep breath.
Because a weird thing has happened—Facebook, message board, and the comments here are trashing this team like they are disappointing on a monumental level. They aren’t. Not anymore—and I was one of the ones promoting panic after the Penn State loss. But we don’t have to panic anymore. The team isn’t a huge disappointment. They are two wins away from securing a spot in the tournament.
There are somethings to remember:
- It’s college basketball—every game is not the end of the world, high stakes, huge game. Even if Rutgers has lost last night, it would have been their first analytical bad loss of the season. They could have recovered from it. This isn’t football where two losses in a row are reasons for revolting as a fan base. The football fan mentality is only going to exhaust you.
- Rutgers is going to wins games ugly. Steve Pikiell says he loves a grind and that’s how this team is built. Once again, the hot opening to the season was the anomoly. Geo Baker hitting a step back with a minute left against Minnesota? That’s the real Rutgers.
- Enjoy this. I will say it again and again and again. This is a good basketball team. Everyone loses—Iowa lost four of five. They have righted the ship and know what they need to do to win. Are there issues? Yes, if you’re looking for perfection. But this is sports—perfection is not attainable.
- The other team is on the court too. And they are trying to win. This is the Big Ten and even the bad teams aren’t terrible. Northwestern has been battling all year, despite the losing streak. And they have beaten some good teams. It wasn’t a surprise that the Wildcats were able to make it close for a stretch. Every team wants to win, and even when you stomp on a team, they will make a run.
So, Rutgers fans? Take a deep breath. There are five games left because the Big Ten Tournament. Rutgers is a good enough team to win all of them. But, spoiler, they won’t. But I am confident they will do enough to get into the NCAAs. Try to enjoy the ups and downs and don’t nitpick every little mistake—because is looks like some of you are in a full blown panic.
There’s no reason to be.
Enjoy what continues to be a historical season.