The state of Rutgers basketball is reaching critical mass.
The fact that they haven’t been ranked in the equivalent of over ten full years is the least of their problems. First, the average RPI of the nine teams Rutgers has beaten this year is 230. Secondly, the Scarlet Knights lost center and building block Greg Echenique for the season to a detached retina, and then for good when he announced he was transferring. Lastly, the recent firing of former DePaul Head Coach Jerry Wainwright has Scarlet Knight fans clamoring for Athletic Director Tim Pernetti to follow suit and put Fred Hill out of his misery.
I won’t pretend to know everything about Fred Hill. I know he landed a couple of big pieces in Echenique and Mike Rosario, who were supposed to propel the Scarlet Knights into the NCAA tournament for the first time in nearly 20 years. Rosario, the program’s first McDonald’s All-American, has been as good as advertised, and Echenique was on his way to a very nice season before tragedy struck. It can be challenging to evaluate a coach whose own players are just now hitting upperclassman status, and when you’ve hit a road block like Hill has in losing his big man, it really has to sting. But when you’re a coach in a power conference using your team’s play over three games against a .500 MAAC team like St. Peter’s to defend your performance and referencing victories from two seasons ago to create the impression that brighter days lie ahead, well, something just doesn’t jib right.
And we haven’t even gotten to JR Inman’s “Steak of Turmoil” diatribe. If you haven’t read it, do so now. It’s a piece of oration rivaling the Gettysburg Address, George H.W. Bush’s “Thousand Points of Light,” and Herb Brooks’ pregame speech from “Miracle.”
Given the storm, the best possible thing for SU to do is to get to the RAC, win by 20 or 30, and get the hell out with everyone healthy for West Virginia and the rest of the season. A close win over a bad team could shake SU’s confidence. An unforeseen loss on the road against a coach with a major chip on his shoulder would be an unspeakably huge black mark for the Orange and their chase for a Big East crown and high tournament seed.
As far as Wednesday night’s crowd goes, I picture a scene similar to that of Thanksgiving with your girlfriend’s family for the first time. Some people will like you (the SU fans bound to show up in droves as they have for the last few years), others might not (Rutgers fans with blind faith – God bless ‘em), but the rest will be going so vehemently and publicly crazy over their own problems to even acknowledge you in the first place, let alone form an opinion. You can probably place this particular segment of Rutgers fans given the circumstances laid out above.
All season long, we’ve been hearing about how SU hasn’t been faced with a close game, and how no one has seen Wes Johnson put the team on his back and take over. I think that premise is kind of silly, but if that time is to come, let it come against one of the better teams in the conference. Against Rutgers? Get a comfortable lead, play Kris Joseph for 5-10 minutes to make sure his ankle works, and leave the rest to the second and third team.