Time to strap in again, Rutgers basketball fans
Rutgers fans, we know this drill by now.
Tuesday night’s loss to Nebraska was the most disappointing performance for Rutgers men’s basketball this season. It was disheartening, frustrating, infuriating and sad all at the same time.
Mired in a three game losing streak since Mawot Mag was declared out for the season with a torn ACL, hope is waning. An inspiring winter is pointing towards a spring of what could have been. A 8-4 start and second place tie in Big Ten play has turned into Rutgers fighting to stay above .500 in league action.
The various levels of grief have rippled through the Rutgers fan base. Concern, worry, disappointment, anger, and even panic have set in. All them are justifiable. Your lifespan and experience as a Rutgers fan likely determines which categories you have mostly fallen into. If you have any of these feelings, I hear you and understand them. I’m concerned myself.
Rutgers is still firmly in the projected NCAA Tournament’s field of 68 with a NET ranking of No. 29. However, if the losses continue to mount RU will slide into the bubble picture sooner rather than later.
While many Rutgers fans understandably rely on the past when experiencing a difficult stretch of the season, the most recent history is not given proper weight. Rather than focus on the three decades of misery the program endured, it’s time to put faith in how the past three seasons ended.
Rutgers was projected to make the 2020 NCAA Tournament before it was cancelled due to Covid. They also suffered a three game Big Ten losing streak that season before turning it around with wins over No. 9 Maryland and at Purdue to earn 20 wins.
The next season without fans, RU lost five Big Ten games in a row. They went on to earn the program’s first March Madness bid in 30 years and won the first NCAA Tournament game in 38 years.
Last season, Rutgers was left for dead at the end in November after a three game losing streak to DePaul, Lafayette, and UMass. RU then resurrected their postseason hopes by becoming the first unranked team in college basketball history to beat four ranked foes in a row. They promptly lost three league games in a row. However, they made history again with a fourth place finish in Big Ten play and made the NCAA Tournament for a second straight season for just the second time in program history.
Each of the three seasons, Rutgers needed heroics in the last week of the regular season to solidify their NCAA Tournament qualifications.
Each time, Rutgers had its back against the wall multiple times each season with their postseason fate in serious jeopardy.
Each time, they came through.
There are a few fans online declaring that the season is over or that they’ve given up on this team. Calling Rutgers “done” or “frauds” or saying they are “choking” can be read on multiple sites and social media platforms. Those “fans” want you to know that the writing is on the wall and it’s in permanent marker.
Again, if you are worried, concerned, upset or even panicked, I’m not talking about you and I get it.
Perhaps those fans with a fatalistic approach are more concerned with setting themselves free by throwing the program under the bus. Perhaps it’s a coping mechanism? Cut ties now so if the team does ultimately fail, the pain is minimized and the declaration of being right serves as an elixir of sorts.
If last year’s Rutgers team taught us anything, it was that you can’t ever give up on this program until the season is officially over.
And yet certain fans failed to learn that lesson.
It’s easy to say that this team is different because Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr. aren’t around anymore to save the day. However, they were also doubted, criticized and given up on by some multiple times.
The current state of this season is uncomfortable, a bit maddening and unnerving. The team we love and invest so much time and care into is potentially falling apart at the seams.
That doesn’t mean giving up is the right answer. Even if Rutgers actually does fall short this season after a strong start, it doesn’t mean losing complete faith is warranted.
This program, coaching staff and players deserve the benefit of the doubt.
The joy of experiencing the pay off when Rutgers does something remarkable is worth the tension, the worry, and the heartache in my opinion. Just remember what it was like making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 30 years and winning a game for the first time in 38 years. It was an exhilarating moment and a lifelong highlight it was for us all.
Hang in there.
Jumping ship to point your finger at genuine fans a month from now if things don’t work out isn’t admirable. It’s despicable. It’s also selling your fandom short.
Why cheat yourself of real satisfaction if Rutgers does make the NCAA Tournament, as they are firmly projected to do even after the loss to Nebraska?
Pain avoidance? Pain is life.
It’s a lot more real to live through the pain, suffer when necessary and come out on the other side when things turn around. If Rutgers wins a NCAA Tournament game in March, it will be a satisfying experience for fans.
Steve Pikiell has made Rutgers a winner and the trajectory of the program is still rising. A three game losing streak in February doesn’t change that.
As a reminder, I’m not saying this team doesn’t deserve criticism, especially for Tuesday’s awful performance. They do and I have done so myself. This team must regain its identity and fast. But these same players deserve respect too. There is time to turn things back around.
There are five regular season games remaining. There will be at least on Big Ten Tournament game. There will hopefully be at least one NCAA Tournament game as well.
Hope might be in short supply today. But it’s not dead, even if the eye test tells you otherwise.
Rutgers could lose out the season, but it’s not likely. They might come sliding down to the bubble and see it ultimately burst. RU might continue to crash and then turn it around at the last minute. We don’t know yet what will happen.
As nerve wracking and frustrating as that can feel, it’s what really being a fan is all about. You cheer through the losses and the pain chasing the dream of one day hanging a banner, winning a title, or making a Final Four.
Along the way memories are made, friendships are developed, losses are mourned, proud moments are celebrated. Being a sports fan is living life.
Don’t cheat yourself or this team by giving up now. This season might end in disaster. Or it might end on the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
This is college basketball. It is unpredictable. It is madness. It is beautiful.
Rutgers fans have been robbed of really experiencing what college basketball really is for a long time prior to the last few seasons. The program was so bad and mired in scandal after scandal. Those days are gone. Now we finally do every year with Steve Pikiell at the helm. I know it’s a different experience and some are still adapting.
This last week and a half has been brutal as a Rutgers fan. But if there is any college fan base that is tough enough to endure, it’s ours. If you respect and care for Rutgers basketball, you aren’t giving up on them.
If you’ve let this program into your heart, they’ll rip it out occasionally, but a lot less than in the past. Now they’ll make it beat fast and proud more times than not too, which was a rare occurrence for a long time.
Be critical. Be worried. Panic if you must. These are all fair emotions of being a dedicated fan. It’s late February, which now means it’s time to strap in if you are a Rutgers basketball fan. This is our new reality and it is FAR better than the not so distant past.
The sky is not falling. There is a pretty bad storm, but we’ve seen it clear up in time before. And it can happen again.
Giving up, declaring this team done and quitting on the team you supposedly are devoted to? It’s the easy and cowardly way out. And real Rutgers fans know, there is never ever anything easy about being a Rutgers fan.
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“Don’t Give Up. Don’t ever give up.” – Jim Valvano.
February 17, 2023 at 1:07 am
How soon “fans” forget is true in every sport and it’s why I don’t bother with social media and why I don’t read Aaron’s prior outlet as it started to get flooded with negativity. It’s certainly fine to be critical and alarmed, I do it all of the time, but to completely give up is not what being a true fan is all about. The big difference between prior years and this year’s squad is the injury to Mag which has clearly impacted the guys on the floor but I also think has gotten into their heads.
I always say that playing the Saturday noon game is an advantage for the road team as they don’t have to sit around and wait all day to get on the court. The fans also tend to be more sedate. Hopefully that plays out and we can all exhale. Go RU!
February 17, 2023 at 4:22 am
Two things give me reasons to remain optimistic that this team will pull out of this potential death spiral: 1) Pikiell and his coaching staff will make the necessary adjustments and Pikiell will motivate & rally this team as only he can; 2) The core of this team have been through the ringer these past few seasons, so I look for Paul, Caleb and Cliff to respond collectively and provide the necessary leadership in the remaining games. What the saying? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Rutgers isn’t dead yet!
February 17, 2023 at 6:08 pm
Rutgers fans should know we never do anything the easy way. Keep in mind that it was far less stressful in the Eddie Jordan era as we knew we would lose, and lose big.