By Matt Sugam
PISCATAWAY – Rutgers’ goal has long been to be in the top half of the Big East, or as they like to say, “on the left side of the board.”
Now that they’re finally there, the goal becomes staying there. But after a loss to then No. 21 Cincinnati, Rutgers fell down a few pegs and needs a win against USF on Thursday night to remain in the top half of the Big East.
“It’s a must win to get back over .500,” junior wing Mike Poole said after Tuesday’s practice. “Where the Big East is at right now there’s a lot of 1-3 teams and a lot of 2-2 teams so to separate ourselves with a win would be real big.”
Especially considering Rutgers’ upcoming schedule. Three of the next four after USF are on the road, with all three of those away games against teams in the top half of the conference.
But the team isn’t too concerned about that.
“Is that what we have? Because I don’t know,” head coach Mike Rice said. “All I know is South Florida.”
Which is a team that comes in at 0-3 in the Big East. And as the only remaining winless team in the conference, Rutgers knows they’ll be facing a desperate opponent chomping at the bit to get their first win.
“We got to be hungry as well,” Poole said. “We just took a loss. We shouldn’t not be hungry. We should be starving to get a win. We’re not a team that’s 5-0 and relaxing. We need every win just like they need this win and we just know that we need to be urgent and on our best game.”
In doing so, Rutgers can remain in the top half of the Big East. Which is why the focus is solely on South Florida and not what lies ahead after.
“It’s really important to win as many games as you can in the Big East,” Rice said. “The most important one is South Florida and if you looking at anything ‘well we got the next two at home and then we go on the road for three and three out of those four are against Top 25,’ that formula doesn’t work in coaching.
“You focus all your efforts on being successful against South Florida. If not, you’re not going to sleep in this league.”