By Matt Sugam
PISCATAWAY – By the end of Rutgers’ walk-through practice on Thursday, Mike Rice hadn’t said much to his team to bring them back down to earth after beating St. John’s to go to 2-1 in Big East play for just the third time in school history. Quite frankly, the third year head coach didn’t have to.
His team is humble and hungry. Not to mention that they’re well aware that 2-1 doesn’t mean much at the end of the season if they’re not still in the top half of the Big East.
Most importantly, they know that success can turn to failure as quickly as it came.
“I don’t think we’ve earned anything yet,” junior wing Mike Poole said. “We could go 2-1 and lose the next five games and be 2-6. We want to earn everybody’s respect at the end of the year.”
Which is exactly the attitude Rice was hoping his team would have.
“This program has to have a different mentality moving forward. We built something here now. We have something moving forward. We’re pushing that rock up the hill,” Rice said. “I can see the top a little bit. It’s still a ways away, but at least the boulder is moving and it’s not as heavy now and we got more hands on the boulder so to speak and now we just can’t blink and lose focus.”
Especially on Saturday when Rutgers (11-3, 2-1 Big East) is facing No. 21 Cincinnati (13-3, 1-2 Big East) at the RAC on Saturday night.
The Bearcats are a physical team that are going to be desperate after two straight losses. There’s also a good chance they’ll be a bit ornery having let those losses stew after not having played a game since Monday.
As for Rutgers, they can continue to make some history. Since joining the conference in 1995, no Rutgers team has ever gone 3-1 to start Big East play.
Which is why – even with games like beating top 10 teams in Florida and UConn last season – this is the biggest game anyone on the roster has ever played in. And one that would undoubtably have the most significance if they can come out with a win.
“It would mean the world to us,” Poole said. “Wednesday meant the world to us to, going 2-1 and realizing that we’re the third team to ever do that in Rutgers history and improving from there. Guys are hungry. And that’s our goal for the next game. To be 3-1.”
Rice on the other hand is trying to down play the magnitude of just the fourth conference game of the season, saying every game is an important game, and in year three at the helm, he has to show progress.
However, he is well aware what a win would mean for the downtrodden program he’s trying to turn around.
“To do something that’s never been done is nice to do at a program,” Rice said. “If it’s 3-1 or whatever it is, yeah we’re going to try really hard to prepare our guys to be successful.”