PISCATAWAY – Mike Rice won’t play it up with his players as motivation. The head coach won’t even bring it up. But he’s well aware that his players already know.
They can be the needle that pops Seton Hall’s NCAA Tournament bubble.
With two games remaining, Seton Hall would secure a Tournament bid by beating Rutgers and lowly DePaul. But a loss to Rutgers would put the Pirates' Big Dance hopes in jeopardy.
“They all watch TV. They’re all college basketball fans so they know exactly where they sit so maybe they have motivation for that,” Rice said. “But have I said it to motivate them like that? Honestly no. It hasn’t even crossed my lips to their ears.”
Even though Rice hasn’t brought it up, the players are well aware. However, whether it is motivation depends on who you ask.
Eli Carter insisted he’s not worried about that. He’s just worried about getting the win and ending Rutgers' six game losing streak.
Mike Poole was split.
“Of course,” Poole said when asked if Rutgers is embracing the role of spoiler. “A win’s a win. Call it what you want to call it, but a win’s a win at the end of the day.”
Jerome Seagers was firm in wanting to soil the Pirates Tournament aspirations.
“Definitely,” Seagears said. “Who wouldn’t want to be the spoiler?”
Especially when Seton Hall is in the position Rutgers planned on being in itself this year.
The second year head coach had done more with less than anyone ever expected the previous season, and now he was boasting the highest touted recruiting class in school history.
Seton Hall, on the other hand, came out of nowhere. Picked to finish 13th in the Big East preseason poll, no one expected the Pirates to even be relevant this late in the year, let alone have a chance to be a part of March Madness.
“We came in with a lot of hype this season. They came in with not too much hype and they just played better than us in games. They pulled out close games. We lost close games. One-possession games they did better in. In one-possession games we could have done better,” Poole said. “Congrats go out to them and everything they did and their success, but we’re still trying to win this game on Saturday.”
And the fact their in-state rival is where they expected to be will get Rutgers' juices flowing a bit more.
“It definitely does amp it up because we definitely aren’t living up to our expectations right now. It’s going to take time,” Seagears said. “But with them doing what we’re supposed to be doing, that makes the game more intense.”
Not that this rivalry needs more intensity than it already has. The Scarlet Knights will already be coming out with the desperation of a team that hasn’t won in nearly a month.
“At this point in our season — lost 6 in a row — we could play the worst team in the country right now. We’re not even thinking about where they are right now,” Poole said. “We just got to find out as a team where we stand and what we need to do in the Big East to compete and win a game.”