Whether it was the losing skid that followed back-to-back upsets over Connecticut and Pittsburgh last year or four straight losses after upsetting Villanova in year one, Rutgers has yet to make a true push toward a meaningful March.
Beating St. John's last night and upsetting No. 24 Pittsburgh over the weekend, Rice adopted the motto "why not us?" Presenting more talent than Rice's first year and more poise and maturity than year two, why not now?
"I definitely feel the same way," said senior forward Austin Johnson, who averages 10 points per game when he comes off the bench. "Sometimes last year, we would go into games uncertain of ourselves. Now, we're always ready. We're 100 percent certain that we're going to win each and every game that we go into. That's a great feeling to have. It's not one that we've ever had here."
Johnson, a senior, has seen a lot of losses during his time at Rutgers, but sees a changed team this year.
The two-point victory over St. John's at Madison Square Garden last night was the type of game that typically ends in a loss for Rutgers. When it got to crunch time, however, it was the Red Storm that could not make free throws, took ill-advised shots and blew the game.
"If you get behind [in the Big East], it's hard to dig your way out of the grave," Johnson said. "When you get on that [winning] side of the standings, you're going to do everything in your power to remain there. It's great to have a winning record as of now, but we have a lot of games left."
Rutgers won the composure battle and that maturity is what makes the Scarlet Knights feel ready to make a run.
"We've been here before and we've got our doors blown off for the last month and a half," Rice said. "So let's take this game and try to improve and have the right mentality."
The greatest test for Rutgers comes Saturday night against No. 20 Cincinnati. The Scarlet Knights have yet to string together win after win in the Big East, but a win over the Bearcats can put the Scarlet Knights even farther into uncharted territory and in the "receiving votes" category of top 25 polls. For a program unranked since joining the Big East, Cincinnati is as big as it gets.
"Every game is a big game for Rutgers right now," Rice said. "Year three for me as a basketball coach, you have to start to show progress."