Perhaps it just needs to be spelled out. To all Rutgers fans watching the struggling Scarlet Knights and wondering "Why is this team playing so badly?" take a look at the guy wearing uniform #1. That's Corey Chandler, the freshman from Newark East Side. Remember him? He's the guy that put 25 points on the board against Nebraska, who single-handedly got RU back into that game. The last time we saw him at full-strength (or the closest we could determine that he was at full-strength), he went for 23 against North Carolina, while also leading the team in rebounds with 8.
He was hurting in that game, probably before it, and by the time that game was over, it was done. He was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his foot after that game, and now, Rutgers men's basketball this year is basically done, too. He sat out the next three games after that, and has tried to play in the last two. The last we saw him, he was out there for 12 pitiful minutes against Providence, trying his best but nowhere near what he was before. Now Rutgers fans can only hope that at some point, whenever that may be, he can return fully healed.
Granted, the Knights had their ups and downs before his injury. There was a loss against St Peter's and a tougher than expected win against NJIT (which still hasn't won a game this year), and Chandler certainly was displaying some typical freshman growing pains, leading the team in turnovers and probably trying to do too much. But Rutgers entering this year was a team in desperate need of someone that could lift them and try to carry them, someone that could take over. As this brief season began to unfold, it became obvious that if anybody was to be that guy for RU this year, it would be him.
Now he has a stress fracture in his foot. Now his foot is a metaphor for how all fans of Rutgers men's basketball feel. His foot has a stress fracture and is in pain, and so do the collective psyche's of all of us. We are all Corey Chandler's foot.
Now it has indeed become excruciatingly painful. Rutgers has won just one game since then. They have managed to score more than sixty points just once. In their three Big East games, they are averaging 47 points. They scored just two field goals (out of twenty attempts) in the entire second half against Providence, a game it is worth remembering that they only trailed by a single point at halftime.
If you're looking for another reason for the results of late, take a look at the big fellow wearing #5. That's of course Hamady Ndiaye. He's made a ton of progress this year, and he's probably second on the team this year to Anthony Farmer as RU's most improved player. But he's still someone that's only been playing basketball for four years, and for each step he's taken forward, it's only natural that he'll occasionally take a step backwards. Thus he'll have games like he had against South Florida, where he was limited to 13 minutes because of foul trouble, or his brutally tough night at Providence, where everything just went quite foul for him, period (and to add insult to injury - or should it be the other way around? - at the end of a night where whatever could go wrong for him did, he gets roughed up and hurt on a cheap foul by Geoff McDermott).
So even though there's more, you have most of what you need to know right there. Corey Chandler and Hamady Ndiaye are RU's future, and when Chandler is hurt and hobbled and basically just a shell of himself, and when Hamdy is showing that for whatever progress he's made, he still has that much more to go - and when you're on the road in the Big East - don't be surprised when you get what you got against USF and Providence.
RU trailed USF at the half by just four points and lost by twenty-three; they trailed Providence by only one, and lost by twenty-six. Seems like on the road they can play fairly well, at least for a half, and then after intermission, things come totally apart. If Chandler remains hobbled for the rest of this year, don't be surprised if that trend continues. As for what one might expect at home, the Georgetown game might also serve as an indicator: play well against a team that clearly has more firepower, but don't shoot well enough to win it.
The rest of this season is not likely to be a pretty one for Rutgers. Corey Chandler's injury was the worst thing that could happen to this team, a cruel fate for head coach Fred Hill to endure as he attempts to resurrect the program. Now many of the faithful are blaming him, invoking the name Littlepaige, and some are actually demanding a change. It's way too early for that and totally unfair to compare him to the coach who presided over the darkest three years in the programs recent history.
Craig Littlepaige never brought a Corey Chandler to the Banks. He never successfully
recruited players the caliber of Mike Rosario, Pat Jackson, and Christian Morris,
either. Rutgers basketball is a program that is all about the future. Unfortunately,
when Hamady Ndiaye still suffers growing pains and when Corey Chandler is in
pain, period, it seems impossible to be about that anymore. These days, Rutgers
basketball is struggling to even be in the present, as what we're seeing now
can only invoke memories of the past.