Sunday, January 27, 2008

Rutgers Now Known As "Keystone Knights"

A perennial doormat in the Big East, the Rutgers men’s basketball team raised eyebrows with an almost unprecedented week. For the second time in the program’s history, the Scarlet Knights notched consecutive victories over ranked opponents. RU followed up Wednesday’s upset over #18 Villanova with a road stunner over 17th-ranked Pittsburgh on Saturday. Clearly the state of Pennsylvania is being good to Rutgers these days, so coach Fred Hill wanted his players to have a constant reminder of the Keystone State. Therefore, the team will be known as the Keystone Knights for the remainder of the season.

Along with an earlier victory over Lafayette, the Keystone Knights are now 3-0 versus Pennsylvania teams this season. Excluding those triumphs, Rutgers is just 7-11 overall and 0-6 in the Big East. Certainly the Sunshine Knights would not have worked, as RU fell to Florida and South Florida by a combined 48 points. The Keystone Cops might have been appropriate, except the actual Keystone Cops committed fewer turnovers. These Rutgers hoopsters had generated so little interest, Don Imus didn’t even bother making racially insensitive remarks about them.

Therefore, no one could have expected the developments of the past week. The 80-68 home win over Villanova was certainly a surprise. Far more shocking was the 77-64 triumph in Pittsburgh. The Knights’ only previous road victory of the season came over the winless New Jersey Institute of Technology. Perhaps this week, they were inspired by another local team – the Giants, who have won ten straight games away from home. It’s a good thing Rutgers wasn’t watching the Nets, who just completed an 0-6 road trip with a loss in Minnesota. Right now, NJIT is begging for a shot at the Nets.

Clearly the Knights were the more focused team against the Panthers during Saturday’s telecast on ESPN Classic. It’s highly possible that seeing the phrases “Rutgers Basketball” and “ESPN Classic” together left Pitt in a state of confusion. Reporters on hand were also perplexed, leading them to frequently use the schools’ initials of “RU” in the post-game press conference. The first question posed to Coach Hill was, “Two wins in a row against ranked teams - RU f***ing kidding me?” Another reporter followed up, “Seriously, RU f***ing kidding me?” This went on for another five minutes.

The pleasant surprise of those two victories was followed by a disappointing realization. Rutgers has no more games on the schedule versus Pennsylvania opponents. The Knights only play Villanova and Pittsburgh once apiece, since the Big East currently includes 52 teams. Hill considered adding a matchup with the 76ers, but he didn’t want to weaken the schedule.

Knowing that he needed to keep the Keystone State fresh in his team’s mind, Hill came up with the idea for the “Keystone Knights” nickname. The choice was not quite a slam dunk, since Rutgers is also undefeated over opponents from North Dakota and New Hampshire. However, ultimately the “Keystone Knights” won out over the “Live Free and Die Scarlets.”

The nickname change is only temporary and does not extend to the other sports teams at Rutgers. The men’s basketball adjustment will also include a tweaking of the mascot. Instead of evoking images of jousting and chivalry, the Keystone Knight mascot will be a student dressed up as Bobby Knight, angrily hurling cans of Keystone Beer at spectators.

It remains to be seen whether the name change can help Rutgers against its remaining opponents. But even in Louisville or West Virginia, the Keystone Knights will always have Pennsylvania.