Message more important than Tourney itself
Less than 36 hours have passed since Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer sent a small shockwave through the postgame press conference with her comments about the Scarlet Knights' postseason fate.
With two regular season games remaining and RU sitting as far on the bubble as a team can be, two options lay ahead — the Knights could receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament as a low seed, most likely a No. 12, or they could receive an invitation to the Women's National Invitation Tournament.
Stringer narrowed that list of options down to one Wednesday night.
"I don't know anything about the NIT and I can guarantee you, I won't be coaching a team that goes to the NIT," Stringer said. "If we don't go to the NCAA, we aren't going. I am not going to the NIT. That is second in my opinion and I never will accept it, never have accepted it. Don't even ask me that question, ever. When it's done, it's over. That's how I feel about it."
The inevitable question was answered, and honestly it was never really a possibility that it would, or could, be answered any other way. Stringer doesn't beat around the bush — she expects the best and is always honest when her expectations are not met.
Sophomore guard Khadijah Rushdan later echoed Stringer's sentiments.
"Any team would be extremely frustrated," Rushdan said. "To hear our coach talk like that, it hurts and I don't blame her. She brings us up as not being second-class citizens and to go to the NIT would be just that. It hurts, but I can't be mad at her for being upset."
The reaction to the comments on the subject across the Internet has been overwhelmingly negative. People are outraged at Stringer's response. Why?
While it may be disappointing to not go to the postseason, there's no reason to sugarcoat the issue — the NIT is a consolation tournament. It's second place, exactly what Stringer described it as.
Sometimes, there's no problem with that. A trip to the tournament provides an extension to the season and the few extra games can provide extra experience for the younger players.
But for a team that is a perennial fixture in the NCAA Tournament, it is nothing more than second place. And when it comes down to it that's the message that Stringer is trying to send.
It isn't that her team is "too good" for the NIT — a quick look at RU's 15-13 record and losses to teams like George Washington throws that notion out the window. In truth, the NIT is exactly where the Knights should be.
"We have two games left," Stringer said. "I am not even thinking about [the NCAA Tournament]. I think that is a long shot at best. I think they would throw us a mercy towel if they did."
The message Stringer is trying to send is that her team should aim to be better than second place. To never settle. Taking anything else out of that message is missing the point.
Sophomore guard Nikki Speed spoke about the development of the team's two freshmen Monique Oliver and Erica Wheeler in an early January interview. Speed said one of the biggest adjustments she made in her freshman year, aside from the college game itself, was understanding Stringer and her system.
The most valuable lesson Speed learned from her veteran teammates, she said, was that it was important to understand what her coach was trying to say to her, not necessarily how she was saying it.
Thinking about that as the Knights hit the road to face Providence tomorrow, no message rings more true.
Steven Williamson is a senior writer for The Daily Targum. He welcomes comments and criticism at firstname.lastname@example.org.