Fans are still rooting for Drake, and Rutter:
On Saturday, many of the fans inside the Knapp Center were rooting for two things.
They wanted the Drake men’s basketball team to win, obviously, and they also wanted success for interim coach Jeff Rutter.
Neither happened. Missouri State won 76-73.
“We know it’s a production-driven world,” Rutter said after the Bulldogs’ seven straight loss. “And we haven’t come out on top in these games, but we’re playing pretty good basketball.”
Each defeat brings a here-we-go-again shrug from the Drake faithful, and turns what once was a wonderful feel-good story into a dicey decision for athletic director Sandy Hatfield Clubb.
Rutter was a popular choice when the Bulldogs were winning five in a row at home. Now, they’re freefalling, destined for a Thursday play-in game at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
For Drake, it’s a disappointing finish. To those who care for and support Rutter, it sucks.
He’s earned a lot of good will during his stints as an assistant coach at Northern Iowa and Iowa State.
And when the Bulldogs began a midseason revival, it seemed like Rutter was finally being rewarded.
Perhaps the most dishearten part is, the guy is a pretty good coach.
That’s subjective, of course, but Rutter’s schematic abilities and preparation were on display against Missouri State.
You could see it on a series of in-bound plays that kept Drake in contention.
On one, De’Antae McMurray curled around a screen by T. J. Thomas, giving the Bulldogs a 49-46 lead.
A little later, Thomas cut to the basket, received a pass from Reed Timmer and dunked it for 57-55 advantage.
Drake went up 70-68 when Graham Woodward took a pass in the lane for a layup.
Those are just a few selective moments, but they show a knack for putting players in optimal situations.
Rutter can be creative on a dry-erase board, but the Bulldogs are often overwhelmed on the court. None of their four post players could neutralize Missouri State’s Alize Johnson, who scored 23 points and grabbed 21 rebounds.
Every opponent presents some sort of mismatch, and Drake is no longer shooting itself out of trouble.
So, the Bulldogs are at a crossroads.
Whoever coaches the team next season will inherit 10 returners. Rutter was part of the staff that brought them to Des Moines, but does the program need someone new?
Would an outsider bring a different outlook – and recruiting focus?
If Rutter isn’t the answer, then Drake is about to undergo another overhaul. If you go back to the mid-1980s, only one of the previous six rebuilding bids worked out (with Tom Davis being the lone exception).
Rutter’s brief tenure has given fans reason for optimism, but you can also understand why they’re pleading for better results.
The Bulldogs will be underdogs Wednesday at Loyola, then they’ll close out the regular season next Saturday against Bradley.
An extended stay at the Valley tournament appears unlikely, but Rutter doesn’t sound like a defeated man.
“We’re a dangerous team,” he said. “Got to make your shots, just keep getting stops and find a way on the boards.”
There are plenty of people hoping Drake can recapture the good vibes it experienced in January and make Rutter a frontrunner to take the job permanently.
If not, the offseason could be unsettling.