At first, it looked like Rutgers could coast to a strong finish in the inaugural Big Ten season. After the loss to top-ranked Maryland on February 10, the Knights' remaining schedule looked weak at first, and with good reason considering the blowout wins against Purdue and Illinois. RU looked like a lock for the three seed. Fast forward to the Michigan State game, in which Rutgers encountered a determined Sparty team that plays tough at home, and now, with a streaking Northwestern team on deck, the Knights have gone from confident to suspect. Can they rebound on the road at Welsh-Ryan Arena?
How to watch, stream, and listen
#20 Rutgers Scarlet Knights (20-7, 11-5) @ #25 Northwestern Wildcats (21-6, 11-5)
Thursday, February 26 - 8:00 PM
Online: BTN Plus
Radio: 88.7 WRSU Rutgers Radio
It's unfortunate that BTN isn't able to show this game on the television broadcast, but I'm sure at the time of scheduling the executives didn't think this would be a ranked matchup. Northwestern is currently on a seven-game win streak, and they are 10-2 at home this season. Except for a blowout win against Minnesota to start the streak on February 1, the Wildcats have won close, with two overtime wins and only a six-point spread in regulation victories.
NU is led by Nia Coffey, who averages almost 16 points and 9 rebounds per game. The Wildcats are in the top five of the major conference statistical categories, including scoring offense and defense, and are second in the B1G in scoring margin and field goal percentage defense. Where they can really hurt RU is turnovers. Northwestern leads the B1G in turnover margin and averages the most steals per game (11.0).
Three teams are tied for third in the B1G at the moment: Ohio State, Northwestern, and Rutgers. The Buckeyes are sitting pretty with head-to-head tiebreakers over both the Wildcats and Scarlet Knights. Furthermore, OSU has two games left against Penn State and Nebraska. They look good for the third seed. The fourth seed and last double bye essentially comes down to NU-RU. While the Wildcats have a very tough last game against Maryland, a win against Rutgers would give them at least a 12-6 conference record and a tiebreaker over the Knights. In other words, this is a must-win game for Stringer.