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How Rutgers Can Win the Big Ten Tournament

It’s March, and sometimes magical things happen in March.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers is not winning the Big Ten Tournament. The odds are astronomical, despite the improvement Steve Pikiell and staff have gotten out of this team.

But, let’s dream for a moment. Let’s close our eyes and realize that at some point we are due a miracle of huge proportions. And let’s pretend it’s going to happen in mid-March. In fact, in Ben Howland’s second year at Pittsburgh, with a certain Brandin Knight manning the point guard spot, the Panthers went from bad to nearly running the table in the Big East Tournament.

So, let’s say the basketball gods are going to smile on the Scarlet Knights.

Here’s how they can do it:

Get two players hot from three: Maybe it’s Nigel Johnson and Mike Williams. Maybe Issa Thiam shakes off the rust. Maybe in game 1 it’s Nigel and Mike and game 2 Mike and Issa and so on. But, as Rutgers fans know, it’s hard to win college basketball games without making three pointers. The team has shot it well in some games this season. But the Scarlet Knights would need to be hot for five consecutive games.

Be Not Embarrassing from the Free Throw Line: No one is expecting Rutgers to go from a 61% season (56% in the Big Ten) to 95% shooters. But you have to be respectable from the line and make them in the clutch. If Rutgers can get hot from three, can they also get hot from the line. If Rutgers can shoot 70% for the tournament, that’s good enough to win games. Don’t miss the front end of one and ones. Just be respectable.

Play Zone: All right, here’s the quote about that Howland run that always stuck out to me. He lamented that his undermanned team that played man-to-man nightly got worn down in the tournament. And, had they switched to some zone here and there, he could have saved their legs and not fallen to Boston College by 12 back in 2001. Pikiell and company have played some zone here and there, despite relying on an impressive base defense of man. The Scarlet Knights will have to rely on zone here and there if Pikiell wants Corey Sanders, Nigel Johnson and Mike Williams to remain fresh.

Find Some Luck: Rutgers needs some luck here. Whether it’s teams having off nights or the referees finding a scarlet shaded whistle, it doesn’t matter. No one can win five games in five days without a friendly whistle. Maybe a ball goes off a foot at the last second. At some point during a miraculous run, the basketball gods will smile at Rutgers and finally making up for the fact that there’s still 1.6 second left on the clock against St. John’s.

It’s not going to happen. The odds are probably better that you win the Powerball. But this is why we root for the team. This is what fans hope for.

Maybe, 26 years later, Rutgers is ready to shock the world again.

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