The 2017-2018 men’s basketball schedule was released on Wednesday and Rutgers will play twenty-two home games at the RAC. This includes all thirteen non-conference games, as well as nine Big Ten contests. Here is a full analysis of the Rutgers schedule, followed by a game by game listing.
Potential To Start Strong
The first six games of the season are against Division III CCNY and five DI teams that had an average KenPom ranking of 280 last season. It is by far the softest part of the schedule and Rutgers must take advantage. Hopefully, the newcomers can get their feet wet and the team can build some chemistry ahead of what will be a challenging three game stretch versus Florida State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Starting 6-0, like they did last year, should absolutely be the goal.
Big Ten December Games
With the conference tournament taking place at Madison Square Garden this season, the event was moved up one week, in order to avoid a scheduling conflict with the Big East. That means every conference member will play two Big Ten games between December 1st and 5th. Rutgers was given a tough two game slate, as they play at Minnesota before returning home to play Michigan State two days later. Both teams will be picked to finish in the top four of the conference, with the Spartans a popular choice to win the league.
Non-Conference Schedule Must Produce Double Digit Wins
There is no reason why Rutgers shouldn’t reach at least ten wins in the non-conference portion of the schedule. It’s a very similar slate from Pikiell’s debut season, but this time Rutgers never leaves the RAC before New Year’s Day, with the one exception being the Big Ten contest at Minnesota in early December. I’m disappointed that there wasn’t one road game scheduled in non-conference play. Newcomers like Geo Baker, Souf Mensah, and Myles Johnson will be thrown into the deep end of the pool in conference play on the road, which could be a detriment once Rutgers is traveling for Big Ten games.
In terms of the two most challenging games in the non-con slate, they come against teams that played in the NCAA Tournament last season. However, Florida State is a winnable game, as they are replacing four starters this season. Seton Hall has a chance to be ranked very high for their mid-December visit to the RAC.
Overall, the non-con schedule is extremely favorable, which actually puts pressure on the Scarlet Knights to at least match last season’s 11-2 start. Anything less would mean that they failed to avoid a bad loss in non-conference play.
Rutgers will ring in the 2018 New Year with a brutal stretch that includes road games at the two favorites to win the Big Ten, Purdue and Michigan State, with Wisconsin visiting the RAC in between. All three contests take place within one week. With Rutgers starting conference play in December on the road against Minnesota and hosting Michigan State, that has to be the most difficult five game start of any Big Ten team this season.
Best Chance For Conference Winning Streak
Rutgers will have a great chance to finish strong, much like they did last year in wins over Illinois in the regular season finale, followed by beating Ohio State in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament. This season, Rutgers plays their last two games against those very same teams, first on the road against the Buckeyes, followed by Illinois at the RAC for senior night for a second consecutive year. Rutgers could potentially head into the Big Ten Tournament at the Garden on a winning streak and have a chance to make some noise in New York City.
The bottom line is that with one of the easiest non-conference schedules in the country and having six games against projected back end Big Ten teams Ohio State, Illinois, and Nebraska, all of whom Rutgers beat last season, this program has a legitimate chance to surpass their win total of 15 from a year ago. While Ryan Dunleavy of NJ Advance Media made a valid point that the soft non-conference schedule would hurt the team’s chances of making the NIT, I’m more worried about forward progress this season. In my opinion, certain steps need to be made first before worrying about a postseason berth.
While I disagree with not having a couple more challenging non-conference games mixed in, I do understand the reason why Steve Pikiell scheduled the way he did. With a strong veteran core of Deshawn Freeman, Corey Sanders and Mike Williams leading this team, Rutgers has a real opportunity to produce the program’s first winning season since 2006 in only year two of Pikiell in charge. Rutgers also has a good chance of finishing better than last place for the first time since they joined the Big Ten in the 2014-2015 season. It won’t be easy for a program that hasn’t won more than three regular season games in conference play yet, but I believe they can do it.
If they can accomplish both of those achievements, two key steps in the rebuilding of this program will be accomplished and Pikiell will have even more positive selling points to use on the recruiting trail. After reeling in some exciting and highly rated 2018 recruits, better days are most certainly ahead for Rutgers basketball. Hopefully, we will have more than our fair share of them in the 2017-2018 season. Here is a full listing of the regular season schedule:
November 10th - CCNY DIII
November 12th - Central Connecticut State
November 14th - Cleveland State
November 19th - Coppin State
November 21st - Bryant
November 24th - East Carolina
November 28th - Florida State
December 3rd - At Minnesota
December 5th - Michigan State
December 7th - NJIT
December 9th - FDU
December 12th - Fordham
December 16th - Seton Hall
December 22nd - Stony Brook
December 28th - Hartford
January 3rd - At Purdue
January 5th - Wisconsin
January 10th - At Michigan State
January 14th - Ohio State
January 17th - Iowa
January 21st - At Michigan
January 24th - Nebraska
January 27th - At Penn State
January 30th - At Illinois
February 3rd - Purdue
February 5th - Indiana
February 10th - At Nebraska
February 13th- Northwestern
February 17th - At Maryland
February 20th - At Ohio State
February 25th - Illinois
Big Ten Tournament takes place February 28th - March 4th at Madison Square Garden.
For a full look at the entire conference regular season schedule for the Big Ten, click here. The conference will feature four major media partners: BTN, CBS Sports, ESPN and FOX Sports.