The Rutgers men’s basketball non-conference schedule was released on Wednesday. Highlights include the ACC/Big Ten Challenge having Rutgers travel south to play at Miami for the second time in three years. The Gavitt Games brings St. John’s to the RAC in what will be a major challenge and welcome a likely raucous environment in just the third game of the season. The annual Garden State Hardwood Classic shifts to the Rock in Newark. Here is the full non-conference schedule, including KenPom rankings for every opponent from last season:
note: Rutgers KenPom ranking last season 130th
Friday, November 9th: FDU (274th)
Sunday, November 11th: Drexel (251st)
Friday, November 16th: St. John’s (74th)
Monday, November 19th: Eastern Michigan (143rd)
Friday, November 23rd: Boston University (258th)
Wednesday, November 28th: at Miami (37th)
Saturday, December 8th: at Fordham (292nd)
Saturday, December 15th: at Seton Hall (26th)
Saturday, December 22nd: Columbia (231st)
Saturday, December 29th: Maine (332nd)
Average KenPom ranking per opponent based on last season: 192nd
While it’s certainly not the most competitive non-conference slate, it’s an improvement in year’s past under head coach Steve Pikiell. With the Big Ten increasing their conference schedule from 18 to 20 games, in addition to Rutgers fielding a very inexperienced roster with just one senior in Shaq Doorson, this schedule makes a lot of sense. Here is a statement from Coach Pikiell on the non-conference schedule:
“Adding two conference games, while also competing in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and Gavitt Tip-Off, has strengthened the schedule for all Big Ten programs,” said Pikiell. “Factoring in our annual meeting with Seton Hall, we have a challenge ahead of us in both non-conference and conference play. It’s a challenge we look forward to and one that’s exciting for our fans. The RAC was rocking last year, and as we build the program, that’s only going to grow. There are a lot of very talented teams coming to Piscataway. We are grateful for the support of Rutgers Nation and need them in the house in even greater force this year!”
Here are my three takeaways on the non-conference slate for the 2018-2019 season:
Regional Schedule A Positive
Nine of the ten opponents are from the east coast, with the exception of Eastern Michigan, who is a solid non-conference opponent out of the MAC. It would have been more had UMASS stayed on the schedule for this season, but per Jerry Carino, the series is postponed due to a scheduling conflict on the Atlantic 10 school’s end. While Rutgers fans will have to wait at least another year before playing Princeton again, regional games have replaced teams like Central Arkansas and North Texas. That’s a positive. Adding Columbia to Fordham and St. John’s gives the schedule a welcomed New York City flavor. I also like the addition of BU, who are a traditionally competitive program out of the Patriot League. Plus, Rutgers fans can easily attend two of three road games in non-conference play at Fordham and against blood rival Seton Hall. Overall, playing a predominantly east coast schedule appeals to fans and will make the RAC a much more lively place in November and December than playing random low majors like in years past.
Schedule More Competitive
I touched on this above. Gone are perennial losers in Central Connecticut State and Hartford. Yes, Maine was terrible last season, but adding Eastern Michigan gives Rutgers four top 150 opponents, based on KenPom rankings. Last season’s non-conference schedule included Division III City College of New York and ten opponents that were ranked worse than 200 in the KenPom rankings, including five worse than 300. Rutgers also plays three top 75 opponents with being included in the Gavitt Games against the Big East this season. For a team that includes college neophytes Montez Mathis, Caleb McConnell, Ron Harper Jr., JUCO transfer Shaq Carter, and redshirt freshman Myles Johnson, all of who could log significant minutes, this schedule make sense and is hard enough ahead of Big Ten play.
Rutgers Needs Big Ten Wins To Come Close To 15 Overall
With three less non-conference games, as well as facing an increase in competition, Rutgers will have to improve upon their Big Ten best record in four years with three wins from the last two seasons if they have any hope of equaling 15 victories, a mark they’ve achieved in each of Pikiell’s first two campaigns. I think Rutgers has a chance to blossom with all it’s new talent over the course of the season and ultimately be better at the end, but there will be growing pains. However, Rutgers can’t afford any slip ups like last season against Hartford and Stony Brook. They need to win the games they should and hopefully win at least one against the trio of St. John’s, Miami, and Seton Hall. Once Big Ten play begins, Rutgers will need to be ready and protect its homecourt better than they ever have before since joining the conference four seasons ago.
For the first time in conference history, the men’s side will play 20 league games in the 2018-2019 campaign. Here are the opponent pairings for Rutgers:
Home: Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska
Away: Illinois, Purdue, Wisconsin
Home/Away: Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State
The complete conference schedule with dates and times will be released later this month. For my five takeaways on the Big Ten schedule for next season, click here.