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Three Takeaways on Rutgers Men’s Basketball’s 2018-2019 Big Ten Schedule

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NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Indiana vs Rutgers Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

College football is kicking off in less than two weeks, but Tuesday brought Rutgers fans that much closer to tipping off college basketball for another year, as the Big Ten released the full conference schedule for the 2018-2019 season. While the pairings were previously known, the dates of the now twenty game conference schedule had not yet been released. With Rutgers releasing their non-conference slate earlier this month, which I broke down here, the full schedule for next season is now confirmed. Here is the complete Big Ten schedule, starting with changes to the format, followed by three takeaways.

Rutgers Big Ten Schedule

Friday, November 30th Michigan State

Monday, December 3rd at Wisconsin

Saturday, January 5th Maryland

Wednesday, January 9th Ohio State

Saturday, January 12th at Minnesota

Tuesday, January 15th at Purdue

Friday, January 18th Northwestern

Monday, January 21st Nebraska

Saturday, January 26th at Penn State

Wednesday, January 30th Indiana

Saturday, February 2nd at Ohio State

Tuesday, February 5th Michigan

Saturday, February 9th at Illinois

Wednesday, February 13th at Northwestern

Saturday, February 16th Iowa

Wednesday, February 20th at Michigan State

Sunday, February 24th Minnesota

Saturday, March 2nd at Iowa

Wednesday, March 6th Penn State

Sunday, March 10th at Indiana

Another Brutal Slate To Start B1G Play

With only one senior on the roster and just five players entering this season with Big Ten experience, this young team will need to grow up fast. The two early conference contests are at the RAC against Michigan State on November 30th and at Wisconsin on December 3rd. The MSU game comes just two days after Rutgers heads to Miami for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, so that will be one tough six day span. It will be a major challenge for a new team that will have played less than ten games with each other up to that point. This will also be the second consecutive season Rutgers will host the Spartans at the RAC right after Thanksgiving.

The first Big Ten game after New Year’s is against Maryland, who have a strong backcourt and could finish in the top three of the league this season. Ohio State comes to the RAC four days later. It’s possible Rutgers could be looking at a 0-4 start to the conference slate. And then two road games at Minnesota and Purdue follow. Once again, the Big Ten slate starts with a bang.

The glass half full approach is that by playing two difficult conference games so early on against Michigan State and Wisconsin, it helps prepare them for both the rest of the non-conference schedule and Big Ten play, when it resumes in January. Michigan State is the perennial conference favorite and Wisconsin should be a top half team that always has one of, if not the best, homecourt advantage in the Big Ten. I did think last season the two early Big Ten games (at Minnesota, vs. Michigan State) really helped Rutgers prepare for the Seton Hall game and it ultimately paid off with an upset victory. In Pikiell’s first season, Seton Hall was just the second quality opponent they faced before Christmas, other than Miami. Rutgers faltered down the stretch in their first hostile road game that year against the Pirates after holding a lead at halftime.

With the Hall matchup being at the Prudential Center again this season on December 15th, Rutgers will already have had home games against the Spartans and St. John’s, as well as road contests against Miami and Wisconsin. They will be much more battle ready heading to Newark and even once Big Ten play starts back in January as well. December growing pains against a tough schedule overall could lead to progress after Groundhog’s Day.

Another positive is more practice time. Last season, due to the Big Ten Tournament being played earlier than normal with it being held at Madison Square Garden, Rutgers played 15 games before New Year’s Day (13 non-conference, 2 Big Ten). This season, Rutgers will only play 12 games before the ball drops to ring in 2019. In addition, the regular season is almost two weeks longer this year, so 18 Big Ten games in 2019 are spaced farther apart than the 16 there were last year. For a young team, that adds valuable practice time to the calendar for Steve Pikiell and the coaching staff. Hopefully, that brings more wins down the stretch at the end of the season. More on that thought in a moment.

Home & Home Opponents Should Bring Optimism

With two additional conference games this season, each Big Ten team plays seven opponents twice. For Rutgers, those teams are Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, and Penn State.

Last season, Rutgers also played Michigan State and Ohio State twice, losing all four games but faring far better against the Spartans than they did against the Buckeyes. The Scarlet Knights throttled Iowa and upset Northwestern in overtime, both at the RAC last season. In addition, after losing to Indiana and Minnesota by double digits during the regular season, Rutgers beat both programs in the Big Ten Tournament at Madison Square Garden. The trip to Happy Valley was anything but last year, as Rutgers scored just 43 points in a 17 point defeat.

As for the outlook of each of these seven teams this season, Michigan State will likely battle rival Michigan for Big Ten supremacy. Indiana should be improved and along with Ohio State, Iowa and Penn State, likely are all teams that will be projected to finish anywhere from 6th to 10th place this season. Minnesota and Northwestern are in rebuilding mode, like Rutgers. Not having to play Michigan, Purdue, Nebraska and Maryland twice is huge, as those four teams will likely be predicted to round out the top five in Big Ten play this season along with Sparty.

Playing Northwestern, Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio State, and Penn State at the RAC give Rutgers a legitimate chance in all of those games. Of course, Steve Pikiell needs to start producing conference road wins for this program to eventually take a big step forward and this may be one year too early to expect much progress in that regard. However, while those six opponents will be challenging to beat away from the RAC, they aren’t invincible either. If Rutgers is going to improve its Big Ten win total this season and set a new program record with more than three regular season victories since joining the conference, the majority of them will come from the pool of twelve games against those six teams.

February & March Chance To Show Progress

The last eight games of the Big Ten schedule gives Rutgers a chance to end the regular season with some positive momentum. Games at the RAC against Iowa, Minnesota, and Penn State, as well as road contests at Illinois, Northwestern and Iowa is an opportunity for a young Rutgers team to show growth down the stretch. Of course, Pikiell’s teams have saved their best performances for the Big Ten Tournament in March. However, if Rutgers wants to avoid a fifth consecutive last place finish and make another run in the conference postseason, putting together some wins in February and early March would help generate some confidence and improve their seeding as well.

For my detailed review of the non-conference schedule, click here.