The matchup’s for next season’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge were announced on Thursday morning and Rutgers men’s basketball will face a former conference foe from the past. The Scarlet Knights will travel to face Pittsburgh on Tuesday, December 3rd. Rutgers leads the all-time series against Pitt, 25-23, including a 67-62 win at the RAC in the last meeting between the two schools on January 5th, 2013. They played annually for two decades when both programs were members of the Big East and the series began back in 1915.
I like this matchup for several reasons. First, I think it’s a positive to play teams that Rutgers has traditionally in the past, especially regionally. On the court, this is an intriguing and winnable road game against a high major in non-conference play. Pitt finished tied for last place in the ACC last year with a 3-15 record in conference play and 14-19 record overall. Their KenPom ranking was 101, 23 spots worse than Rutgers. However, they did show improvement in head coach Jeff Capel’s first year and like Rutgers, return a solid, young nucleus that should be improved next season.
It will also be a sentimental game for Rutgers assistant coach Brandin Knight, who starred there as a player in the early 2000’s and was an assistant coach there for 8 seasons under former head coach Jamie Dixon.
As for how the non-conference schedule is shaking out for Rutgers for next season, here is what we know. The following games are either confirmed by the Big Ten, Rutgers or have been reported as set to take place:
St. Bonaventure on November 16th (neutral site)
Perhaps lost in the hysteria that Eugene Omoruyi caused last week when announcing he was transferring was that Rutgers confirmed a game against St. Bonaventure in Toronto on just hours earlier. It will be part of the Naismith Classic. St. Bonaventure went 18-16 last season and finished with a KenPom ranking of 121. They almost went dancing, losing to St. Louis by two points in the Atlantic 10 Tournament championship. This will be a good early season challenge and should not be considered an automatic win by any means.
Annual rivalry game vs. Seton Hall at the RAC in mid-December (Garden State Hardwood Classic)
With high expectations and a strong nucleus returning for both programs, Pikiell vs. Willard Part IV should be the most anticipated contest since these two coaches began facing each other in this blood rivalry back in 2016.
UMASS at the RAC
This series was supposed to begin last season, but UMASS cancelled the game and moved it to this season. This is the second Atlantic 10 opponent on the schedule and a game Rutgers should be heavily favored to win. The Minuteman went 11-21 last season and finished with a KenPom ranking of 236. They’ll also be without former Rutgers player Jonathan Laurent, who is transferring again.
Other Games reportedly taking place:
NJIT at the RAC, per Jon Rothstein. The Highlanders went 22-13 last season and finished with a KenPom ranking of 183.
Niagara at the RAC, per Jerry Carino. The Purple Eagles went just 13-19 last season with a KenPom ranking of 315.
Bryant at the RAC per Alec Lasley. The Bulldogs went 10-20 last season with a KenPom ranking of 327.
That leaves four more non-conference games to add to the schedule for next season, which Jerry Carino confirmed on Thursday, due to Rutgers being set to host a four game, round robin event that will involve low to mid major programs like they’ve done in years past. It’s a good thing they’ll be able to play 11 non-conference games, as this event allows them to play the max amount of non-conference games allowed. However, the schedule will have a glaring hole as well.
With the Big Ten not including Rutgers in the Gavitt Games, which features eight contests between the conference and the Big East, as well as SEC foe South Carolina dropping out of the Naismith Classic and replaced by St. Bonaventure, two high major opponents were essentially eliminated from the non-conference schedule. This was a bad break for Rutgers, who have real expectations for postseason play next season. The issue is that it’s already June and some high major programs already have their non-conference schedules completed or are only looking to schedule low to mid major programs with the remaining spots they have to fill. Hopefully, a top 100 mid-major from last season is one of the teams added to the Rutgers schedule for next season. It’s likely at least one local, low major team is added as well.
For my ten thoughts on next season’s team after the departure of Eugene Omoruyi, click here.
For a look at the 20 games already announced for Big Ten play next season, click here.
Here is the full schedule for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, with all the games set to air on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU.
Monday, December 2
Miami at Illinois
Clemson at Minnesota
Tuesday, December 3
Florida State at Indiana
Iowa at SyracuseMichigan at Louisville
Duke at Michigan State
Northwestern at Boston College
Rutgers at Pitt
Wednesday, December 4
Notre Dame at Maryland
Nebraska at Georgia Tech
Ohio State at North Carolina
Wake Forest at Penn State
Virginia at Purdue
Wisconsin at NC State