In what continues to develop as a special season for the Rutgers men’s basketball team became even more so on Monday as the program received 152 votes in the AP Poll this week and are ranked 24th. It’s the first time Rutgers has appeared in the AP Poll and have been nationally ranked since the 1978-1979 campaign, when they finished 18th in the final poll that season. It comes after a week that Rutgers beat Indiana and Minnesota at home.
Fourth year head coach Steve Pikiell has led a major turnaround for a program that won just 17 wins combined the two seasons before his arrival. At 14-4 overall and 5-2 in Big Ten play, Rutgers has exceeded expectations so far this season. They are tied with Illinois for second place in the conference and they have a program best KenPom ranking of 24 with the 9th best defensive efficiency rating in the country. With a NET ranking of 18th, Rutgers has built a strong resume so far (5-3 vs. Quad 1&2 foes) and are in serious contention to end the school’s 29 year drought without an NCAA Tournament appearance,
Rutgers had produced two victories against KenPom Top 40 opponents in Pikiell’s first three seasons combined, but already own five wins this season. There will be plenty of opportunities to get more, as 12 of 14 teams in the Big Ten are currently in the KenPom Top 40. In conference play, Rutgers is 4-2 against KenPom Top 40 opponents so far and face another on Wednesday on the road against Iowa (15th), who are ranked no. 19 in this week’s AP Poll. There are five teams total from the Big Ten in this week’s AP Poll.
In addition, the Coaches Poll was released on Monday and Rutgers is ranked 25th.
Rutgers is three games above .500 in conference play since the 1998-1999 season in the Big East.
Pikiell was asked about the possibility of being ranked this week for the first time in 41 years and his response was on brand for the focused coach. “Nope. No thoughts. We’re trying to go to Iowa.”
After the AP Poll was released on Monday, Pikiell made the following statement:
“I’m proud of the progress we’ve made as a program and I’m really happy for the guys on our roster,” said Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell. “The ranking is a testament to the hard work and sacrifices our guys have put forth this year. We are enjoying this journey and we are excited to face the many challenges that lie ahead in the best conference in the country. Go RU!”
Several of the teams that Rutgers has beaten have done well overall this season, which has helped perception and the resume of the Scarlet Knights. Seton Hall, which is ranked 10th in this week’s AP Poll, has won 8 straight games since losing by 20 points at the RAC, are undefeated and in first place in the Big East, and have a KenPom ranking of 10th. Stephen F. Austin has gone 11-2 since losing to Rutgers, including a stunning victory over Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Lumberjacks have seen its KenPom ranking improve 177 spots since the beginning of this season and currently sit at 121st. Wisconsin has gone 6-2 since falling to RU and have dropped 29 spots in the KenPom rankings, sitting on game behind the Scarlet Knights in the Big Ten standings.
In addition, the worst loss of the season for Rutgers came against St. Bonaventure, who are 11-3 since playing in Toronto and sit in a second place tie in the Atlantic 10. Their KenPom ranking is currently 118, almost 50 spots better from November.
With a program best 13-0 start at the RAC, as well as having an identity built around an elite defense, relentless rebounding, and a team first attitude, they are a tough minded team that no one in the Big Ten wants to play. While a national ranking is huge for perception across the sport and marks significant progress in the fourth season under Pikiell, the ultimate goal remains to make the NCAA Tournament this March. If Rutgers continues to play the way they have this past month plus, whether they are ranked or not, they will break the program’s 29 year drought and go dancing in a couple of months.