It’s Halloween weekend and we still don’t have a schedule for the Rutgers men’s basketball team. 2020 has been spooky for sure, but the first step towards the road to March Madness for the Scarlet Knights was made clear on Friday. It was officially announced that Rutgers will host Syracuse as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The former Big East foes will meet at the RAC on Tuesday, December 8.
This will be the 49th meeting between the two schools and first since Rutgers left the Big East following the 2013 season. Syracuse holds a 39-9 lead in the series and has won 13 straight games against the Scarlet Knights. The last time RU beat the Orange was at the RAC in 2003, when Jerome Coleman led the way with 31 points and Herve Lamizana banked in a three for three game winner to defeat the eventual national champions that season.
Rutgers is 2-4 all-time in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and lost at Pitt last season. They own wins over Clemson and Miami, both coming on the road.
This is the first announced game for Rutgers, despite the 2020-2021 college basketball season set to open on November 25. The only major conference to announce a schedule so far is the Big East.
The hope is the Big Ten announces in the next week and it’s expected the league will stick to a 20 game schedule.
As for the rest of the non-conference schedule, it’s expected that Rutgers will host several local low major teams. The biggest question mark is whether the annual rivalry game against Seton Hall will take place?
The original agreed upon date of December 13 was scrapped after the Big East changed course and added league games to that month. The Hall now have five conference games scheduled between December 11 and December 23.
The issue is finding a new date and Jerry Carino reported December 6 was available before the Hall agreed to a two year series with Penn State, whom they are now playing in State College on that day.
There are also rumblings that Seton Hall doesn’t want to use their home turn in the series due to fans not being in attendance due to the global pandemic. A neutral site could solve that issue and allow them to host the game the following season. Carino suggested the CURE Insurance Arena (formerly Sovereign Bank Arena) in Trenton and the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City as possibilities.
A neutral site does add another layer to the situation, as the two schools still need to find a mutual date that works. It will likely now depend on the Big Ten schedule and whether open dates/bye weeks match up for both teams.
The approach of Rutgers has been to stay local and limit travel before Big Ten play begins. They dropped out of the Jimmy V Classic in Orlando before ESPN ultimately cancelled the entire Bubble idea to host eight high profile events.
Seton Hall was affected by that cancellation as well but has shifted by adding road games at Louisville and Penn State. Are the Pirates dodging Rutgers, who embarrassed them last season? The answer probably depends on which colored lense you view the rivalry from.
My view is obviously biased for sure but Seton Hall is the only program scheduling high major opponents outside league mandated games. You’d think if they wanted to lock up the Garden State Hardwood Classic with their rival, that would have been made it a top priority. I don’t know all the behind the scenes details, but it doesn’t seem like they have by scheduling other games, including one on a reported mutual open date. Add in the fact that Seton Hall has lost some key players like star Myles Powell, while RU is primed for its best team in decades and the idea becomes even more curious.
It is important that Rutgers has another major non-conference opponent on the schedule aside from Syracuse. Finding another power five opponent this late will be difficult. Obviously the entire state of New Jersey wants to see Rutgers play Seton Hall for the 26th straight year. I’ve said before this game has to happen and I don’t care if it’s a Wednesday at noon. I’ll add now I don’t care if it takes place at a local YMCA. Play the game. It’s been a tough year and college hoops fans in New Jersey deserve it. History and tradition should matter more than convenience.