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Rutgers and Penn State are Renewing a True Rivalry... in Hoops

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers fans loathe Penn State.

For years, Rutgers fans have measured themselves against Penn State in football. Long blaming Joe Paterno for promising and then reneging on an idea to build an all-sports conference that kept the Scarlet Knights from being a charter member of the Big East, stoked the hate. And while there have been some memorable battles on the field, but Rutgers and Penn State have yet to line up consistently competitive with each other. Greg Schiano is the man who can do that for the Scarlet Knights, but it is still some years away.

However, a different rivalry is brewing as two programs peak in the Big Ten at the same time. The battle between Steve Pikiell and Pat Chambers is just starting to brew and—to mix metaphors—could possibly reach a boiling point this upcoming season.

Rutgers and Penn State are becoming one of the most interesting rivalries in Big Ten basketball.

These are the two teams that played in the loudest game ever at the RAC. It’s not like this is brand new... but it is starting to really rev up now.

In the past two years, Rutgers and Penn State have had four games that have gone down to the wire. In 2018-19, Rutgers squeaked by the Nittany Lions 64-60 as Geo Baker carried the load with 20 points. Only a few weeks later, in the season finale at the RAC, both teams seemed to be rolling. Penn State had won 3 of 4 games, while Rutgers was coming off a stirring win at Iowa. With a winning season on the line, Rutgers came out flat—going down by 20 points in the first half. But they did not give up, storming back only two lose by one when the game winning shot was blocked and the buzzer sounded.

But that was just the appetizer. This year was even more exciting.

With Baker dealing with a broken finger and out, the Scarlet Knights faced a ranked Penn state team at the RAC. In front of a crazy crowd that still didn’t know what the season would entail, Caleb McConnell and Ron Harper, Jr. took over and the Scarlet Knights pulled away late to win by 11.

And then came a game that was almost etched in Scarlet Knights fans’ memory for years. Thanks to the game at Purdue, it’s just a footnote, but a hurtful and meaningful one nonetheless.

Needing a road win to get into the NCAA Tournament, Rutgers headed to Happy Valley to face a team that had been shaky late. Penn State was stumbling down the stretch and it looked like Rutgers had a prime opportunity on their hands. However, the Scarlet Knights didn’t grab it. Not at first. Just like the previous year, Rutgers went down 20 points only to storm back in the second half. This time they took the lead! With 43 seconds left, Geo Baker continued to be clutch and gave Rutgers a 64-62 lead on a tough jumper. But coming off a screen Myles Dread his a once in a lifetime rainbow three.

Penn State won.

See the trend here?

These two teams seem to meet every time there is something on the line. The games are always close and intense. And now, after two years of building, there are players to hate on each side. I’m sure Penn State fans hate Geo Baker, who’s had the dagger for them two years in a row.

And Rutgers fans will remember Myles Dread for a while. Both teams have gone into enemy territory and exited with a win. And both teams have crushed the other fanbase’s heart. That’s the definition of a rivalry.

So, now the stage is set. Both teams should be very good in 2020-21. Finally, Rutgers has a rival in the Big Ten. And it’s the one all fans have hoped for.

The rivalry just happens to be flourishing in basketball.

For now.

Embrace it.