In a year like no other, imagine hearing these words in December....“Live from Orlando, the Garden State Hardwood Classic between Rutgers and Seton Hall is set to begin here on ESPN.”
Could the Scarlet Knights play its biggest rival in “the most magical place on earth” that’s not the RAC? Don’t laugh, it just might happen.
There was certainly encouraging news last week from the NCAA, as they announced a start date of November 25 for the college basketball season. They also outlined a framework for the season that involves less regular season games, less games required for teams to qualify for the NCAA Tournament and a recommendation of a minimum of four non-conference games scheduled per team.
The last point has led to much speculation in the week since.
Andy Katz reported on Tuesday that the ACC-Big Ten Challenge is probably taking place on December 8 and 9, most likely at on campus locations. His tweet also included the Gavitt Games between the Big East and Big Ten still being a possibility of taking place as well.
Rutgers was originally scheduled to play in both events and if those cross conference matchups take place, that would mean there would be at least two non-conference games on the schedule. Whoever Rutgers would play, they would be intriguing matchups and winning them would be critical to boosting their postseason resume. However, there could be more very challenging non-conference games scheduled.
Jon Rothstein first reported a few days ago that the NCAA was working towards utilizing the bubble environment in Orlando for eight specific events in December. The Orlando bubble was set up and has been used by the NBA the past few months. Rutgers was slated to play Baylor in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden this season. This event was cited by Rothstein as being on the NCAA’s proposed schedule for Orlando. While the prospect of playing a potential top five team under the national spotlight is an exciting thought, it was fair to wonder if going to Orlando for one game made sense during a global pandemic. However, that consideration may no longer be a concern.
On Tuesday morning the plot thickened, as Rothstein reported that “all teams involved in one of Orlando’s eight early season college basketball events could potentially play as many as FIVE total games during their extended time in Florida. Additional games will be an option.” If Rutgers did end up scheduling more non-conference games while playing in Florida, they could end up playing their biggest rival over 1,000 miles away from home.
Seton Hall is expected to be in the field of the Charleston Classic, which is also one of the eight events tentatively planned to take place in the Orlando bubble.
How strange would it be to watch Geo Baker in one last duel against the Pirates in a neutral environment far away from the RAC and The Rock, battling for New Jersey bragging rights on the basketball court?
In 2020, it would make perfect sense. I say happily accept whatever terms or conditions are necessary for this game to be played. The two schools have played each other at least once every season since the 1994-1995 campaign. Perhaps a orange juice container in the shape of the Garden State could be the trophy given out to the winner?
Of course, it is still possible these two teams find a way to play in New Jersey, as one or both programs could still opt not to take part in the events scheduled in Orlando. Jerry Carino said as much in responding to our Dave White’s question about the game this week.
The bottom line is no one knows for sure how the college basketball season schedule will shape up just yet, despite the start of the 2020-2021 campaign on Thanksgiving weekend only two months away.
Take this quote from ESPN’s Jeff Borzello, who spoke to over 60 sources about the uncertainty of what the season will look like:
“Everyone’s scrambling” has been a consistent refrain from people throughout college basketball, as has a specific four-letter obscenity that precedes “show.”
What we know for certain is that Rutgers has the potential to play up to 25 regular season games based on the NCAA scheduling guidelines. If the Big Ten maintains a 20 game conference schedule, which has not been announced but seems likely, it means the Scarlet Knights could potentially add one more non-conference opponent, assuming the Baylor, Seton Hall, ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and Gavitt Games contests are confirmed for this season. If Rutgers did add a third game during its potential trip to Florida, there are some non-power five opponents participating in other events taking place in the bubble that they could face. They could potentially play a local small-to-mid-major team at the RAC as well. Even if that is how Rutgers completes the schedule, it could shape up as the most challenging regular season slate in program history.
College basketball is set to take place this season. Rutgers is primed to have its best team in years. Other than that, not much is known about what the months ahead will look like leading up to the NCAA Tournament, still expected to take place in March. Hopefully, whatever road the Scarlet Knights travel on this season, it ends up at the ultimate destination. An invite to dance on the games biggest stage for the first time in 30 years.