Rutgers is now four days removed from a 60-54 loss to then ninth-ranked Wisconsin. This dropped the Scarlet Knights to 7-5 on the season and 3-5 in the Big Ten, which has them ninth in the standings.
The Scarlet Knights have lost five of their last six games, with the last four coming against ranked teams. The schedule will ease up a bit as Rutgers enters an extremely crucial five-day stretch. It began today with Steve Pikiell speaking to the media.
“We have a lot of the season still left,” Pikiell said on Tuesday during his news conference. “We’re at the halfway mark. We can still do some really good things in the best league in the country.”
Those things will have to begin on Thursday when the Scarlet Knights will hit the road to take on Penn State. It feels like years since Rutgers was able to pick up a statement victory over Illinois on Dec. 20. Their last victory came nine days later against Purdue.
On Friday against Wisconsin, the Scarlet Knights turned in one of their best performances in recent weeks. This was a game that both Pikiell and his players felt good about.
“The past couple games if you looked at the film, you couldn’t tell me that was Rutgers basketball,” Myles Johnson said following the loss to the Badgers. “I think this game, we kind of showed that we are getting back to what we normally would do. Rebounded, played hard. The outcome was whatever but we played like Rutgers and if we keep doing that then I think we can beat anybody in this league.”
Despite a strong performance against a top-10 team in the nation, Rutgers still had inconsistencies creep in that have prevented them from putting together a complete game. Rutgers defended the Badgers well holding them to just 35.3% shooting. They won the rebounding battle 50-35 including 20 on the offensive end. This did not cancel out the fact that Rutgers could not knock down a shot. They finished 2-19 from three-point range and only attempted seven free throws.
In two games against Ohio State, the Scarlet Knights were not at full strength and this caused them to be dominated on the boards. Against Iowa, also banged up, Rutgers was able to score but could not get key stops on the defensive end.
This has led to five losses in their last six games. Over the next five days, Rutgers will have a chance to right the ship with games against Penn State followed by Indiana on Sunday.
“We’re really confident moving into these next 12 games,” Pikiell said. “Learned a lot of lessons, got guys healthy for the first time, went through a lot of obstacles. Now we look forward to what the next 12 bring and see how we can end the season the right way.”
Penn State has had trouble with COVID over the last few weeks and have been shutdown for some time. They are off to an 0-4 start in the Big Ten. This is a chance for Rutgers to pickup a much-needed victory. The Nittany Lions are shooting 28.5 three-point shots per game. Defending the three-point line will be a key on Thursday night.
“Sometimes you see a pattern with a team on certain nights, they don’t take that many or they do,” Pikiell said on Penn State’s ability from three-point range. “They take them every night. It poses a lot of problems. They got multiple guys, too. They’re fearless in that sense and that also poses a problem rebounding because those aren’t rebounds that drop around the basket. Those rebounds could go anywhere.”
Indiana is another team with a sub-.500 record in conference play at 3-4. This is a chance for Rutgers to get back to .500 in Big Ten play at 5-5, if they can get these two victories. This will also go a long way for the confidence of the team.
The Scarlet Knights were off to a 5-0 start when they hosted Illinois. The team was riding sky-high heading into the game and this led to the first statement victory of the season. Over the Scarlet Knights’ final 12 games of the season, eight of them will be against teams in the bottom half of the Big Ten standings.
Thursday night and Sunday afternoon. Two games looming that have a chance to make or break the 2020-2021 season for Rutgers’ basketball. If the Scarlet Knights come out at full strength like they did against Wisconsin on Friday night, they can pick up these two wins with a chance to gain that confidence back heading into the back end of the schedule.