After a daunting Big Ten schedule and months of speculation, it is now official. The Rutgers Scarlet Knights are back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 30 years.
Rutgers missed out on a postseason opportunity a season ago when the season was cut short due to the pandemic. They will have a chance here as they enter the tournament as a 10-seed. The Scarlet Knights will face seventh-seeded Clemson on Friday.
The Scarlet Knights will have a good matchup in Clemson. If they were to move on, second-seeded Houston could be their next opponent. The draw for Rutgers in the Midwest Region is a good one.
Players like Myles Johnson, Jacob Young, Ron Harper Jr., and of course, Geo Baker have turned the program around in Piscataway. It is only right to think about the players and teams who have made this all possible. With the tournament still four days away, it is the perfect time to look back at the history of Rutgers in the big dance.
The Scarlet Knights have made the tournament six times in program history. It began in 1975 when Tom Young led Rutgers to their first tournament appearance in school history. Phil Sellers led the team in scoring with 22.7 points per game and added 9.4 rebounds a night. A 22-7 season ended with a 91-78 loss to Louisville in the first round.
Just one year later, the Scarlet Knights had the best season in their history.
Sellers once again led Rutgers with 19.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Mike Dabney added 19.1 points per contest as the Scarlet Knights finished the season 31-2. They entered the NCAA Tournament a perfect 27-0.
Rutgers was tested immediately but was able to survive and pick up a 54-53 victory over Princeton. This was the first tournament win in school history and it got the team going. They would win back-to-back games by double digits and advance to the Final Four to face Michigan. The Wolverines snapped Rutgers’ 30-game win streak and handed them a 86-70 loss and an exit from the tournament.
It was three years before Young led the Scarlet Knights to the tournament for the third time as head coach. They were able to get hot at the right time as they entered the big dance winning eight in a row, including three straight in the Eastern Athletic Association Tournament. James Bailey, who was taken wit the sixth-pick in the 1979 NBA Draft, scored 18.5 points a night to lead the Scarlet Knights.
Rutgers entered the tournament as a six-seed and was able to upset third-seeded Georgetown in the second round. They were eventually eliminated by No. 10 St. John’s 67-65.
The Scarlet Knights were back in the tournament for the fourth time in eight years in 1983. They came in off a loss to Temple in the A-10 Tournament but were able to take down eighth-seeded Southwest Louisiana in the second round. The Scarlet Knights were a nine-seed which means a date with No. 1 St. John’s was next. For the second-straight appearance, the Johnnies were the team to eliminate Rutgers.
The 1983 victory over Southwest Louisiana was the last victory in the NCAA Tournament for Rutgers. They would return in 1989 after winning the Atlantic-10 Tournament Championship as a 13-seed and be taken down by No. 4 Iowa.
The last time in the NCAA tournament for Rutgers was back in 1991. It was Bob Wenzel on the sideline and Keith Hughes dominating on the floor with 21 points and 10 rebounds per game. The Scarlet Knights were given a nine-seed and a matchup with No. 8 Arizona State.
Rutgers led by six at halftime but were blitzed in the second half. Arizona State scored 49 points in the final 20 minutes and picked up the 79-76 victory. Hughes finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds while Earl Duncan added 20 points. The Sun Devils were led by Tarence Wheeler and Isaac Austin, who scored 25 points a piece.
Rutgers last participated in the postseason in 2006 when they earned a bid to the NIT. This was two years after losing to Michigan in the finals of this tournament. The Scarlet Knights took down Penn State in the opening round but Saint Joseph’s got the better of them in the next game.
There has been five head coaches and two conference changes since the Scarlet Knights were last in the tournament. Steve Pikiell has built a strong program and has done it in the best conference in the nation in the Big Ten. Rutgers has the makings of a team that could potentially be in action in the second weekend. They will certainly be a tough out.
It has been a long wait but it is finally over. Scarlet Knights’ fans, be ready for Friday. Just sit back and enjoy postseason basketball.