Rutgers was one of the best home teams in the nation a season ago when they finished 18-1 at the RAC.
This year, they finished 10-4 in Piscataway. The COVID pandemic ended the season prior to the postseason a year ago and the Scarlet Knights were unable to participate. The effects carried over a bit this season as Rutgers could not have their usual energetic crowd or rowdy student section in attendance.
Come Thursday in Indianapolis, the Scarlet Knights will have the chance to play in front of fans during the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium — and this is something to look forward to.
“I know they’re going to let fans in and I know our guys are excited about that,” Steve Pikiell said during a Tuesday news conference. “I know it’s not a lot of people but I think heading back in that direction, where there are some new people in the gym, the guys are excited to have some families come and see them live.”
Rutgers was able to get some families in the building on Senior Night on Feb. 24. This was a 74-63 victory over Indiana that brought the Scarlet Knights one step closer to the tournament. They picked up their 10th conference win of the season in the regular-season finale against Minnesota and this punched their ticket to the big dance.
Before Rutgers hears its name called on Selection Sunday, they will have to go through the gauntlet that is the Big Ten Tournament.
“I’m excited about this tournament and I’m excited that there is going to be some people there,” Pikiell said. “Even Senior Night helped just having a few people there. I think that they were really excited about that. That will be a nice start with about 8,000 people they’re letting in and expecting.”
The Scarlet Knights will enter the conference tournament as the No. 7 seed with a matchup on Thursday against Indiana, the team they defeated on Senior Night. Rutgers picked up a season-sweep over the Hoosiers this season.
Rutgers did not have a pause this season and was not forced to cancel any games. The Big Ten was one of the best, if not the best, conference in handling and managing this pandemic. Teams were able to get through their regular season schedules with few hiccups.
“The Big Ten has done a really good job,” Pikiell said. “I think we’ve have gotten off more games than any league in the country. Tip of the hat to the league with the protocols they put in place. Hopefully we continue on that path when we’re out there.”
Some have spoken out against playing the conference tournaments because of the added risk prior to the NCAA Tournament. This is something that teams and players want to get through. For the Scarlet Knights, this opportunity is a long time coming after being taken off the court prior to last season’s Big Ten Tournament matchup against Michigan.
“We’re excited to get out and play in this tournament,” Pikiell said. “Remember last year we didn’t get to play in any tournament. I think our guys are excited about this year being able to play. We’ve done all our testing and just to get us out there and get a feel of the environment.”