Basketball will be back in Piscataway before we know it.
On Thursday, the Big Ten Conference officially announced home and away opponents for the upcoming season for men’s basketball. Rutgers will play seven teams both at home and on the road and play six teams once, three in the friendly confines of the RAC, three in hostile arenas.
The complete list of conference opponents is listed below:
There is still a lot of time before games will tip off next winter and rosters are far from set, but there are still some takeaways that can be discussed as the program prepares to make a run at a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa will pack the RAC:
The first thing that jumped out when I first read the list of opponents was the benefit of having three highly touted programs come to play at the RAC rather than the other way around. In CBS Sports’ Top 25 And 1 rankings, Ohio State and Michigan State are both ranked, with Ohio State falling inside in the Top 10 as they are expected return seven of their top eight scorers from last season. This is a great draw for the Scarlet Knights, especially considering the likely probability that fans will be making a much-anticipated return to the RAC this winter. If fans are indeed welcomed back come December, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Iowa will be in for a much different experience than last season, to put it mildly. It is no secret how much fans have the ability to impact a game especially in a place that is aptly nicknamed “The Trapezoid of Terror”, so welcoming three well-respected Big Ten programs to the RAC will be a welcome sight for eager Rutgers fans.
Three bottom-feeder Big Ten teams on the road:
The unfortunate flip-side to Rutgers enjoying three home games against three high-level programs once at home is getting three desirable matchups only once on the road. The Scarlet Knights will play Indiana, Minnesota and Northwestern all once, all on the road, ultimately giving Rutgers less winnable games than it could’ve had if it were to play these programs twice. Last season, Rutgers finished 7-0 against these three teams, amounting for seven of the Rutgers’ eleven total Big Ten wins from last season, three of which coming at the hands of Indiana. Moreover, Indiana and Minnesota are two of three Big Ten programs to hire a new head coach for the upcoming season, leaving two less opportunities to grab wins against programs in transition. With this draw, it will be even more crucial for the Knights to win at least two of these three games, ideally all three, to build an NCAA Tournament-worthy résumé.
With the Big Ten being as talented and deep as it was last season, Rutgers was able to ultimately capitalize on opportunities created by playing the seventh toughest schedule in the country. That will not change much moving into next season. While the Big Ten might not reach last season’s historic level of competitiveness, Rutgers will have plenty of opportunities to snag valuable wins that could prove decisive come Selection Sunday. Rutgers will have two opportunities to finally beat Michigan, the one team that the program has yet to beat since joining the Big Ten in 2014. The Scarlet Knights will also twice battle Big Ten heavyweights such as Maryland, Illinois, Wisconsin and Purdue, who in the same CBS Sports ranking mentioned above is listed at No. 11 in the nation. The opportunities will undoubtedly be there for Rutgers next season, and with wins in several of these key games, the program will be in a good position come March.
It is likely to take at least another .500 season in the Big Ten for Rutgers to have the opportunity to play meaningful basketball in March once again. Like it is said above, the Big Ten will provide the Knights with opportunities to build their résumé that other Division I programs seldom have. The roster for next season is becoming clearer by the day, and with fans likely to be back in the stands, Rutgers should be primed to build on last season’s success.