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Rutgers Basketball: A Look Ahead at the Conference Slate

The Big Ten is as tough a road as always for Rutgers but offers plenty of opportunities to win big games.

Rutgers has had a relatively successful non-conference slate. While they lost to Temple, barring a loss to Coppin State Friday, Rutgers will escape without any major letdowns. They went 1-1 in their early conference games with a win over Indiana and a controversial loss at Ohio State, and are firmly in place to compete for a spot in the Big Dance again. To do that, they need a successful conference showing this year.

It won’t be easy competing in the Big Ten conference which has nine teams in the NET top 50 including five in the top 30. While this promises plenty of tough games for the Scarlet Knights, it also offers more than enough chances to get resume-defining wins and not many opportunities to take bad losses. Rutgers will more than likely sit at 9-4 entering the remaining 18 conference games, meaning that they will need to win at least 11 or 12 games to make the tournament.

Rutgers's remaining schedule consists of ten Quad 1 games, four Quad 2 games, two Quad 3 Games, and three Quad 4 games. If they can take care of business and win the easy ones against Minnesota, Michigan, and Nebraska, then Rutgers will be in prime position to hear their name called on Selection Sunday for the 3rd (4th) year in a row.

The schedule starts off tough as on January 2nd Rutgers goes to visit number 1 Purdue at Mackey Arena. However, after that, they don’t play another currently ranked team until 2/7 when they look to beat Indiana once again. Don’t let that fool you though, during that month-long stretch Rutgers plays multiple top 25 NET opponents in Maryland and Ohio State.

If Rutgers can be 16-7 when they face Indiana they will put themselves in a very good spot to make the postseason, any better than that they’ll be playing with house money. That game starts a very tough stretch for the Scarlet Knights as they visit Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin in 3 of those next 4 games.

This could be the make-or-break time for the Scarlet Knights as winning a majority of those games could be extremely important for seeding, but losing out (a real possibility) would mean Rutgers would need to win almost all of its remaining games to make the tournament. Rutgers has struggled on the road in recent years and that needs to change, at least a little, for Rutgers to feel good about their chances in March.

Rutgers finishes its season with four very winnable games. Frankly, RU should go 4-0, but any less than 3-1 could derail Rutgers’s season right before the conference tournament.

For RU to succeed in Big Ten play, Cliff Omoruyi needs to be the player we all thought he was going to be before the start of this season. That’s not to say he’s been bad, but he has not been the dominant force this team needs. He has been in foul trouble quite often and against Big Ten bigs they’ll need him on the floor for his defense at the very least. If Cliff can’t get his foul trouble under control, other teams will take the action to the paint and wear down the Rutgers defense.

Paul Mulcahy is another player that is key to the success of this team. When Mulcahy is out—whether for a game or for a few minutes—the Scarlet Knight offense struggles to move the ball. Without Paul, Rutgers severely lacks depth in the backcourt as they are left with just Cam Spencer and Derek Simpson as true guards in the main rotation. Jalen Miller provides some defense on occasion, but it feels like they’re playing 4v5 on the offensive end with him on the court.

Rutgers needs to get to at least 20 wins to make the tournament, a few more for insurance might keep Rutgers fans from shaving a few years off their lives on Selection Sunday. The Big Ten is tough as usual, meaning Rutgers will need to grind out wins to make the tournament. This team certainly has the pieces to make it, all they have to do is put them all together.

My Predictions:

Record: Rutgers finishes 21-10 (13-7) and stands 4th in the conference earning a double bye. They go 1-1 in the conference tournament to finish the season 22-11.

Best Win: At Indiana on 2/7

Worst Loss: Vs Michigan State on 2/4 at MSG