Rutgers fought hard in a 12 point loss to No. 5 Purdue on Sunday night. While the result was disappointing, the Scarlet Knights played relatively well for most of the game. After winning four consecutive games against ranked teams for the first time in program history, the streak is now over. Even so, it was a stretch that propelled Rutgers from postseason never was to the talk of college basketball.
After the loss, Rutgers dropped from No. 76 to No. 80 in the NET rankings. That’s currently out of NCAA Tournament range, as the teams with the worst rankings to ever go dancing were St. John’s at 73 in 2019 and Michigan State at 70 last season. They currently have a 6-3 record against Quad 1 opponents but have two Quad 3 losses as well as a killer Quad 4 loss to Lafayette. Still, at 16-10 and 10-6 in the Big Ten, Rutgers has three more Quad 1 opponents ahead and opportunity to firm up their resume for March Madness.
One advocate for Rutgers to make the NCAA Tournament is Purdue head coach Matt Painter. After his team beat the Scarlet Knights for the first time in five tries spread over three seasons, he was explicit in his belief that they deserve to go dancing.
When asked about never being able to truly pull away from Rutgers in the 84-72 victory, Painter said, “We’ve fallen into a trap throughout the year, once we get a lead of about 10 or 12, we get away from what we were doing and try to hit a home run. I didn’t see us doing that tonight. At times, (Rutgers) pushed back and it was really their good play.”
He added, “They’re tough to cover. They’re a good team.”
Painter then went into explain what he thinks of the Scarlet Knights and the ceiling they have this season.
“That was probably the greatest Quad 2 win in the history of college basketball,” Painter remarked. “They’re unbelievable. If you’ve got better teams than Rutgers going to the NCAA Tournament, then it’s going to be the greatest tournament ever. They’re fabulous and a team that can win a lot of games in the NCAA Tournament in my opinion.”
One player that Painter touched on for Rutgers was Paul Mulcahy. The point guard had a team high 15 points on 6 of 8 shooting as well as 6 assists and 2 rebounds. He kept RU in the game in the second half and his emergence over the last month has changed the trajectory of this season.
“Mulcahy’s been an all-conference player the last seven games and he was an all-conference player again tonight. He’s a fabulous player,” said Painter.
In regard to Mulcahy’s overall game, Painter declared, “He has a chance to play in the NBA. He’s really good, understands the game, has good size, can pass and shoot.”
Rutgers has more work to do in order to be more firmly projected into the NCAA Tournament and have two weeks left in the regular season to do that. They travel to Michigan on Wednesday before hosting Wisconsin next weekend, followed by a road game at Indiana and then senior night at the RAC against Penn State. If they can win two of those four contests, RU will finish this season with the most Big Ten regular season wins in program history.
For the rest of Painter’s press conference, including a deep dive on why zone defense is not played much in the Big Ten historically at the end and the worth the watch alone, you can view it here: