The date is Feb. 4 and Rutgers is celebrating a victory over Michigan State to solidify its spot as second in the Big Ten.
Fast forward one month and a thought that seemed far-fetched is right on the cusp — that the Scarlet Knights miss the NCAA Tournament.
The late-season collapse for Rutgers continued on Sunday night as the Scarlet Knights turned in another brutal offensive performance during a 65-53 loss to Northwestern at Jersey Mike’s Arena in Piscataway.
This marks the first time that Rutgers has lost three straight at home since 2018. It also marks the sixth loss in eight games. Yes, they have all come without Mawot Mag but at some point, the team needs to learn to make up for an injury.
Rutgers will take on Michigan in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday at 12:00 PM ET. At one time, the Scarlet Knights were fighting for a double-bye in the tournament. Now, they are facing a must-win game. To this point, Rutgers holds a strength of schedule of 306. A weak non-conference slate was not going to be a problem considering Rutgers’ start in conference play but it will go against its resume now. Also, the Scarlet Knights are 4-7 in games played on the road and neutral sites.
Most importantly, the eye test has been a complete disaster. On Sunday night, the offense could not get it going once again. The Scarlet Knights shot 36.4% from the field, including 2-for-17 from three-point range. The ball would not go in the basket at all three levels. Rutgers finished 11-for-20 on layups and 11-for-21 from the free throw line.
After taking a 10-3 lead, the lid went on the basket as Rutgers would make just one field goal over the next 10 minutes. They trailed by just four at halftime but the Scarlet Knights could not get over the hump. Northwestern built a double-digit point lead that felt insurmountable.
You can call it a must-win game in the Big Ten Tournament, or perhaps a lose-and-go-home game. Over the last month, Rutgers has not looked like a team destined for its third straight NCAA Tournament appearance. The Scarlet Knights will have one more chance to impress the committee with their play in Chicago.