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Rutgers Basketball: First Four looms, Scarlet Knights face must-win game vs. Michigan

Rutgers has one more chance to prove itself in the Big Ten Tournament.

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Minnesota Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

If Rutgers does not make the NCAA Tournament, it would leave a terrible taste in the mouths of fans and those within the program.

Yes, Steve Pikiell and his staff continue to recruit well. Rutgers has made the tournament in back-to-back years and one month ago, there was no doubt that a third appearance was coming. Now, Rutgers faces a must-win game in the Big Ten Tournament.

Rutgers will open its play on Thursday at Noon ET against Michigan, who is also on the bubble. Both teams need to come away with a win as a loss might end their season.

As of now, the Scarlet Knights are on the bubble. Joe Lunardi of ESPN has Rutgers part of his Last Four Teams In. This would send Rutgers back to the First Four as an 11th seed, where it would take on Nevada. In his latest edition, Lunardi would have Rutgers facing Creighton if it advanced to the Round of 64.

Even with a weak non-conference schedule and a lack of quality wins, all Rutgers had to do was not fall apart late. Here we are and the team has let six of eight.

The Scarlet Knights did not get tripped up in non-conference play against lesser teams. A loss would have been detrimental but wins do not add much. Rutgers currently ranks 309th using the NCAA’s NET rankings and 340th in KenPom judging its non-conference strength of schedule.

Rutgers has wins over Indiana at home this season and is one of two teams to beat Purdue in its own building. This might not be enough to outweigh some bad losses over the last month. Rutgers was taken down by Nebraska at Jersey Mike’s Arena and of course, the Scarlet Knights blew a double-digit lead late to a Minnesota team that came in with one Big Ten win.

You are going to hear many people voice opinions on Rutgers over the next few days but it seems simple — one win should be enough to get them in while a loss could eliminate them.

We do not know how much the eye test comes into play for the committee. Obviously, there is no exact science to that test. It is clear that Rutgers has not looked the part of an NCAA Tournament team over its previous eight games. It is important to be playing your best ball toward the end of the season. With that being said, this contest against the Wolverines on Thursday is now the biggest game of the season.

The Big Ten Tournament will tip-off on Wednesday night at the United Center on Chicago.