We’re back with what’s technically my first four thoughts of the college basketball season! The schedule release is always exciting cause it means we’re that much closer to tip-off on another wonderful season. Anyways, thoughts:
Improved Non-Conference Schedule: Rutgers plays a number of solid non-conference games this season. Headlined by the annual bout with Seton Hall (away), it also consists of a home game vs. Georgetown (Gavitt Games), neutral site matchups against Princeton and Mississippi State, and an away game at Wake Forest. Using the end-of-season NET rankings, the nonconference slate gives Rutgers a quad 1 opportunity (Seton Hall) as well as 3 quad 2 games. Sneakily, Rutgers drew a bad matchup in the Gavitt Games in Georgetown, a team that finished 240th in the NET last season.
Early December, First Tough Stretch: While Princeton will be a challenging game for Rutgers to open the season on November 6th, the schedule is pretty routine until December, when they play 3 games in 8 days. The Scarlet Knights face Illinois at the Rac in their Big Ten opener, followed by road trips to Wake Forest and Seton Hall. Brad Underwood seems to have Pikiell’s number at times and Rutgers is just 1-3 in their last four matchups against the Illini and 4-10 in the series since joining the conference. Wake Forest wasn’t a tough game for the Scarlet Knights last year, but it’s important not to overlook the Demon Deacons, as they’re sandwiched between two huge contests. Seton Hall is always a fun battle for Garden State supremacy. The Pirates lost 3 key starters but should remain a tough matchup for the Scarlet Knights, and everyone knows anything can happen in a rivalry game.
Tough Road Draws: Rutgers drew 6 of the top 8 teams in the conference on the road this year. They’ll make trips to Iowa, Michigan State, and Illinois in January, and Michigan, Maryland, and Purdue in February. No doubt, the schedule makers didn’t do the Scarlet Knights any favors here this year, but they’ll likely need to win at least a couple of road games this year to solidify a bid to the big dance, so they’ve been given plenty of chances to earn quality Q1 road wins.
5 Games Everyone Should Have Circled on Their Calendars: Big Ten basketball is a competitive gauntlet, but a few games stick out to me from Rutgers’ schedule this year.
From the non-conference slate, I’m looking at 11/6 vs. Princeton and 12/9 @ Seton Hall, as the biggest games for the Scarlet Knights. They’re bitter New Jersey rivalries and should be a lot of fun. Princeton and Rutgers are finally renewing a matchup that was played almost annually up to 2013. You best believe fans from both schools will be hyped up, and the RAC should be rocking. I also just couldn’t leave the game against Seton Hall off this list. It’s another great rivalry, but more than that, it’s a chance for Rutgers to get a quality road win.
1/9 vs. Indiana is going to be a huge game for the Scarlet Knights this year. The Hoosiers have been arguably Rutgers’ biggest conference rival over the last half-decade, but they haven’t won at the RAC since 2018. Rutgers continuing their dominance over Indiana is major for recruiting (Dylan Harper?) and the Hoosiers will be out for blood this year, so the Scarlet Knights need to shut them down from opening tip in Piscataway.
The Season Series vs. Purdue (Home 1/28; Away 2/22) is a massive test once again this season. The Boilermakers have been the best team in the Big Ten in recent years, but Rutgers seems to be able to give them a run for their money every game, upsetting them multiple times in recent years (who can forget Ron’s half courter). The Scarlet Knights need at least a split this season, and I’m expecting two classic Big Ten games against Purdue this year.
I know I cheated, this was kind of 6 thoughts, but basketball season is exciting. Pike’s got a tough job again this year, and his squad won’t be ranked among the best in the conference this preseason, but that’s exactly how he likes it.
The underdog that is Rutgers basketball is back.