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Profiling matchups for Rutgers against Princeton and Mississippi State



Feb 25, 2023; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs forward Tolu Smith (1) reacts with teammates after a basket during the second half against the Texas A&M Aggies at Humphrey Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday, Rutgers men’s basketball formally announced two neutral court games for the 2023-2024 season against Princeton and Mississippi State. The Scarlet Knights will open the season on November 6 against the Tigers in the inaugural Jersey Jam at CURE Insurance Arena in Trenton. RU will take on MSU in the Gotham Classic on December 23 at the Prudential Center in Newark. Tip-off times and TV assignments will be announced at a later date.

Facing two teams that made the NCAA Tournament a year ago on neutral courts makes a strong statement. After being left out of March Madness last season and the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee citing the non-conference schedule of Rutgers as an issue, head coach Steve Pikiell deserves credit for addressing it head on.

Playing Princeton for the first time in a decade satisfies long time supporters and alums from both fan bases. They’ve played 120 times with the Tigers leading the series 75-45 all-time. The two programs first met in 1917 and RU has won 11 of the last 15 meetings. Princeton has played Rutgers more than any other non-Ivy team in program history. Rutgers has played Princeton more than any other opponent all-time.

As for the matchup, while Princeton lost two start to last season’s Sweet 16 team that finished 23-9, they return the majority of their rotation. Princeton last season with a KenPom ranking of No. 91 and a NET ranking of No. 93. The Tigers offensive efficiency was No. 97 nationally and No. 105 in defensive efficiency. On a neutral court, it will likely result in Quad 2 or Quad 3 matchup depending how the season goes for Mitch Henderson’s team.

Two-time First Team All-Ivy selection and 2022 Ivy Player of the Year Tosan Evbuomwan is fighting for an NBA roster spot and second leading scorer Ryan Longborg transferred to Northwestern. Center Keeshawn Kellman also transferred to Florida Gulf Coast. However, the Tigers have two starters returning. Junior guard Matt Alloco returns after averaging 10.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists last season. He shot 45.3% from the floor and 38.3% from three-point range. After a strong freshman debut, 6’6″ wing Caden Pierce will play a starring role for the Tigers. He averaged 8.2 points and 7.3 rebounds as a freshman. Guards Blake Peters (6.0 points, 39.7% 3-pt FG) and Xaivian Lee (4.8 points) are expected to be major contributors next season as well.

Mississippi State returns all five starters from last season’s NCAA Tournament team that finished 21-13. MSU had a No. 53 ranking for both KenPom and NET. They play a similar defensive first style and struggled offensively. The Bulldogs were No. 9 nationally in defensive efficiency, but just No. 176 in offensive efficiency. MSU was the worst three-point shooting team in the nation at 26.6%. First Team All-SEC big man Tolu Smith led the Bulldogs with 15.7 points and 8.5 rebounds on 57.2% shooting last season. It’s a balanced group with Shakeel Moore, DJ Jeffries and Dashawn Davis each averaging between 8.7 to 9.8 points per game. Head coach Chris Jans has added Marshall transfer Andrew Taylor to help bolster the offense. He averaged 20.2 points on 41.7% shooting and 36.4% from three-point range along with 4.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.1 steals. Freshman Josh Hubbard is likely to play a key role as well.

It’s very possible that Mississippi State could be ranked when they face Rutgers and there is a good chance this will ultimately be a Quad 1 game as well.

Overall, these are two quality opponents to add to the non-conference schedule. Steve Pikiell certainly answered the criticism for the need to improve the non-conference schedule moving forward.

Tickets for both games will be available for Rutgers season ticket holders on Wednesday via email. A presale for the general public through Ticket Master begins at noon ET on Wednesday and will be fully available at 1:00 p.m. ET on Thursday. Ticket prices for the Jersey Jam against Princeton are $30-$60. The Gotham Classic against Mississippi State will have tickets priced between $30 and $75. Parking information and student tickets will be announced at a later date.

I discuss more about both matchups in this episode of The Scarlet Faithful podcast. Listen and watch below.




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