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Rutgers begins five of seven game stretch away from RAC



Photo credit Rutgers Athletics

No. 23 Rutgers men’s basketball is set to begin a seven game stretch spread over an almost four week period where they only play at the RAC twice. It will mark a challenging time but also one that presents great opportunity.

All five games away from Piscataway are currently designated as Quad 1 contests. They include four Big Ten road games and a neutral site matchup against league foe Michigan State.

The two home games are crucial for Rutgers to hold serve at the RAC. They’ll host an improved Penn State team that is a Q2 game. The only other game in Piscataway during this stretch is a landmine game against last place Minnesota. It’s the last Quad 4 game on the schedule and winning is essential to avoid a damaging stain on their postseason resume.

It all starts on Thursday night in East Lansing as Rutgers will face a tough Michigan State team coming off two straight losses. The Scarlet Knights have never won there and have lost by an average of 15.6 points in five defeats with Pikiell as head coach.

The Scarlet Knights will then get the weekend off before hosting Penn State on Tuesday, January 24. It’s a Quad 2 game. The Nittany Lions shoot the three ball at a 42.1% clip in Big Ten play. They’re noticeably improved under second year head coach Micah Shrewsberry. These two programs always have memorable battles on the court. RU won senior day by just 1 point last March to complete its best finish in Big Ten play in program history.

A rematch at Iowa awaits on Sunday, January 29. After losing to the Hawkeyes at home a week and a half ago, it will be a challenge to slow them down on the road. The quick pace and ball movement of Iowa negated the physicality and trapping of the Rutgers defense. How Steve Pikiell and his staff game plan for this one will be fascinating to watch for.

Minnesota then visits the RAC in a game Rutgers very much needs to win. No team in the league can be underestimated as the Gophers proved in beating Ohio State in Columbus last week.

The Super Saturday game at Madison Square Garden will be the second meeting with the Spartans in a little more than two weeks. This does count as a home game but was scheduled by the Big Ten. While there will definitely be more Rutgers fans in attendance than Michigan State, the program is 0-2 in this game.

There was a raucous pro-RU crowd when they lost to Michigan 69-63 three years ago. It was Pikiell’s first season in which the Scarlet Knights surrendered a nine point lead with over three minutes left to lose to Wisconsin in overtime in front of a pro-Badger crowd.

The almost month long seven game stretch ends with back to back road games at Indiana and at Illinois. They won in Bloomington last year on Ron Harper He’s game winning three and have beaten the Hoosiers seven of eight including this past December. However, playing the Illini in Champaign has not been a friendly venue for RU.

Rutgers has begun 2023 with 4-1 record in Big Ten play over the last two weeks. Doing so was especially impressive because it included road wins at then No. 1 Purdue and at Northwestern. The Scarlet Knights have flipped the script so far this season from have road woes to becoming road warriors. Through seven league games, RU is in sole possession of second place at 5-2. However, if they want to keep pace with the first place Boilermakers, they must keep winning away from the RAC.

In addition, they have an opportunity to bolster their NCAA Tournament resume even further by improving on their 3-2 record against Quad 1 opponents. Per KenPom, Rutgers is projected to win both home games and against MSU at the Garden. The Scarlet Knights are projected to lose all four road games but the encouraging part is each by just one possession. With their proven ability to close out games and having won at Mackey Arena, Rutgers can win anywhere if their elite defense travels. If a Big Ten title is to become a reality, they’ll need to do just that.

The Scarlet Knights currently have a NET ranking of No. 18 and KenPom ranking of No. 15. Rutgers is in very strong shape from a metrics perspective. If they can produce a winning record over this challenging seven game stretch, their resume will be even stronger. As always, the key to this team is to continue to grind it out.

Here is a full look at the seven games ahead on the schedule.

Courtesy of ESPN


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