Rutgers has played the toughest B1G schedule at midway point
After a another frustrating loss to Iowa on Sunday, Rutgers returned home with a 6-4 record in Big Ten play. At the midpoint of the conference slate, the Scarlet Knights sit in a three-way tie for third place. Even so, aside from Purdue now running away from the field in first place with a 10-1 record, RU arguably has had the second most impressive start in league play so far.
Rutgers has earned four Quad 1 wins in Big Ten play. This includes a road win over No. 1 Purdue at Mackey Arena. It’s the biggest win in college basketball this season and grows in prestige with every Boilermaker victory. Purdue is now 21-1 overall and holds a three game lead in the conference with a 10-1 mark.
Another reason that the 6-4 start for the Scarlet Knights is notable is that per KenPom and Bart Torvik, RU has played the most difficult schedule in the Big Ten through ten league games. Of the five teams with at least a 6-4 record in the league, the other four teams have a strength of schedule ranked No. 10-14 between both analytical sites.
In addition, Rutgers has played six of the top seven teams in offensive efficiency in Big Ten play a total number of eight times so far. And yet, the Scarlet Knights are currently No. 2 in defensive efficiency in league action per KenPom while Torvik has them No. 1. That might be the most standout statistic there is at this point in the season. RU is 5-3 in those eight games.
A reason for optimism is that after playing the strongest schedule in Big Ten play through the first half of the league schedule, the second half is currently projected as the weakest remaining per Torvik. Rutgers does play three of the six teams with winning records in league play all away from the RAC in three straight games beginning next weekend. However, they also play last place Minnesota twice, including Wednesday at the RAC. In addition, they host 13th place Nebraska and travel to Wisconsin, currently struggling having lost six of their last seven league contests.
There are no easy games in Big Ten play. Rutgers has been through a gauntlet so far but came out of it with a winning record and the best defense in the league. And this is in spite of their controversial loss at Ohio State in December. This is a mentally tough team with a distinct identity and ability to impose their will on a lot of teams in this league. Staying healthy and of the right mindset is the key moving forward.
“We’re good. You want to win every game, but this league isn’t built that way,” Steve Pikiell said after Sunday’s loss to Iowa. “When we’re focused and when our defenses is where it needs to be, and when we defend without fouling (we are a good team). We shared the game today with 23 assists and shot over 50 percent. If we could eliminate the turnovers, maybe it would’ve been a little different, but I love our fight. We never back down. We’re down 11 at half and we get this thing to a one-point game with eight minutes left. There weren’t a lot of good things going for us. We had a lot of guys in foul trouble. We had a lot of obstacles here and obviously; Iowa was an obstacle because they’re playing really good basketball at home. They’re good. I like this team a lot.”
Sunday was a difficult matchup and poor result, but that isn’t reflective of this team’s body of work nor their projected outlook. Both KenPom and Torvik project Rutgers to finish in second place in the Big Ten standings with a 13-7 league record. Their NET ranking is No. 21 and projected by most bracketologists as a No. 5 seed for the NCAA Tournament. They are No. 18 in KenPom and No. 16 in Torvik. While the first half of league play could have produced better results, the actual results are very good.
Next up, RU will host Minnesota on Wednesday followed by Michigan State at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. There is a long way to go, but there is plenty of reason for optimism. The Scarlet Knights need to keep grinding, play together and suffocate foes with their elite defense. If they continue to do that, they’ll be as tough an out for any team in this league. Just ask No. 1 Purdue.
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January 31, 2023 at 1:23 pm
Aaron, really enjoyed this article. All of us hard-core fans need a little pick-me-up after some of these losses. Keep up the great work!
Jfuntimes in NB
January 31, 2023 at 4:22 pm
The perspective is needed.
Winning Minnesota is essential for obvious reasons, but I would love to get revenge against Michigan St. Let’s hope we have a strong Rutgers fan turnout as MSG.
February 1, 2023 at 4:49 am
We will soon find out if the easier part of the schedule is kind to us.