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Beindit’s Breakdown: Rutgers Drops The Ball and League Play Starts

BTPowerhouse Manager Thomas Beindit breaks down some of his thoughts on the conference in a weekly column.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Beindit’s Breakdown is a weekly post from BTPowerhouse Manager Thomas Beindit, where he addresses the hottest Big Ten topics that are on his mind. The post will run weekly and will touch a varying number of topics.

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We’re back with another edition as non-conference play prepares to wrap up for the season and the Big Ten gears up for league play. This week, I’m going to dive into Rutgers, Northwestern, and the excitement building for Big Ten play.

Let’s dive right in.

1. Rutgers derailed what was looking like a good finish for the Big Ten to non-conference play this season.

In last week’s column, I spoke a length about what the last few weeks of December mean to college basketball. It’s a period where teams schedule garbage and hope to avoid any significant upsets. With so many games played against the bottom of college basketball, there’s very little to be gained by Power Five teams.

Unfortunately, Rutgers didn’t heed that advice.

Despite opening the season at 10-3 overall with a win over a good Seton Hall team, Rutgers dropped its last two home games against underwhelming competition. The first was an overtime loss to Stony Brook and the second was a loss to Hartford. Rutgers now sits at 10-5 overall with two bad losses on its resume.

Although we all knew that Rutgers probably wasn’t make the NCAA Tournament, these losses are devastating ones for the Scarlet Knights and the league. After the team’s win over Seton Hall, it looked like Rutgers could be turning the corner. However, it’s hard to keep that narrative alive when Rutgers drops two straight to teams well outside the top 150 on KenPom at home.

The Hartford loss, especially, is a rough one for Rutgers. Hartford was rated 322nd nationally by KenPom entering its matchup with the Scarlet Knights. That’s the program’s worst loss in the KenPom era, which started during the 2001-’02 season. There’s simply no explaining losing to a team like Hartford.

All told, Rutgers has now resumed its place as the anchor of the Big Ten. The team may be projected to win five league games by KenPom, but any win over a Big Ten team will be a huge blow to that team’s postseason hopes. It’s a disappointing development for a team that started so positively, but it’s reality. Rutgers will be an RPI bomb this year.

2. Northwestern is about to enter a crucial stretch.

Another storyline I wrote about in last week’s column was how important Northwestern’s road matchup against Oklahoma could be for the league. It was a massive opportunity for the Wildcats to show the team had put its early season struggles behind and was taking a step forward.

Of course, things didn’t exactly work out that way. Northwestern got annihilated by Oklahoma and fell to 9-5 on the season. The Wildcats close non-conference play this week with Brown at home on Saturday. Considering that Brown is currently ranked 234th on KenPom, one would expect few fireworks in that one.

But things will get interesting soon thereafter.

For Northwestern, the first three weeks of January will likely determine the team’s season. The Wildcats are quickly running out of time to make a push for the NCAA Tournament and January offers a key opportunity. Here’s the team’s upcoming slate:

Northwestern’s January Schedule:

  • 1/2 - Nebraska
  • 1/5 - at Penn State
  • 1/10 - Minnesota
  • 1/14 - at Indiana
  • 1/17 - Ohio State
  • 1/20 - Penn State

Those are six winnable games that would all be a boost to Northwestern’s resume. In act, KenPom favors Northwestern in all of the games above, expect the road trip to Penn State. And considering how Penn State has been playing lately, it’s hard to think that game isn’t winnable either.

Naturally, one may ask why this is such an important stretch, if Northwestern is playing a handful of teams with mixed resumes and with many of the games coming at home. Well, the answer is a simple one: Northwestern needs to capitalize. The schedule is about to get far more difficult, so the Wildcats need to score wins now. And if Northwestern can’t capitalize, it’s hard to imagine how the team recovers.

So, buckle up Wildcat fans.

3. Get excited for Big Ten play.

As fans are well aware, the heart of Big Ten play will tip off early next week. After a brief appetizer in December, the full meal is now on its way. The first day’s set of games also looks really intriguing, with Indiana at Wisconsin, Michigan at Iowa, Penn State at Maryland, and Nebraska at Northwestern.

However, one game that may be flying under the radar is Maryland’s trip to East Lansing next Thursday night. While the Spartans will be favorites in the game, this figures to be an early game in the conference title race. Many view Michigan State and Purdue as runaway favorites, but Maryland could state its case on Thursday.

Either way, it’s hard not to feel excited for conference play.