Scarlet Knight fans can finally let out a much needed sigh of relief.
It was evident that Rutgers was a much improved team going into the season. But, until the Scarlet Knights picked up a Big Ten victory, there really wasn’t much for Rutgers fans to be happy about and point to as an indication of improvement.
Well, on Friday night, Rutgers finally shook the monkey off of its back and defeated the Wisconsin Badgers 64-60 at home.
There seemed to be a lid on the baskets in the game, as both teams struggled to get anything going offensively for a good portion of the game. Nevertheless, with the Scarlet Knights ahead 55-53 with under one minute remaining, Corey Sanders knocked down a cold-blooded three to seal the deal.
Let’s take a look at what we can take away from the game.
What We Learned:
1. Rutgers Never Has Really Had a Problem Playing Competitively Against the Badgers
In the three full seasons since the Scarlet Knights have joined the Big Ten, Wisconsin has put some pretty impressive teams on the court.
At the same time, Rutgers has struggled to compete in the juggernaut of a conference. Regardless, the Scarlet Knights for some reason are often able to give Wisconsin a run for its money.
In fact, the second win Rutgers ever collected as a member of the Big Ten was against the Badgers. That Wisconsin team was also ranked fourth in the country and went on to lose in the National Championship.
Granted, the Badgers have blown Rutgers out a few times. But, out of all Big Ten teams, it’s interesting that a team as good as Wisconsin is the one that the Scarlet Knights always seem to compete with. They even took the fifteenth ranked Badgers to overtime last year in a game that I’m not even sure Wisconsin knew how it escaped with a win.
2. Ethan Happ Needs to Be a Little More Selfish
Happ was expected to be one of the best players in the country this season after earning All-American honors when he was only a sophomore last season.
I’m not saying Happ hasn’t been good this season, but he definitely hasn’t been great. What this tells me is that Happ is vulnerable, and teams are capable of figuring him out.
Happ is definitely having a solid season. If the season ended today, the 17.1 points per game the big body is averaging would be his best single season mark. However, his rebounding numbers are down from last season in which he averaged nine per game. Happ currently averages 8.3.
The statistics shouldn’t be looked at as the reason why Happ isn’t invincible. Because frankly Happ still looks great on paper. But, Happ simply doesn’t seem to posses the maturity yet to take over a game and lead his team whenever necessary.
Happ did have a double-double against Rutgers (10 points and 10 rebounds), but he only took 10 shots. When your team is losing to Rutgers on the road, a preseason and defending All-American should be shooting on almost every possession when the game is on the line.
That didn’t happen against the Scarlet Knights and the Badgers lost the game. Gard either needs to tell Happ to play a little more selfish or Happ needs to take it upon himself to do so.
3. Wisconsin is in Unfamiliar Territory
Out of every season within Wisconsin’s current 19-season NCAA Tournament streak, there haven’t been many in which the Badgers have had to sneak in the tournament.
But, it’s reached the point this season that unless Wisconsin wins the Big Ten Tournament, squeaking into the field of 68 is what it will have to do.
The Badgers have come extremely close to beating a good team on multiple occasions this season. As disappointing as that is, a loss to a good team doesn’t do any more damage to one’s NCAA Tournament resume than a tally in the loss department.
A loss to Rutgers though is a major red flag. Wisconsin is now 9-8 overall and just lost a game in which it should have won. The Badgers are nowhere near in the position to afford a loss like that. Wisconsin needs to figure it out quick and string together a lot of wins if they want the streak to reach 20.
The victory for Rutgers tonight was significant for many reasons. Not only did it erase the goose egg from the Scarlet Knights’ win column, but it is a giant symbol for progress, something that Rutgers fans have been in search of or quite some time now.
On the other hand, the loss for Wisconsin is detrimental and should open the programs eyes. Even if it puts its foot on the gas now, Wisconsin still may fall short of the field of 68.