Five games in five days.
It’s been done before, but not in the Big Ten.
When Jim Delany moved the Big Ten Tournament to New York City, it was considered to be a thank-you present for Rutgers joining the Big Ten. Commissioner Delany probably hoped that Rutgers would have finished better than the No. 14 seed for the fourth year in a row.
But I suppose if you want to gin up local excitement, what better way than having the only local team play as many games as possible? So do the Scarlet Knights actually have a chance to work a miracle? Let’s take a look.
Rutgers gets a reeling Minnesota squad, fresh off a blowout loss to Purdue. Minnesota’s four conference wins earned them the No. 11 seed, but that result is a little misleading since half those wins came when the Gophers had Amir Coffey and Reggie Lynch. Since the loss of those two, Minnesota has been the worst team in the league.
Rutgers lost the only regular season meeting between the two squads. It was at Minnesota and was the very first game of both teams’ conference seasons. The Gophers won by 22. Since then, Minnesota’s KenPom ranking has fallen 84 spots, and Rutgers’ has fallen 35. This one isn’t going to be pretty. Rutgers is the worst shooting team in the country, but their defense and Minnesota’s thin roster might give them a chance.
If They Advance
Should Rutgers win on Wednesday, they would need to beat Indiana on Thursday, then Purdue on Friday. Rutgers was 0-3 against those teams this season, though they took Purdue to the wire in the RAC on February 3. Corey Sanders had 31 points that night, and Rutgers made 50% of their threes. Sanders is a skilled player who is capable of a big game, and they say talented guards are the key to postseason success. Could Rutgers ride Sanders’ hot hand and the energy of the east coast crowd into Saturday’s semifinals?
Probably not. But if they did, they would most likely see the Ohio State Buckeyes, a team the Scarlet Knights played twice, never getting closer than 22 points. A win there and they could face any team in the top half of the bracket, which is headlined by the No. 1 seed, the Michigan State Spartans. Rutgers memorably took Izzo’s squad to overtime in East Lansing. Imagine an overtime game between the No. 1 and No. 14 for the Big Ten title.
You have to imagine it because you’re never going to see it.
Defense wins, goes the adage, and Rutgers is a good defensive team. And not just good in the way your special cousin is “good” at Legos. They’re No. 31 nationally in defensive efficiency.
The trouble is they’re in the 300s in terms of offensive efficiency. Rutgers doesn’t have a single pure jumpshooter on the roster. Geo Baker is the closest thing they’ve got at 36% from deep. That plus good defense might be enough to win one game, but I’d be stunned if it’s good enough to win two, much less five.