Yes, this is a young basketball team with a ton of promise. We know that after 7 conference wins which is Rutgers best performance since joining the Big 10 and that has surpassed many expectations from fans and experts alike.
But what happened after that big win at Iowa when RU was positioned nicely for a first-round bye? Truth be told, there was little shot at beating a hot Indiana team on their home court Sunday. The reality is the sub .500 record and an early trip to the windy city for the first Round of the Big 10 tournament was secured on Wednesday in Piscataway.
The first half at home against Penn State was the missed opportunity. Showing no life after coming off an offensive surge in Iowa City last Saturday was really tough to watch considering RU was coming home to a sold out RAC and what we thought was a ton of momentum. They went down as much as 20 points. Penn State did have their best player back and was in the midst of a resurgence of their season. But wasn’t it Rutgers who was “resurging” after the performance in Iowa? You would think that Rutgers coming home in a must win situation would be more than ready to get after Penn State. The Scarlet Knights have been very good at the RAC. They would surely handle the moment? Well, they did wake up in the second half but it was a hair too late. Myles Johnson couldn’t get the ball to go down in the final seconds and that was it. Opportunity lost.
I know, I know, this is what happens to young teams. And with the bad, there has been plenty of good. I actually predicted 14 wins this season which was optimistic at the time. And earlier in the season it didn’t look like they had a chance for that. Was I to expect more? Could I ask for anything more from this terrific young class of recruits? The answer is no.
So instead of that second-round spot against Minnesota, they will play Nebraska on Wednesday. Which is not all that bad of a match up. Nebraska lost one of their best players, Isaac Copeland, to injury and has been struggling before they pulled off a comeback at home against Iowa to close out the conference schedule. Rutgers beat Nebraska in a tight game at the RAC in January and they can do the same in Chicago in March.
A run in this tournament like last year, may not be likely but is not out of the question. The one thing this team has not been is predictable. When they are down they have shown the ability to get back up. The win at Iowa after the heartbreaking loss at home to them is a perfect example. Credit Steve Pikiell for keeping the team together and focused. To the point, when they are up they don’t always seize the momentum which we witnessed last Wednesday.
It’s fair to note that on Sunday the team did have to deal with the recent suspension of Issa Thiam which certainly did not help matters in Indiana. Let’s hope it can do more to galvanize the team rather than distract for the upcoming trip.
Rutgers may not have gotten that coveted first-round bye, but they did climb out of the Big 10 basement. That may not sound that great but it’s actually a big step. And those steps will keep coming.