Even with 2 straight losses, Rutgers completely ready for NCAA run

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Just after 31 many years of coaching, Steve Pikiell is searching ahead to the time when he can roll a basketball onto the court docket, sit again and observe Rutgers win activity right after game.

As shortly as the terms came out his mouth Thursday, the 54-12 months-previous Scarlet Knights mentor started laughing. It was practically as if he remembered his group plays in the Big 10 Convention.

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The league is stacked with some of the best groups in Division I. 5 Significant Ten teams are at present rated in the WHD Best 25, and Michigan State and Rutgers (16-11, 10-7) just about obtained ample votes to be portion of the poll this earlier week. No person wins them all.

Rutgers is at the finish of a three-week buzz-saw routine that has featured six of 7 online games in opposition to ranked groups.

What is exceptional is the Scarlet Knights have used the operate to thrust on their own into the NCAA Tournament image. They won 4 straight around ranked opponents right before getting rid of at now-No. 4 Purdue on Sunday and at Michigan on Wednesday. Up subsequent is No. 13 Wisconsin Saturday at dwelling.

“I really don’t know in the heritage of college basketball if anybody has played six rated teams in seven video games,” Pikiell claimed Thursday. “I necessarily mean, these teams aren’t just ranked. They are in the top rated 15. It’s not just the Top 25. It really is the top 15.”

While the the latest operate has been eye-opening, several expected very good factors from the Scarlet Knights right after they went 16-11 past season and produced the NCAA Event for the first time because 1991. Tenth-seeded Rutgers knocked off No. 7 seed Clemson in the initial spherical and experienced a nine-level direct over No. 2 seed Houston right before falling 63-60 in the 2nd round. The Cougars ended up reaching the Closing Four.

Guard Geo Baker and ahead Ron Harper Jr. returned this season, but the Scarlet Knights however struggled early. Participating in with out Baker for six video games, they shed to DePaul, Lafayette and UMass and were pushed by other people.

“Early in the 12 months, we misplaced a single-possession video games,” Pikiell mentioned. “That is what we were going by. We assumed we were being fairly fantastic but we had to establish it again this year. They imagined very last 12 months was just heading to come about all over again and we didn’t enjoy as effectively as you will need to.”

Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell yells from the sideline during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Michigan, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022, in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell yells from the sideline throughout the 2nd half of an NCAA college or university basketball recreation in opposition to Michigan, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022, in Ann Arbor, Mich.
(WHD Photo/Carlos Osorio)

The turnaround started this thirty day period, pursuing an time beyond regulation loss on the road to Northwestern. It was Rutgers’ third decline in four games, with the only earn a two-position conclusion above final-spot Nebraska.

The Scatlet Knights were not even on the NCAA bubble at that place.

What adopted was 4 straight wins at house above No. 13 Michigan State, No. 16 Ohio State, No. 14 Wisconsin and No. 12 Illinois, a group that experienced beaten the Scarlet Knights by 35 points earlier in the time.

Those people rankings have changed, but it manufactured Rutgers the first Division I team with wins in four consecutive online games coming about ranked foes considering that Michigan Condition in 2019-20. It also gave the Scatlet Knights a 5-2 history towards rated opponents this season, like a gain above then-No. 1 Purdue immediately after the Boilermakers reached the major place for the very first time.

The run has taken a toll. Rutgers was crushed by No. 5 Purdue Sunday and dropped 71-62 to Michigan on Wednesday with the Scarlet Knights out of fuel and the Wolverines playing with extra incentive just after coach Juwan Howard’s suspension.

“I reported some groups get far better and some groups get even worse,” Pikiell mentioned. “I’m thankful that these fellas made the decision to get improved. We can engage in any individual. Yeah, but in our league far too, we can lose to any individual when you’re not appropriate.”

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Besides Harper (15.7 factors) and Baker (11.9), Rutgers is deep. Paul Mulcahy has averaged 17 factors not too long ago and athletic massive gentleman Cliff Omoruyi has gotten a ton improved, averaging 11.8 factors and 7.8 rebounds. Caleb McConnell is the best defensive participant in the league, averaging a convention-high 2.3 steals.

For now, Pikiell is targeted on experiencing Wisconsin all over again on a short turnaround. His crew acquired again from Michigan at 1 a.m. Thursday and a few of his players experienced 8 a.m. courses.

“I have experienced to battle from working day one particular,” Pikiell explained. “Which is all I know, and you are likely to have some excellent wins. You can have some tough losses. You have to retain transferring, preserve receiving much better and preserve believing in your guys.”

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