July 16, 2018 | ° F

Winning streak keeps tournament hopes alive

Photo by Andrew Howard |

Head coach C. Vivian Stringer's squad won three straight games to make the NCAA'Tournament a more serious possibility.

With five games left in the regular season, the Rutgers women's basketball team finds itself in a less than familiar position. In a typical season, the Scarlet Knights would be wondering how high of a seed they would get for next month's NCAA Tournament.

This year though, there is still a bit of uncertainty over whether the team will even make it to the big dance.

But things are looking up for the Knights, who won three straight games for a total of 15 victories on the season.

"I think it's going to depend on what we do for the rest of the season," head coach C. Vivian Stringer said after Villanova. "If we bomb out we're in trouble. … Those of us who have been around long enough, when it comes this far, we're always surprised. One way or another, we're surprised."

But after a look at the Knights' schedule this year, the bigger surprise at this point would be if RU didn't make the tournament at all.

First, take a glance at the Knights' strength of schedule — one of the toughest in the nation.

RU played four of the top-five teams this season in No. 1 Connecticut, No. 2 Stanford, No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 5 Tennessee. Tonight's game against No. 9 West Virginia marks the fifth top-10 team RU takes on this season.

The Knights' blowout victory over Kean — who has won 23 straight games since losing to Rutgers — has to be thrown out the window because the Cougars are a D-III school. That puts RU at 14 wins right now.

Last season, the Knights carried 17 regular season wins — discounting the victory over Farmingdale State — into the Big East Tournament, picking up one more in Hartford, Conn., for a total of 18 wins. That number of victories was good enough for a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Taking the 14 current wins into account, the Knights should be a lock if they can equal that magic number again. Even if RU loses to the Mountaineers tonight, two of its remaining games are near-locks for wins.

With the departure of standout forward Angel McCaughtry, the Louisville Cardinals have spiraled and sit in fourth from last place in the Big East. Providence — a team the Knights beat by 13 points last season — sits in the middle of the pack but should not be an issue if the Knights continue playing as they have of late. Taking that into account, RU would have 16 victories.

The other two pre-conference tournament tests lie in No. 22 St. John's and Syracuse, the latter of which beat Rutgers earlier this season on the road. Since that win, the Orange faded considerably, losing to Cincinnati and conference bottom-feeder Villanova. The Knights get a crack at both the Red Storm and the Orange at the Louis Brown Athletic Center and, between the two, should be able to grind out at least one win for their 17th regular season victory.

Couple that with a victory in the first round of the Big East Tournament and RU sits exactly where it was last year — 18 eligible wins and NCAA-bound.

Steven Williamson

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