July 16, 2018 | ° F

Conference proves to be one of nation’s hardest

Photo by Nelson Morales |

Sophomore guard Myles Mack has generally been Rutgers’ statistical leader since sophomore guard Eli Carter went down with a fractured right fibula. But other Big East teams have won with greater star power, which has led to several Knights losses.

This college basketball season has, if nothing else, shown that there are no automatic wins in the power conferences.

If Penn State, a team whose RPI once sat at 194, can beat a top-five team in Michigan, and Indiana can lose three times as the nation’s No. 1, each win must be earned.

The Big East is a clear indication of this.

Georgetown, which leads the conference, fell to South Florida, which is tied for last in the conference.

Louisville went on a three-game losing streak in the league, its longest in more than three years.

And the Rutgers men’s basketball team has shown tougher teams can be scored on, but it has closed out only one upset, a five-point defeat of then No. 24 Pittsburgh.

“I look at them in the face … and I ask them, ‘did you think it was going to be easy?’” said head coach Mike Rice after Tuesday night’s loss to Marquette.

The contest with the Golden Eagles was the Scarlet Knights’ latest lesson on how difficult life in this conference can be.

Marquette entered the game with a No. 15 ranking, but found itself down 10 points at halftime to a Rutgers team that began the night with eight more conference losses than it.

“That Rutgers is 4-12 entering the day and that we’re 12-4 and a half a game out of first place [had] no bearing on the outcome,” said Marquette head coach Buzz Williams after Tuesday night’s game. “You have to earn the right to win, whether it’s at home or on the road, and I think on a nightly basis, this league is as good as it is.”

The Knights have been on the less fortunate end of the Big East’s talent in recent memory, and this loss was no different.

Each team Rutgers faced has thrown a different dominant player into the mix, whether it was Georgetown’s Otto Porter, Marquette’s Vander Blue, Louisville’s Russ Smith or any of the other NBA prospects that call the Big East home.

So regardless of the Knights’ level of execution, some of its hardships can be chalked up to a league that possesses an abundance of star power.

Twenty percent of the top 20 picks in last year’s NBA Draft came out of the Big East and a total of eight conference players were selected in the first two rounds.

To find further proof, one would only need to compare Rutgers’ conference and out-of-conference records.

Against nonconference opponents, the Knights lost just two out of 12 games, only one of which was by more than four points — a 13 point loss to Ole Miss.

But when pitted up against the Big East, Rutgers has won only four of 17 games and just two of its last 14.

The Big East is easily one of the most competitive leagues top to bottom, evident by its talent and close games between opponents with vastly different records.

“I think a lot of people will say that there’s a huge difference between being 13-4 and 4-13,” Williams said. “But I think when you are inside of that, you realize how fragile this is and small the difference is.”

For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow Joey Gregory on Twitter @JGregoryTargum.

By Joey Gregory

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