May 24, 2018 | ° F

Tough AAC tournament road for Scarlet Knights

Column | Stumper's Sports

After Monday night’s loss to University of Southern Florida at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, the Rutgers women’s basketball team locked up their positioning heading into the inaugural AAC tournament.

With their loss to the Bulls, Rutgers wrapped up the regular season with a 21-8 overall record, going 12-6 in conference. They clinched the No. 4 seed going into the conference tournament, which is not the ideal position for the young team.

Had they knocked off USF in the finale, the Knights would have been the No. 3 seed for the AAC tournament, which would be a great feat. As No. 4, the Knights have a first-round bye and will begin postseason play on Saturday, tipping off against SMU. Their first game should not be an issue for Rutgers, as they put up a perfect 2-0 record against the Mustangs this year. They can’t afford to look past their first game, however, as it’s not currently a guarantee they make the NCAA tournament. Having spent some time in the top 25 this season, it’s likely that they will clinch a berth in the big dance if they get past SMU.

After that first game, things could get ugly.

Since the Knights couldn’t thwart USF at home Monday night, their No. 4 seed puts them on the same side of the bracket as the most successful team in women’s college basketball history — the UConn Huskies.

In two matchups against Geno Auriemma’s Huskies this season, Rutgers showed their young talent is still nowhere close to that of UConn’s. At home on Jan. 19, the Knights dropped their contest against Connecticut by 30, losing 94-64 at the RAC. It is always a tough test going against the top-ranked team in the country, and that day, the Knights could not hang.

The second time around against the Huskies, things only got worse. This past weekend in Storrs, the Scarlet Knights had a chance to avenge the embarrassing loss at the hands of UConn. Unfortunately, they came back to New Jersey with their tail between their legs.

Even more so than in their first matchup, UConn got up early on the Knights and never looked back. Rutgers trailed 45-20 at the half, and ended up dropping the contest by a whopping 37 points, 72-35.

Connecticut looks like the powerhouse they always are, but the fact that Rutgers showed no improvement against them since their first matchup of the season is a reason for concern. And now, the Knights will have to face UConn for a third time if they get past their first game of the tournament. It was bad enough playing them twice during the year, but a potential postseason matchup with a well-oiled machine like the Huskies could be disastrous for the inexperienced Scarlet Knights.

On the other side of the bracket, the task is no walk in the park, but it’s easier. USF, as the No. 3 seed, will get a crack at Louisville if they get through their first game. Louisville, last year’s national runner-up, also gave Rutgers fits this season, it’s much easier to see them pulling off an upset against the Cardinals than against UConn.

In two games against Louisville this year, Rutgers came up empty. However, they did take the Cardinals down to the wire at the RAC back in January, losing by only nine points. Rutgers actually led at halftime over then-No. 5 Louisville, so they have an idea of how to be successful against the Cardinals.

Had Rutgers grabbed the No. 3 seed with a win over USF Monday, they would have set themselves up nicely for a date with Louisville, and a chance to get themselves into the Conference Tournament final. Two wins in a conference tournament looks way better than just one on a NCAA Tournament Resume, and that has been Rutgers’ ultimate goal all year.

At the end of the day, the difference between the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds at the AAC Conference Tournament is a lot more than just one number — it’s the difference between giving yourself a chance to get to the final and putting yourself in front of the buzz saw that is UConn. If the Scarlet Knights get past their game against Temple and SMU, they will have their work cut out for them to say the least.


James Stumper Jr. is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies and history. His column, “Stumper’s Sports,” runs on alternate Thursdays.

By James Stumper Jr.

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