Rutgers prepares for Championship season
Scaife has opportunity to return to NCAA Tournament
Coming off of last season’s incredibly disappointing 6-24 season, the Rutgers women's basketball team has certainly turned things around this season.
With two games remaining on the regular season schedule, the team is 19-9 on the year and has a 7-7 Big Ten record. The Scarlet Knights have also played incredibly well at home, going 13-2 this season in games inside the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC).
So where does this admirable season leave them heading into the Big Ten Championships, as well as the women’s NCAA tournament in March?
Well first comes the conference tournament, which is being held from Feb. 28 to March 4 at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana.
As the standings currently sit, Rutgers is in ninth place out of 14 Big Ten teams. It is the only team with a .500 record in the Big Ten (7-7), but keep in mind it has two conference games to go to close out the season — on the road in Iowa and at home against Northwestern.
In front of the Knights sitting in eighth place is Indiana, who is 8-6 within the conference. The Hoosiers beat Rutgers back on Jan. 27 in Indiana, 64-58. Behind the Knights is Penn State, who Rutgers split two games with this season, who is 6-8 in the conference.
A win against a very good Hawkeyes team would be huge for the Knights, as Iowa currently sits in fifth place within the conference (9-5). The last game of the season for Rutgers should be an easy way to end the year, playing at home against a Wildcats team that is 3-11 within the Big Ten.
At the very best, the Knights can finish 9-7 in conference play, and secure themselves as either a six, seven or eight seed within the tournament. With the Nittany Lions playing two of the top-tier Big Ten teams in Nebraska and Ohio State to close out their season, it is unlikely they win both of those games to potentially tie or even jump Rutgers in the standings.
Potential teams that the Knights could jump or tie in the standings are Iowa, Michigan, Purdue and Indiana, but they would need help in the loss column from those teams, as well as needing to win at the very least one of their final two games, with winning two games being extremely helpful to their case.
If the season were to end today, Rutgers would play the Hoosiers in the first round of the tournament, being the No. 9 seed in the eight vs. nine matchup.
Wherever the Knights finish in the Big Ten after their final two games, this season's seeding will be an improvement from last season’s Big Ten Tournament, where they were seeded dead last at No. 14, and lost in the first round to the No. 11 seed Wisconsin, 61-55.
Now looking at the women’s NCAA March Madness tournament, is Rutgers going to make it? The short answer is, yes, most likely. Outside of conference games, the Knights have only one bad loss and that was last year on Nov. 26 to Washington State, who is 10-18 this season, and ranked 98 in RPI, compared to Rutgers, who ranks 25 nationally in RPI.
ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme currently has the Knights playing as an eight seed in the top left bracket against his proposed nine seed, Creighton. That game would take place in Storrs, Connecticut at UConn. If Rutgers was to win, it would undoubtedly face off against powerhouse UConn in the next round, according to Creme’s bracket.
The last time the Knights were in the NCAA tournament was back in 2015, and oddly enough as an eight seed, where it played Seton Hall, oddly enough, again in Storrs, Connecticut. The team beat the Pirates 79-66 in a game where then-sophomore Tyler Scaife scored a team-high 21 points.
In the next round, Rutgers squared off against would-be champions UConn, where it lost 91-55. Scaife yet again had a team-high 16 points in that game.
With an experienced roster and a veteran Scaife, this team is poised to win at the very least one, if not two games depending on its seeding and matchups in the tournament. It would be very difficult for the Knights to win more than one game as an eight or nine seed, as that would almost ensure them playing the number one seed in the following round.
If Rutgers can win its final two games of the season and put together a solid performance in the Big Ten tournament, look for its estimated seed in the NCAA tournament to rise, which would steer it away from playing a number one seed in the round of 32.
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