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Breaking down Rutgers' Big Ten opponents for 2019-2020 season

The Rutgers men's and women's basketball teams unveiled their Big Ten opponents for the upcoming 2019-2020 season, marking Scarlet Knights' fifth season in the conference.

Several new opponents will travel to the Banks that Rutgers did not host last season, including Illinois, Purdue — who advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament this past March — and Wisconsin.

The Knights will play these three teams along with Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State, all at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) and on the road.

Rutgers will welcome Indiana, Minnesota and Northwestern to the RAC as well in the upcoming season.

The Knights sold out the 8,000-seat RAC five times, the most since they were in the Big East 15 years earlier. The first sell-out of this past season was against Michigan State, who Rutgers will face solely on the road in East Lansing, Michigan.

In that game, back on Nov. 30, the Knights trailed by 2 points at the half before losing to the Spartans at the RAC.

Aside from Michigan State, Rutgers will make road trips to Iowa and Ohio State, but will not have the three teams come to the RAC. 

The Knights handled both the Golden Gophers and the Hoosiers at the RAC last season, while falling to the Wildcats. Against Northwestern in its only road win of the year, Rutgers mounted a comeback down 10 points during the second half and tied the game, but couldn't take a lead.

This past season, the Knights made the largest surge in the KenPom.com ratings, jumping 70 points over the course of the season. Rutgers was also recently named Sports Illustrated's Most Improved Team, after finishing the season with a program-best seven wins in the Big Ten, including upsets over the then-No. 16 Buckeyes and then-No. 22 Hawkeyes on the road.

Expected to conclude the 2018-2019 campaign in last place in the conference, the Knights were able to finish the year sharing the 10th-place spot, the highest spot on the standings in their five-year history in the Big Ten. 

Subtracting graduate student center Shaquille Doorson (who graduates in May) from Rutgers' rotation, the team had six underclassmen play pivotal roles throughout the season. With the average amount of experience at 1.05 years, the Knights will maintain a young core of players including freshmen redshirt center Myles Johnson, guards Montez Mathis and Caleb McConnell and forward Ron Harper Jr.

The four freshmen played lengthy minutes during Big Ten play while Mathis, McConnell and Harper Jr.'s average scoring numbers jumped from non-conference to conference play in their first years on the Banks.

Mathis made the biggest leap out of the three freshman guards, turning a 5.7 points-per-game average against non-conference opponents into double digits against Big Ten foes (10.2 points per game), the only freshman to surpass single digits in the category.

Of all the Big Ten opponents the Rutgers women’s basketball team is set to face next season, the one matchup that may warrant a special mark on the calendar will take place right at home against the defending Big Ten Tournament champions. 

The Knights are set to host Iowa for the lone matchup against the Hawkeyes and the only opportunity to avenge their Big Ten tournament semifinals loss. Rutgers will not have to deal with reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Megan Gustafson when it takes on the Hawkeyes at the RAC next season, relieving it from the burden of a player that averaged 26 points per game between the Big Ten Tournament meeting, and the regular season meeting between the two teams in Iowa City that snapped the Knights' 10-game winning streak. 

The game in Iowa City last season ended up being consequential in determining the top two seeds in the conference, and the meeting at the RAC next season could hold a similar significance for two of the best teams in the Big Ten. 

Rutgers will play the opposite role when it travels to Purdue to take on the Boilermakers in a rematch of the Knights' victories in the Big Ten quarterfinals and a 2-point regular season overtime game at the RAC. Unlike the Iowa matchup, Rutgers will be retaining the player that gave Purdue the most problems in rising senior guard Arella Guirantes, who averaged 16.5 points per game in the two meetings against the Boilermakers last season. 

Another opponent that will have the Knights circled, not once, but twice, on the schedule this upcoming season is cross-state rival Penn State. Since joining the Big Ten, Rutgers has won 7 out of 8 meetings against the Nittany Lions, and is coming off a year in which it swept both meetings home and away. 

Penn State will get two opportunities in Piscataway and in College Park to make up some ground against the Knights, and Rutgers will get two opportunities to keep their perennial dominance over the Nittany Lions going in one of the only college sports where they seem to have Penn State’s number. 

Perhaps the Knights' highest of highs and lowest of lows came against the same opponent last season in two meetings against Maryland. In the final game of the 2018 calendar year, Rutgers went on the road to take on then-No. 4 Maryland and established its presence as a major player in that year’s conference off the back of a dominant fourth quarter. 

Maryland returned the favor in February when it came into the RAC and seemingly ran the Knights out of their own building during the team’s rough stretch in which they lost 4 out of 5 games. The loss to the Terrapins was the team’s worst of the year, and could have been made even worse if not for another ironically productive fourth quarter by Rutgers, but in a losing effort. 

The Knights will only have one opportunity to take on last year’s top seed in the Big Ten, and it will take place down in College Park. 

For updates on the Rutgers basketball teams, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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