Analyzing Rutgers' opponents in preseason Top 25 poll

With college basketball starting in less than a month, the Associated Press released its annual preseason Top 25 Rankings. Teams receiving votes are ranked in order, with the highest amount of votes resulting in a top ranking.

This AP preseason poll opens with two Big Ten teams headlining the top 10. Michigan State was named the consensus No. 1, who reached the Final Four for the third time in this decade while Maryland was checked in at No. 7 in the poll.

Ohio State, at No. 18, is the only other school in the conference ranked inside the top 20 while Purdue made the poll by two places, with a No. 23 ranking. 

The Rutgers men's basketball team will have the opportunity to face all four of these top 25 teams this season. The Scarlet Knights open their Big Ten slate in East Lansing, Michigan, on Dec. 8 against the Spartans, their second game in the final month of 2019.

After hosting Wisconsin three days later, Rutgers welcomes in-state rival Seton Hall for the annual Garden State Hardwood Classic on Dec. 14. The Pirates are ranked 12th in the top 25 poll, after making the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive season.

Seton Hall's top player, Trenton, New Jersey, native Myles Powell, was named a Preseason All-American on Tuesday. Michigan State's Cassius Winston, who put up 22 points in the Spartans' 78-67 win over the Knights back on Nov. 30, 2018, also was included in the honor.

Last season, Rutgers lost by 6 points to the Pirates at the Prudential Center, after coming back from a 9-point deficit at halftime. The Knights have managed an upset over their in-state rival in 2017, when Seton Hall was ranked No. 15 in the Ap Top 25 Poll. In that game, they held Powell to 18 points while former standout Corey Sanders finished with 22 points.

Of Rutgers' two upset wins last season, its first was against the then-No. 16 Buckeyes on Jan. 9. Junior guard Geo Baker connected on a jump shot with 13 seconds remaining, powering the Knights to an upset over Ohio State.

When Rutgers traveled to Columbus, Ohio, last season, the Buckeyes were ready, handling them with ease, 76-62, this past February. With the Knights' only game against Ohio State on the road this season, it should prove to be a challenge for the young Rutgers team.

The Knights do not face another preseason ranked team until the end of January when the Boilermakers visit the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) for an 8 p.m. tipoff. Last season, Purdue had no problem defending its home of Lafayette, Indiana, downing Rutgers 89-54, a game where the Knights' bench only scored 10 combined points.

The Boilermakers do not return several key starters in two-time All-American Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline, who averaged 24.3 and 12 points per game, respectively. They do have an impressive recruiting class that includes former four-star standouts Mason Gillis and Brandon Newman. 

Rounding out the list of AP Top 25 preseason opponents for Rutgers are the Terrapins. The Knights will face Maryland twice this season. First in College Park, Maryland, on Feb. 4, just three days following their Super Saturday matchup against Michigan at Madison Square Garden (MSG), Rutgers and the Terrapins will get underway.

In the lone meeting between the two teams last season, a sold-out RAC watched as Maryland controlled the game offensively, shooting 48.3% from the field. The Terrapins' perimeter defense held the Knights to a sub-30% 3-point shooting night, in a 77-63 win for the visitors. 

Rutgers will host Maryland on senior day this season, its last home game on March 3, before the Big Ten Tournament, which starts on March 11 in Indianapolis.

The Terrapins return their leading scorer, Anthony Cowan Jr., who averaged 15.6 points per game. Bruno Fernando, one of the team's top rebounders, also returns for his third season with Maryland. Fernando averaged more than 10 rebounds per game last season, grabbing a season-high 19 rebounds against Nebraska.

The Knights certainly have their work cut out for them going up against these five ranked teams. But, with new student-athletes like true freshman guard Paul Mulcahy, graduate student forward Akwasi Yeboah and junior guard Jacob Young in the rotation, could keep Rutgers in games as underdogs.

For updates on the Rutgers men's basketball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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