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Rutgers' NCAA Tournament hopes depend on team-wide performance

 – Photo by Photo by Benjamin Chelnitsky | The Daily Targum

With the Rutgers women’s basketball team’s exit from its conference tournament this past Thursday, the Scarlet Knights (22-9, 11-7) will now look toward Selection Monday for their seeding in the NCAA Tournament.

The announcement of the selections will be televised on ESPN on Monday at 7 p.m. 

Though nothing is official, Rutgers’ ability to capture 22 wins, including one at home against No. 18 Iowa in its regular-season finale, should be enough to propel it to the Big Dance for a second-straight year and the fifth time this decade.

Last season, the Knights earned a trip to the Tournament after compiling a 22-9 overall record with 13 conference wins. They secured the seventh seed but lost to Buffalo, the 10th seed, in the first round by an 82-71 final score. The Bulls went 24-10 overall last year with a 12-6 record in their conference.

The other three times Rutgers secured a bid to the Tournament in the past 10 years were in 2015, 2012 and 2011.

The highest round the Knights advanced to in those attempts was the second, which occurred in 2015 when Rutgers took on the eventual Tournament champion UConn after defeating Seton Hall 79-66. The Knights dropped that game to the Huskies by a final score of 91-55. UConn went 38-1 that season, with its only loss coming two games into the year against Stanford.

This year, Rutgers is predicted to hold the ninth seed in the Dallas division, according to ESPN’s Bracketology with Charlie Creme. The Knights are projected to play Drake in Waco, Texas.

The Bulldogs (22-8, 14-4) earned a second-place finish in the Missouri Valley Conference this season, though just one other team in the league is predicted to make the Tournament.

While junior guard Arella Guirantes has the capability to perform well in her team’s first game, Rutgers will need a strong team-wide performance if it wishes to make any serious run at the title.

In the Knights’ last contest against Indiana, Rutgers’ scorers were Guirantes (30 points), graduate student guard Khadaizha Sanders (14), junior forwards Mael Gilles (7) and Tekia Mack (7) and redshirt freshman forward Tyia Singleton (2).

That top-heavy level of production didn’t cut it against the No. 20 Hoosiers (24-8, 13-5), and it certainly won’t cut it against higher-caliber teams come the later rounds of the Tournament. 

Looking to make an impact on the court will be senior center Jordan Wallace. After a 9-point, three-rebound performance against Wisconsin in the second round of the conference tournament, Wallace played 8 minutes against Indiana, fouling out after attempting just one shot from the field.

Her ability to provide an improved level of play against the Knights’ first opponent in the Big Dance will be a factor in whether they advance any further than last year.

The rest of this Rutgers squad has shown its capability to perform at a high level at various points this season. Its ability to put together one strong, solidified performance will determine whether the Knights have any meaningful success come the start of the Tournament.

The first round will begin on March 20, with the second round commencing on March 22.

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