For the first time in more than 40 years, the Rutgers men’s basketball team is ranked in the Associated Press (AP) preseason poll, landing at No. 24.
The last time the No. 24 Scarlet Knights were ranked before the season started was the 1978-79 campaign, when they were 15th. They qualified for the NCAA tournament that year, losing to No. 10 St. John’s in the Sweet Sixteen.
Last year, Rutgers was ranked as high as No. 24 during the season, breaking a national ranking drought that started after the 1978-79 season.
In addition, Andy Katz, a college basketball analyst for the Big Ten Network, slotted the Knights at No. 13.
Rutgers will be without Akwasi Yeboah, Shaq Carter and Joey Downes this year, who graduated. Former guard Peter Kiss transferred to Bryant and junior guard Caleb McConnell is taking a medical redshirt.
Head men's basketball coach Steve Pikiell has returning staff, though. “I love that my staff all came back,” Pikiell said, according to 247 Sports. “The reason we are ranked is because I have a great staff, and the kids have sacrificed.”
Wisconsin and Illinois also appear in the top ten. Last year, the Knights defeated both the No. 7 Badgers and the No. 8 Fighting Illini at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) but failed to do so on the road.
The other two ranked teams in the conference are Ohio State and Michigan. The Knights lost in a road matchup against the No. 23 Buckeyes last year, and the No. 25 Wolverines were the only opponent to beat Rutgers at the RAC.
Indiana fell just outside the top 25. Big Ten rivals Maryland and Penn State weren’t on any ballot. In-state rival Seton Hall claimed only two votes. The Knights sank the Pirates in last year’s Garden State Hardwood Classic by a score of 68-48.
Beginning on Nov. 25 against Sacred Heart, Rutgers will put its preseason accolades to the test as it campaigns for its first NCAA tournament bid since 1991.
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