The Rutgers men’s basketball team will travel to Bloomington to face Indiana tomorrow in a crucial late-season contest. The Scarlet Knights (16-12, 10-8) and the Hoosiers (18-10, 9-9) are both fighting for entry into the NCAA Tournament as the regular season draws to a close.
Rutgers was last in action on Saturday when it suffered a 66-61 defeat to Wisconsin at Jersey Mike’s Arena on Livingston campus. It is the fourth time in the past three seasons that the Knights have lost at home in front of fans.
Senior guard Geo Baker led the team with 19 points while senior guard Ron Harper Jr. joined him in double-figures with 15 points. Senior guard Caleb McConnell battled the No. 10 Badgers’ (23-5, 14-4) Johnny Davis all game long and sophomore guard Clifford Omoruyi grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds.
“I have to watch the tape but I thought we got good looks," said head coach Steve Pikiell after the game. “We probably need to make that a little closer at halftime, especially the way they play and the pace that they play at.”
Rutgers and Indiana are in similar situations as the calendar turns to March. Both teams are considered bubble teams in the recent Tournament projections. The bubble is an area of experts’ projections which represents either the last eight teams to make the field of 68 or the last eight teams to be left out of the Big Dance.
In ESPN’s Joe Lunardi’s updated bracket, the Knights and the Hoosiers are in the “Last Four In” category, meaning if the Tournament started today, both teams would play a First Four game in Dayton, Ohio. Meanwhile, bracketologist Brad Wachtel has Rutgers among the last eight teams out and Indiana in the field.
With both teams in a precarious position in terms of NCAA Tournament seeding, tomorrow's game at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall shapes up to be a “play-out” game, as the loser would have to make up copious ground to make it back into Tournament contention.
A major key to victory will be the play of junior guard Paul Mulcahy. After a six-game stretch in which he averaged 17.3 points per game (PPG) and 7.2 assists per game, Mulcahy has failed to reach those averages over the past two contests.
A big reason for this is foul trouble. Despite a strong performance against then-No. 5 Purdue, Mulcahy fouled out for the fourth time in his career. He then only played 21 minutes against Michigan and again had his minutes hampered by foul trouble in the loss to Wisconsin.
On the other side, the Hoosiers are led by Trayce Jackson-Davis. He is the team’s scoring leader with 17.4 PPG as well as the leading rebounder at 8.2 per game. Race Thompson and Xavier Johnson also score in double-figures while Parker Stewart shoots 42.6 percent from 3-point land. Indiana is led by first-year head coach Mike Woodson.
“This league is so competitive … These teams are ranked and all that stuff, and every game in our league comes down to (a) possession or two,” Pikiell said. “We all signed up for this kind of league in this kind of basketball.”
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