Head coach Steve Pikiell is leading the surging Scarlet Knights into a program renaissance. Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

There’s never been a time in our lives that the Rutgers Scarlet Knights have been relevant as a men’s college basketball program. New Jersey’s largest educational institution hasn’t fielded a team that qualified for the NCAA Men’s tournament in nearly 30 years. The last Rutgers player to be drafted in the NBA was Hamady N’Diaye 10 years ago.

Historically, New Jersey Online Sports Betting oddsmakers have routinely picked the Scarlet Knights to finish at the bottom of the conference standings. Which makes this 2019-20 campaign by head coach Steve Pikiell all the more astonishing.

Let’s check on just how good the Scarlet Knights have been this season. They are currently 18-8, with a 9-6 record in the ultra-competitive Big Ten, a conference many believe will send 11 teams to the Big Dance. Rutgers sits ahead of teams like Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin in the conference standings. They hold wins over Wisconsin, Penn State (another Big Ten squad having historic success this season), and current Big East leader and New Jersey rival Seton Hall.

In this topsy-turvy college hoops season, records can be deceiving, so let’s dig a little deeper and check on the metrics at KenPom. Rutgers ranks 29th in KenPom, 69th in offensive efficiency and an impressive 11th in defensive efficiency. The Scarlet Knights are 7-6 against KenPom top 50 teams and will have an opportunity to improve that number with a tough stretch run of Michigan (14), at Wisconsin (28), at Penn State (11), Maryland (8) and at Purdue (26). For anyone questioning the legitimacy of Rutgers, that final five-game stretch will go a long way towards clarifying its standing.

So, how exactly has Rutgers managed to get itself in this position? It all starts with defense. The Scarlet Knights rank 16th in the nation with a measly 61.7 points per game allowed. They rank 9th in opponent’s two-point percentage, 23rd in opponent’s effective field goal percentage and 15th in block percentage, led by Myles Johnson and his 1.6 blocks per game. Adding a final boost is the fact that they generally defend without fouling.

As good as Rutgers has been defensively, you still need to put the ball in the basket to win games, and for that Rutgers relies first on Ron Harper Jr. Yes, he is the son of Ron Harper the 16-year NBA player. The former leads Rutgers with 11.8 points per game, pacing a balanced attack for the Scarlet Knights in which seven players average at least seven points per game.

Head coach Steve Pikiell merits mention as well. Before joining Rutgers, Pikiell led Stony Brook to its first winning season as a Division 1 program in 2008-09 and its first NCAA Tournament berth in 2015-16. Now, he’s working on making history at Rutgers.

In addition to not being in the NCAA Tournament since 1991, the program hasn’t participated in any postseason play since 2006, which is also the last season in which it even posted a winning record. Equally as impressive is the turnaround in Big Ten play. Over their first five seasons in the conference, Rutgers averaged three conference wins per season. Three. The high-water mark was seven, last season. This year, it already has nine with five games to play. The program has already secured its first winning season in 14 years and its best Big Ten showing since joining the conference and has the opportunity for more.

The legitimacy of this season is yet to be determined as the Scarlet Knights have much to prove over a tough five-game run to end the season, in the Big Ten tournament, and, presumably, in the NCAA Tournament. Down the road, the true importance of the season will be judged by whether it proves to be a building block for the program or just a one-off run of success. Still, it’s impossible to ignore what Pikiell, Harper Jr., and the Scarlet Knights have accomplished this season. They are nationally relevant and have been one of the best stories in college basketball. They will be a team no one is eager to face come March, and considering the program’s history, that’s mighty impressive.

This article first appeared on The Sports Fan Journal and was syndicated with permission.


  COMMENTS

The Morning Bark Newsletter. Emailed daily.

You'll receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams.

Emailed daily. Always FREE!

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
MORE FROM YARDBARKER:
Can you name every college to have a No. 1 seed in the NCAA men's basketball tournament since modern seeding began in 1979?
SCORE:
0/164
TIME:
6:00
2019
Duke
2019
Gonzaga
2019
Virginia
2019
North Carolina
2018
Virginia
2018
Xavier
2018
Kansas
2018
Villanova
2017
North Carolina
2017
Kansas
2017
Gonzaga
2017
Villanova
2016
Virginia
2016
Oregon
2016
North Carolina
2016
Kansas
2015
Wisconsin
2015
Duke
2015
Villanova
2015
Kentucky
2014
Virginia
2014
Wichita State
2014
Arizona
2014
Florida
2013
Kansas
2013
Indiana
2013
Gonzaga
2013
Louisville
2012
Michigan State
2012
North Carolina
2012
Syracuse
2012
Kentucky
2011
Pittsburgh
2011
Kansas
2011
Duke
2011
Ohio State
2010
Duke
2010
Kentucky
2010
Kansas
2010
Syracuse
2009
Pittsburgh
2009
North Carolina
2009
Louisville
2009
Connecticut
2008
UCLA
2008
North Carolina
2008
Memphis
2008
Kansas
2007
Ohio State
2007
North Carolina
2007
Kansas
2007
Florida
2006
Villanova
2006
Memphis
2006
Duke
2006
UConn
2005
Washington
2005
North Carolina
2005
Illinois
2005
Duke
2004
Stanford
2004
St. Joseph's
2004
Kentucky
2004
Duke
2003
Texas
2003
Oklahoma
2003
Kentucky
2003
Arizona
2002
Maryland
2002
Kansas
2002
Duke
2002
Cincinnati
2001
Stanford
2001
Michigan State
2001
Illinois
2001
Duke
2000
Stanford
2000
Michigan State
2000
Duke
2000
Arizona
1999
Michigan State
1999
Duke
1999
UConn
1999
Auburn
1998
North Carolina
1998
Kansas
1998
Duke
1998
Arizona
1997
North Carolina
1997
Minnesota
1997
Kentucky
1997
Kansas
1996
Purdue
1996
UMass
1996
Kentucky
1996
UConn
1995
Wake Forest
1995
UCLA
1995
Kentucky
1995
Kansas
1994
Purdue
1994
North Carolina
1994
Missouri
1994
Arkansas
1993
North Carolina
1993
Michigan
1993
Kentucky
1993
Indiana
1992
UCLA
1992
Ohio State
1992
Kansas
1992
Duke
1991
UNLV
1991
Ohio State
1991
North Carolina
1991
Arkansas
1990
UNLV
1990
Oklahoma
1990
Michigan State
1990
UConn
1989
Oklahoma
1989
Illinois
1989
Georgetown
1989
Arizona
1988
Temple
1988
Purdue
1988
Oklahoma
1988
Arizona
1987
UNLV
1987
North Carolina
1987
Indiana
1987
Georgetown
1986
St. John's
1986
Kentucky
1986
Kansas
1986
Duke
1985
St. John's
1985
Oklahoma
1985
Michigan
1985
Georgetown
1984
North Carolina
1984
Kentucky
1984
Georgetown
1984
DePaul
1983
Virginia
1983
St. John's
1983
Louisville
1983
Houston
1982
Virginia
1982
North Carolina
1982
Georgetown
1982
DePaul
1981
Virginia
1981
Syracuse
1981
LSU
1981
DePaul
1980
Syracuse
1980
LSU
1980
Kentucky
1980
DePaul
1979
UCLA
1979
Notre Dame
1979
North Carolina
1979
Indiana State

Customize Your Newsletter

+

Get the latest news and rumors, customized to your favorite sports and teams. Emailed daily. Always free!

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.