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Here are 4 thoughts on Rutgers basketball’s schedule updates: Big Ten slate, Wake Forest, more

The Rutgers basketball team’s schedule this upcoming winter is approaching completion.

The Scarlet Knights had two major pieces fall into place last week: the Big Ten released its matchups for conference play during the 2022-23 season on Thursday and a non-conference home-and-home series with Wake Forest — the 2022-23 game in Piscataway, the 2023-24 game in Winston-Salem — was reported Friday by Jon Rothstein.

That leaves Rutgers with 28 games booked and three slots left to fill on its schedule.

Here’s what we know so far:

November 10-16: A season-opening multi-team event that features home games against Columbia, Sacred Heart and UMass-Lowell.

November 21: vs. Rider

December 11: vs. seton-hall

TBA: vs. Wake Forest

TBA: vs. Bucknell

TBA: Big Ten-ACC Challenge.

Here are four thoughts on the schedule as it stands:

It is way too early to judge the draw, but early signs suggest tough road in Big Ten play

It is impossible to fully assess the luck of Rutgers’ draw at this juncture because:

1) The order of these games hasn’t been announced.

2) The strengths of each team can’t fully be understood in June, regardless of how solid Bart Torvik’s projections are.

But the information available at this point in time suggests that the Scarlet Knights will face a tough road in conference play: Rutgers has the fifth-hardest schedule in the Big Ten next season, per Torvik.

A big reason: just one of the seven games the Scarlet Knights will play against the top five teams in Torvik’s Big Ten projections will take place in Piscataway. Their single games against Illinois, Purdue and Michigan are all on the road and their home game against Michigan State could be played at Madison Square Garden (more on that below).

The only game against that group that is guaranteed to be played in Jersey Mike’s Arena is a meeting with projected Big Ten favorites Indiana. The Scarlet Knights have dominated the Hoosiers of late, defeating them in five consecutive meetings and seven times in their last eight meetings, but this Indiana team has the horses to compete for a conference title.

At the other end of the standings, Rutgers gets multiple cracks at bottom-feeders Northwestern, Minnesota and Penn State, but only one shot at Nebraska.

Rutgers, Wake Forest head in right direction together

Rutgers’ philosophy of scheduling soft during non-conference play throughout Steve Pikiell’s tenure has received its fair share of (warranted) criticism. Scheduling a respectable high-major opponent like Wake Forest is a step in the right direction toward fixing the issue that nearly cost the Scarlet Knights a spot in the NCAA Tournament last season.

The Demon Deacons did not get so lucky, missing out on March Madness despite finishing with a 25-10 record because of a putrid non-conference slate that ranked 350th out of 358 Division I teams, per KenPom. A rare down-year in the ACC left them with little opportunities to make up for it in conference play.

This series is good for everyone involved: the two programs that desperately needed some juice added to their non-conference slates, the fans get a game featuring an ACC opponent added to their season ticket packages instead of yet another local low-major team, and college basketball as a whole. The more high-major home-and-home series there are, the healthier the sport is.

Kevin Willard’s return to the RAC

The former Seton Hall head coach admitted publicly that he hated the annual rivalry game against the Scarlet Knights during his time in South Orange, calling it a “no-win situation” and saying it “doesn’t matter to me at all” after his Pirates won the latest edition last December in Newark.

So it is only fitting that in Willard’s first season at the helm in Maryland, the only time his Terrapins face Rutgers is in Piscataway. The pressure to win the game will be significantly lower — the folks in College Park won’t circle it on their calendar like those in South Orange did — but the fervor from the stands at Jersey Mike’s Arena should be similar.

MSU at MSG

One of the games against the Spartans will be at Madison Square Garden, making up for a matchup lost in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic; the two teams were scheduled to face each other in a Super Saturday matchup during the 2020-21 season. It is unclear if the contest will be part of another Super Saturday event or a standalone game, as well as which side will be designated as the “home” team. Nonetheless, it gives Rutgers a shot at a neutral-court win over a team projected to finish in the top quarter of the conference.

Thank you for relying on us to provide the journalism you can trust.

Brian Fonseca may be reached at bfonseca@njadvancemedia.com.

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