Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Rutgers Basketball's rivalry game with Princeton has been restored

photo courtesy of The Knight Report

by Mark Remsa

Since 2013, Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson had tried repeatedly to resume the rivalry with Rutgers, but the Scarlet Knights derailed the idea of playing again...until this past November.

After ten long years of Rutgers avoiding Princeton, Henderson got his wish, and the Scarlet Knights were poised to finally play the Tigers on the hardwood again. This time both teams agreed to play on a neutral floor as part of the "Jersey Jam" and take the storied Route 1 Rivalry to Cure Insurance Arena in Trenton, NJ.

Once news broke across the entire state that Rutgers and Princeton would play each other in the 2023-24 season opener, Garden State college hoops fanatics and alumni from both universities were ecstatic. They were excited to finally see the most storied New Jersey college hoops rivalry reignited.

Last year's game was disappointing for Rutgers Nation as the Scarlet Knights fell 68-61 and Princeton notched their 76th all-time win in the rivalry. After the game, many questioned if Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell would ever agree to play Princeton again after Henderson's Tigers dominated the Scarlet Knights in every facet of the game.

After Rutgers the loss, Steve Politi of NJ Advance Media wrote, "Steve Pikiell made it clear that he would 'absolutely' play Princeton again... he did not, however, specify when that might happen on how the latest installment unfolded, our best guess is sometime in December 2047."

So, when plans to play Arkansas at the Prudential Center for the 2024-25 season recently fell through, Pikiell reached out to Henderson to continue the rivalry. The news shocked the New Jersey college hoops community. This time both teams agreed to play on December 21st in the Never Forget Tribute Classic at the Prudential Center in Newark, according to college hoops scheduling connoisseur Rocco Miller who first reported the announcement.


The announcement of Rutgers and Princeton playing each other for a second year in a row silences Pikiell's critics who felt he would never play Henderson's Tigers again because of the fear of losing to them again.

Furthermore, scheduling Princeton for a second year in a row is a sign that Pikiell is changing his philosophy on scheduling tougher opponents and opting in for rivalry games in the out-of-conference (OOC) slate. Next season's marquee matchup will help bolster Rutgers' OOC strength-of-schedule (SOS) and should provide Rutgers with an opportunity to earn a potential Quadrant 1 victory on a neutral floor.

Since Pikiell has been at the helm, he has been known to schedule a slew of cream puffs bringing down the OOC SOS ranking to near the bottom of Division I college basketball, which doesn't help your chances of making the NCAA Tournament unless you can pick up a ton of quality conference wins.

So, if there are any signs that Pikiell has certainly changed his OOC scheduling philosophy for the better, it's definitely this upcoming season. In addition to playing Princeton on a neutral floor, Rutgers will finally take part in a Feast Week multi-team event (MTE) by playing in the Players Era Festival with tilts against Notre Dame, Houston/Alabama, and a third high-major TBD. This will be the first time Rutgers will appear in a Feast Week MTE since Eddie Jordan was in charge during the 2015-16 season.

Not only has Pikiell amped up the competition in the OOC schedule but he continues his commitment to playing Seton Hall annually in the Garden State Hardwood Classic, which typically is a quality matchup and provides New Jersey with plenty of fireworks. It's also reassuring that Pikiell has reached out to tri-state area opponents Monmouth, St. Peter's, Wagner, and Columbia to come visit Piscataway this season.

If you really want proof that Pikiell has changed his OOC scheduling ways, he took a major calculated risk and scheduled a road game at mid-major Kennesaw State. Rutgers joins Alabama as the only Power 5 schools visiting mid-major schools this upcoming season.


On the flip side, OOC scheduling has been an absolute struggle for Mitch Henderson.

The matchup with Rutgers next season presents Princeton with a massive opportunity to potentially pull off a monumental upset and achieve a season defining win. It also helps Henderson add a quality game he's been desperately seeking to add to the Tigers' OOC schedule.

Rutgers wasn't the only team to avoid Princeton in the OOC portion of its schedule for many years. As a matter of fact, most high-majors and mid-majors have purposely avoided Princeton because of the fear of losing to them.

After narrowly defeating Princeton 74-70 at Hagan Arena last season, in the postgame interview, St. Joseph's head coach Billy Lange claimed the Tigers were an "elite team" and he wasn't shy about his squad going toe-for-toe against the Big East as he said, "We'll play Seton Hall... We'll play St. John's." But when he was pressed by New Jersey hoops guru beat writer Jerry Carino of the Asbury Park Press if he would return the favor by playing at Princeton next season, Lange dodged the question and said, "I'm not sure, all I'm thinking about is a glass of red wine when I get home."

Since Henderson took over Princeton in 2011, he has had a very hard time scheduling marquee matchups and if his Tigers have to play a Power 5 opponent, it's typically on the road. The last time Princeton played host to a Power 5 opponent was in 2019 when Bobby Hurley's Arizona State Sun Devils made the trip across the country to come away with a tough, well-earned 67-65 victory. Because of this, Henderson had to settle for playing more road games than he would like and Division III opponents, including Rutgers-Camden, Kean, Cairn, Bryn Athyn, and Delaware Valley. 

Over the years, scheduling has gotten so difficult for Henderson, he even agreed to play Rick Pitino and Iona in a neutral site matchup at Kean University's Hardwood Arena during the 2022 season. In the postgame interview with Jerry Carino, Henderson went on to say, "My alums are mad at me, and everybody's mad at me, because we're not playing high-major games... I've called everybody 50 times. We're going to keep working at it."

After many attempts to reach Pikiell, it must've been extremely refreshing for Henderson when Pikiell answered his call and agreed to finally play Princeton after the rivalry was extinguished for ten years.

With Rutgers booking Princeton for a second season in a row, Henderson must feel like he's in Heaven.


There's a lot of history between Rutgers and Princeton. After all, Rutgers has never played any other opponent 121 times in its basketball history. The only other opponent Rutgers has played that comes remotely close to facing Princeton as many times as they have is Penn State, and the Scarlet Knights-Nittany Lions have met just 75 times on the hardwood.

The rivalry is unmatched and should be considered an annual tradition in New Jersey college hoops. But during Rutgers' quest for big-time athletics, somewhere along the way the Scarlet Knights became blind to the rivalry and for ten long years, the game was not played.

One can only assume with Rutgers playing in the Big Ten, a league among the giants, and Princeton in the Ivy League, a league of brain and academics, it's the Scarlet Knights who should have the edge on the Tigers, but it's the Tigers who have played the role of David and have defeated Goliath time and time again.

Just like the Big 5 is important to the Philadelphia hoops scene, the Rutgers-Princeton rivalry should be treated in the same regard for the New Jersey college hoops community.  In no way, shape, or form should it matter that Rutgers is a Power 5 school and Princeton is a mid-major. The Big 5 games have been played since 1955, and never have bigger programs such as Villanova and Temple ever shied away from playing their mid-major counterparts (Penn, St. Joseph's, LaSalle, and Drexel, recently added).

Heck, last season was proof that the Big 5 rivalry meant more than ever. Fresh off the heels of winning the Battle-4-Atlantis MTE Championship and finding their stride after a stunning loss to Penn, Villanova was expected to blow through its Big 5 competition but found life difficult when they came back to Philadelphia and lost two consecutive games to St. Joseph's and Drexel.

The Rutgers-Princeton rivalry is just as equally as important to the New Jersey college hoops scene as the Rutgers-Seton Hall rivalry. It’s a no brainer that Rutgers-Princeton should tip off every year. It actually helps keep the New Jersey college hoops scene healthy by showcasing top-level college basketball, engages fans and alumni, and adds to history and tradition.

This upcoming season will pit what could be Rutgers' best college hoops team in nearly 50 years against a very well-coached and experienced Princeton team. With expectations through the roof around Piscataway this season, Rutgers Nation expects their Scarlet Knights to finish near the top of the Big Ten this season and a potential NCAA Tournament run through the second weekend.

Princeton is expected to finish atop the Ivy League and possibly earn their second NCAA Tournament berth in three seasons. When given the chance, this is a Princeton team very capable of inflicting damage on Power 5 opponents.

With an elite recruiting class and two of its highest rated recruits in Rutgers basketball history, the spotlight will be on five-star freshmen Dylan Harper and Ace Bailey as they'll challenge 1st-team All-Ivy League Xaivian Lee and Ivy League player of the Year Caden Pierce. These matchups will surely provide for spectacular bravado.

Last season, former Princeton standout Zach Martini gashed Rutgers for 10 points as he shot 2-of-3 from deep and 4-of-6 from the field, played physical defense, and boxed out very well allowing for Matt Allocco and Caden Pierce to secure 24 combined rebounds. With Martini transferring to Rutgers this season in his final year of eligibility, the tables will be turned as the graduate transfer will face off against his former coach and teammates. It could make for an emotional and personal night for Martini.

With the stakes higher than ever, Rutgers-Princeton arrives on December 21st at a pivotal juncture into the season with the Scarlet Knights already having played against top-level competition in the Players Era Festival, Seton Hall, and two early Big Ten conference matchups. Depending how Rutgers finishes those games, heading into the December 21st game against Princeton could be extremely vital to help boost the Scarlet Knights' NCAA Tournament resume. It will likely be equally as critical for Princeton as Henderson and his Tigers will try to tally their biggest win of the year.

There are no signs of both programs slowing down in the future as the recruiting trail has picked up and the level of intensity played on the hardwood has been unrelenting. Princeton has proven they can play with the best and they want to continue playing the best. On the other hand, Rutgers has shown they play the role of the underdog in the Big Ten very well and they are a program ascending nationally under Pikiell. For Rutgers, scheduling Princeton will always be a risk, but it’s a risk worth taking. And for Princeton, it’s a game they look forward to playing every year. The future certainly looks promising for both schools, and they should continue to play this rivalry uninterrupted. There should never be a gap in this storied series.

Continue reading this article on The Knight Report on Rivals.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Despite player exodus, Rutgers staff is focused on important offseason

photo courtesy of USA Today

by Mark Remsa

There is no doubt that the Rutgers Men’s Basketball 2023-24 campaign was deflating and very disappointing. The 2023-24 season will be one of the more forgettable ones in Steve Pikiell’s tenure at Rutgers.

At times throughout the season, this team was painstakingly unwatchable due to having one of the worst offenses in all of college basketball. Fans were promised an offense that could navigate the floor at high-speed, crack 80 points a night, and drain more three-pointers than ever before, but in the end this offense failed to crack 50 points twice this year, averaged a meager 65.4 points per game, and were near the bottom of the country in almost every offensive category.

To make matters worse, towards the tail end of the regular season when the going got tough, the tough failed to get going. Rutgers barely limped across the finish line as they were blown out in several home contests, including embarrassing double-digit defeats to Ohio State, Maryland, and Penn State, crushed in the First Round of the Big Ten Tournament, and registered just one win in their last eight games.

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there was a mass exodus of players from this past season’s squad.

Continue reading this article on The Knight Report on Rivals.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Princeton transfer Zach Martini is just the guy Rutgers needs

photo courtesy of Princeton Athletics

by Mark Remsa

There is no denying the truth that this past season was the worst offensive unit Rutgers fans witnessed under Steve Pikiell since his first season on The Banks.

Except for a few games this season, Rutgers performed very poorly on the offensive end of the floor as the Scarlet Knights failed to crack 50 points twice this season and averaged just 65.4 points per game, which rates near the bottom of Division I basketball. Rutgers also struggled mightily in almost every offensive category this past season as the Scarlet Knights finished 299th in adjusted offensive efficiency, per KenPom.

To pretty much sum it up, this offense was absolutely brutal to watch this year.

Continue reading this article on The Knight Report on Rivals.

Saturday, March 9, 2024

NET Rankings of Rutgers' Opponents (thru 3/11)

photo courtesy of NJ Advance Media

NET Rankings of Rutgers' Opponents (thru 3/8)

Here are the NET Rankings of Rutgers opponents for games played through March 8th. Rutgers currently sits at 92 in the NET Rankings as they are 15-16 overall and are 7-13 in the Big Ten. Despite winning four in a row in early to mid-February, Rutgers has dropped six of their last seven contests thus diminishing their hopes for an NCAA Tournament bid and NIT berth. It has been a disappointing 2023-24 regular season campaign for Steve Pikiell and Rutgers, but they look to rebound in the Big Ten Tournament.

Let's see how Rutgers has fared this season.

For a complete listing of the NET Rankings please click here.

Rutgers' Record in Each Quadrant

  • Quadrant 1: 3-11
  • Quadrant 2: 3-3
  • Quadrant 3: 2-1
  • Quadrant 4: 7-0

NET Rankings of Rutgers' Opponents
Nov. 6, vs Princeton*, L (51, Q2)
Nov. 10, Boston U.*, W (290, Q4)
Nov. 12, Bryant*, W (168, Q4)
Nov. 15, Georgetown*, W (204, Q4)
Nov. 18, Howard*, W (278, Q4)
Nov. 27, Saint Peter's*, W (187, Q4)
Dec. 2, Illinois, L (16, Q1)
Dec. 6, at Wake Forest*, L (41, Q1)
Dec. 9, at Seton Hall*, W (63, Q1)
Dec. 16, Long Island*, W (347, Q4)
Dec. 23, vs Mississippi State*, L (39, Q1)
Dec. 30, Stonehill*, W (356, Q4)
Jan. 3, at Ohio State, L (60, Q1)
Jan. 6, at Iowa, L (58, Q1)
Jan. 9, Indiana, W (94, Q3)
Jan. 14, at Michigan State, L (23, Q1)
Jan. 17, Nebraska, W (42, Q2)
Jan. 21, at Illinois, L (16, Q1)
Jan. 28, Purdue, L (2, Q1)
Jan. 31, Penn State, L (96, Q3)
Feb. 3, at Michigan, W (129, Q2)
Feb. 6, at Maryland, W (72, Q1)
Feb. 10, Wisconsin, W (22, Q1)
Feb. 15, Northwestern, W (52, Q2)
Feb. 18, at Minnesota, L (82, Q2)
Feb. 22, at Purdue, L (2, Q1)
Feb. 25, Maryland, L (72, Q2)
Feb. 29, Michigan, W (129, Q3)
Mar. 3, at Nebraska, L (42, Q1)
Mar. 7, at Wisconsin, L (22, Q1)
Mar. 10, Ohio State, L (60, Q2)
Q1 home games are highlighted in yellow
Q1 road games are highlighted in green
Q1 neutral site games are highlighted in blue
* non-conference game

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Rutgers must finish the season on a positive note

photo courtesy of USA Today

Rutgers must finish the season on a positive note.

by Mark Remsa

It was only 11 days ago when the college basketball community was discussing the notion that Rutgers basketball was back in the NCAA Tournament conversation. After all, Rutgers was playing its best basketball of the season and reeled off four big wins in a row, including two road wins and a blowout of previously 11th-ranked Wisconsin. Rutgers had done so well, newcomer Jeremiah Williams earned Big Ten Player of the Week for averaging 16 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists in the Scarlet Knights’ wins over Maryland and Wisconsin.

During the Scarlet Knights’ four-game winning streak, Rutgers played with energy, emotion, and for what felt like the first time this season they were actually having fun on the court.

Continue reading this article on The Knight Report on Rivals.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Rutgers' elite defense will be key for potential upset of Purdue

photo courtesy of NJ Advance Media

If Rutgers wants to pull off an incredible upset of #3 Purdue, they need to play elite defense.

by Mark Remsa

Rutgers’ March Madness chances are hanging by a thread and now the margin for error is extremely slim, but a win at 3rd-ranked Purdue on Thursday could go a long way and put the Scarlet Knights in a better position.

So, how will Rutgers be able to pull off the unthinkable in one of the toughest and most grueling atmospheres in all of college hoops on Thursday?

It’s simple.

Rutgers needs to play elite defense.

All season long, Rutgers has relied heavily on its defense to win games and to compensate for the poor offense.

Yes, the offense has been horrible for most of the season, but during the Scarlet Knights’ recent four-game winning streak, the defense has been off the charts good.

As a matter of fact, the defense was so good, for about two weeks in a row Rutgers was the “best” defensive team in all of college basketball, according to KenPom. Currently, Rutgers ranks as the nation’s 2nd best team in adjusted defensive efficiency, behind Houston and ahead of Iowa State.

Continue reading this article on The Knight Report on Rivals.