Before Rutgers beat every other ranked Big Ten team in a row, they were court storming the former RAC center after a half-court heave gave Ron Harper Jr. 30 points and Rutgers a 70-68 shocker that gave the then #1 ranked Purdue Boilermakers their first loss of the season.
It was the Purdue’s first, and thanks to Rutgers, only week in its program history as the #1 team in the country.
For Rutgers, it was a game of foreshadowing. After consecutive losses to Depaul, Lafayette, and Massachusetts, Rutgers season looked like it was already over before Big Ten play even started. Even after the last second win against Purdue, without Geo Baker, they still only looked like a team capable of playing the spoiler at home.
Fast forward into the last handful of Big Ten match ups, and Rutgers is now on the bubble and if the season stopped right now, projected to be in the NCAA tournament.
How does a team go from losing to a team outside the top 300 to into the NCAA tournament picture? Wins. Lots of wins. Against the best teams in the Big Ten. Particularly four of them, in their last four games: Michigan St. at home, Ohio St. at home, Wisconsin on the road, and Illinois at home.
Each team was ranked at the time. Each team makes Rutgers profile one of the most absurd and unique in the history of seeding. They will be a fascinating case study for how much more do big wins matter than really bad losses.
For Purdue, they’re no longer #1, but they’re still holding out hope for a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. They are one of a handful of teams vying for the second, third, and fourth spots. Winning the Big Ten will go a long way towards helping in that matter. Rutgers made sure by stomping Illinois earlier in the week, that Purdue would hold its fate in its own hands.
If Purdue wins out, they will finish with 4 losses in the Big Ten. Wisconsin, Illinois, and Ohio State all have four conference losses as well. Purdue will play at Wisconsin on March 1st. Ohio State and Illinois will play each other February 24th.
If Purdue wins out, they will at worst tie with either Illinois or Ohio State. Purdue swept Illinois in their two match ups, and beat Ohio State in their only regular season game.
It doesn’t get more important of a game than this. If Purdue wins, they’ll revenge one of their four losses on the season and need just three more wins to lock in the Big Ten title and the potentially the one seed. If Rutgers can add a second win against a top five Purdue team, on the road, they’ll be a near lock for the NCAA tournament.
On the court, the game is just as fascinating. Purdue’s big men are big, real big. Before Harper’s heave, it was Tre Williams that hit what looked like the game winner. He had 21 points against Rutgers while Zach Edey added 13. Rutgers couldn’t guard them inside, but that’s the only place Purdue was able to find points.
What Rutgers lack in height at center, they make up for being huge at every other position. Harper is one of the most physically imposing wings in the league. Paul Mulcahy is a 6’6 point guard.
In fact, Rutgers smallest rotation player is someone who missed the first matchup, a bona fide Boiler killer, Geo Baker.
Baker’s return to the line up helped spark Rutgers turnaround and will be a needed boost for a Purdue team that gets to player Rutgers in the comforts and in front of the crazies in Mackey Arena.
Which size advantage will make the most difference? Purdue big men or Rutgers wings?
Unfortunately for Rutgers, that question might be answered by health, not performance. At the end of Rutger’s upset against Illinois, Ron Harper Jr. injured his finger. Rutgers has ruled him day to day without addressing what the specific injury is. If Harper can’t play after dropping 30 against Purdue in the first game, Purdue’s advantage look to be too much for Rutgers to counter at Mackey Arena. They needed every bit of Harper’s 30 points to beat Purdue, including the last second heave to beat Purdue the first time.
If he plays, Purdue will have to solve how to defend Harper and Baker.
For Purdue, they just have to be happy to play a game at home after actual rest. Will fresh legs help Jaden Ivey find his groove again? Ivey scored 15 points against Rutgers in the first match up, but he’s struggled in his last two games, including just 8 points against Northwestern. It was his first time not breaking into double-digits on the season and his jumper has completely abandoned him.
Ivey is shooting 4 of 24 from three in his last five games. Poor three point shooting from Purdue kept Rutgers in the game late, and allowed them to overcome Purdue’s big men dominating. Purdue was just 7 of 26 from three.
Will fresh legs help Purdue get their jump shots back? They’re now just the third best three point shooting team in the country and down to 40.4% as a team. Purdue’s early season dominance was a combination of inside efficiency and deadly perimeter shooting.
They’ll need it to come back if they’re going to avoid being Rutger’s fifth straight upset victim.
Basketball GameDay Vitals
|St. Peter's Peacocks
|Record: 21-11, 14-6 MAAC
|St. Peter's Peacocks
|Record: 21-11, 14-6 MAAC
|Jersey City, NJ
|Wells Fargo Center (19,500)
|Purdue by 12.5
|Date & Time:
|Friday, March 25, 2022, 7:09pm ET
|NCAA Tournament History:
|4th appearance. This is the first season they have won a game. 2017 CIT Champions
|Series With Purdue:
|Purdue leads 1-0
|Last Purdue win:
|65-43 in Chicago, IL on 3/18/2011 (NCAA Tournament First Round)
|Last St. Peter's win:
|Shaheen holloway (63-55 in 4th year at St. Peter's)