In a pivotal game in the basketball season, Purdue plays their only game of the conference season against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Thursday night in Mackey. Purdue is considered a bubble team to make it into the NCAA tournament since a rough stretch in conference play losing 8 of 10 games put that bid into doubt. Several factors led to that bad stretch of games, including injuries, poor shooting, unexpected lapses in defense, stiff competition, tough away games, and a temporary loss of confidence. A lot of those factors were made better by a solid road win against Nebraska on Sunday, albeit against a team missing two of their best players. The team has an improved injury situation, and played solid on both sides of the ball in Lincoln. It was definitely a confidence booster, and good to see the Boilers return to form late in the conference season.
If Purdue loses this game, it will be difficult to make it into the NCAA tournament, but not impossible. However, a win, along with a win in the final conference game at home against Wisconsin, along with at least 1 win in the B1G conference, would almost surely result in an NCAA bid, the team having made it to 20 wins. Also the win against Louisville in non-conference play, to a team that has rarely lost since, would help the cause.
Rutgers is fairly new to the B1G conference, but their women's basketball team is well-known nationally. They were in the old Big East with UConn and Notre Dame, and have some Final Four and national championship experience. With heralded coach C. Vivian Stringer as head coach, they will probably never have a really bad team. That being said, this year's squad is not quite up to the normal standard of excellence. Sitting at 7-9 in conference play, they probably won't make the NCAA tournament this year, although it is not totally out of the question if they win out. Therefore they will be highly motivated in this game as well.
Rutgers always seems to have very athletic players, they always play scrappy defense, and usually have at least one or two excellent shooters. This year's standout players are basically two: Tyler Scaife and Kahleah Copper. They both average over 17 points a game and are tough to guard. After those two players, however, there seems to be a big dropoff in talent. Not that the Scarlet Knights don't have other good players, but if Purdue can contain those two to reasonable limits in scoring, the Boilers should win this game.
Of course Purdue must continue to play like they did on Sunday and not for the previous month. Hopefully shots will fall, and a crucial home conference win will be the result. This looks to be a defensive match-up.
Prediction: Purdue 59 - Rutgers 53.