Rutgers has brought little to the table since joining the Big Ten in basketball, though significantly more than the painful football program has produced. The Scarlet Knights posted a 16-76 conference record over the past five years, eclipsing three wins only once -- last season, when they put together a somewhat respectable 7-13 mark.
But folks, the times are a-changing. Steve Pikiell has his side in top form. Last night they took down 20th-ranked Penn State, 72-61, to move to 12-3. The Scarlet Knights have won six straight and are 3-1 in the Big Ten, second behind Michigan State. That stretch included a 20-point win over in-state rival Seton Hall.
Rutgers is the only unranked team in the country to have two double-digit victories over ranked opponents on its ledger. They have moved up to 20th in the NET rankings, ahead of Kentucky and Texas Tech.
Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker have proved to be a formidable backcourt unafraid of the big moments and Myles Johnson is flirting with a double-double average.
All of this lines up to create a runway for the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1991. And potentially the first tournament win since 1983. This is an almost-unparalleled drought among major conference brethren.
If the 68-team jamboree began today, Rutgers would be in. What do they have to do to make sure that's the case in two-plus months? Well, staying hot over the next stretch is imperative. The next six opponents are unranked: at Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, Minnesota, at Iowa, and Nebraska. A 5-1 record would do wonders and a 4-2 span is essential, considering the murderer's row looming at the end of the slate.
Popping through the bubble into the big-time will mean negotiating a final five-game slate of: Michigan, at Wisconsin, at Penn State, Maryland, and at Purdue.
But hey, there's plenty of hope. And that's been in short supply for a long time.