Over the last couple of weeks, New Jersey college basketball has seen a significant momentum change for two teams, Seton Hall and Rutgers. One team is starting to make a legitimate case for a bid to the NCAA Tournament, and the other team could be playing their way out of a guaranteed berth to a trip to the bubble. Let's start with the team from South Orange.
Seton Hall Pirates (15-9, 6-8 Big East)
Seton Hall's conference season has been up and down. Their Big East schedule has featured both winning and losing streaks and, more importantly, losses to teams that a team in their position will need to beat (Marquette, Villanova, Providence). An early win against Rutgers and UConn holds some weight, but the Pirates have some work to do if you dig deeper into the numbers.
- Road Record: 4-5
- Quad 1 Record: 4-6 (According to Sports Illustrated, Quad 1 wins are home games against teams RPI ranked 1-30, neutral games against 1-50, and away games against 1–75.)
- Quad 2 Record: 4-2 (Quad 2 wins are home games against the RPI 31–75, neutral 51–100, and away victories over the RPI 76–135.)
In the minds of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, those Quad 1 wins hold much weight. According to Joe Lunardi's Bracketology report from February 15th, Seton Hall was slotted as an eight-seed in the East Bracket. That was before Wednesday's road defeat to UConn and their second straight loss.
As of press time, the remaining five games the Pirates have (unless earlier postponed games are rescheduled) only features one game against a team in the RPI Top 75 (Creighton on March 2nd), so Seton Hall's opportunity to improve on Quad 1 wins are done. They have to hope to run the table in their last five games and possibly pick up one or two wins in the Big East Tournament at The Garden to solidify their spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (16-9, 10-5 Big Ten)
To say that Rutgers was not even being discussed for an NCAA Tournament berth a couple of weeks ago is being nice. They were NIT bound since the middle of January, but a funny thing happened…they started winning a lot. The Scarlet Knights have defeated four straight Top 20 teams in a row, culminating with a massive win over Kofi Cockburn and Illinois on Wednesday.
Rutgers is doing something that hasn't been done since Michigan State (one of the teams they defeated over the last few games) did it a couple of seasons ago. Here are some numbers for the Scarlet Knights.
- Road Record: 3-7
- Quad 1 Record: 6-3
- Quad 2 Record: 2-3
- Quad 4 Record: 6-1
While the road record is problematic, their Quad 1 wins will surely get them a national ranking in the next AP Top 25 rankings. Quad 4 wins are an important metric because they beat whom they should beat and pad their record against the lower competition in the Big Ten like the Marylands and Nebraskas of the world.
The question now becomes what's next for Rutgers. They face fifth-ranked Purdue, followed by Michigan with both games on the road. After those matchups, they face middle-of-the-road Indiana and Penn State to end the regular season. The Scarlet Knights are a lock for the NCAA Tournament if they win three of their last four games and pull out one win at the Big Ten Tournament. They are in a good position even if they go 2-2 in their final four and win one game in the Big Ten tourney.
The final few weeks of the college basketball regular season will come down to just a few games. With so much parity around the country, Seton Hall and Rutgers have work to do and will watch scoreboards around the country.
It's game time in South Orange and Piscataway.
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