After not having their name called by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee on Sunday, Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell was quick to announce the Scarlet Knights would be accepting a bid to play in the 2023 National Invitation Tournament (NIT).
While many, in and out of the Rutgers program, believe the Scarlet Knights deserved an NCAA bid, there is no point in looking back now. It's time for Rutgers to refocus, reenergize, and seize the opportunity in front of them.
Rutgers was given the No. 1 seed in the upper-right side of the NIT bracket. Meaning they will play at home inside Jersey Mike's Arena until they are knocked out, or reach the semifinals which will be played at a neutral site, Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Outgoing seniors have another opportunity to play on their home court, in-front of their fans. Younger upcoming stars get more court time, both at practice and postseason games.
"I want Caleb (McConnell) and Paul (Mulcahy) and the rest of our seniors to play as many games as they can," Pikiell said on accepting the bid. "I obviously don't want this season to end. This group has done a lot of great things for us and to have an opportunity to play a home game for those guys would be very important. I would love for them to take advantage of postseason play. I'm not apologizing for postseason play here at Rutgers, but obviously our goal in the beginning of the year was the NCAA tournament, but we will have to shift quickly."
Tuesday's game will mark the third straight season Rutgers has made a postseason appearance. They are competing in the NIT for the first time since 2006. The farthest they've gone in the NIT is a Championship game appearance in 2004 where they lost to Michigan.
Rutgers Record Set to Be Broken
Fans in attendance or watching at home could be witness to a new program record on Tuesday. Senior guard Caleb McConnell is one steal away from tying Eddie Jordan for the program record of 220 career steals. McConnell was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season.
Who is Hofstra?
Hofstra enters the NIT with an overall record of 24-9 this season. The Pride won the CAA regular season title but failed to win the conference tournament, leaving them to play in the NIT. CAA Coach of the Year, Speedy Claxton brings a talented group to Jersey Mike's Arena to take the floor against the Scarlet Knights. The Pride are led by guard Aaron Estrada. The redshirt senior was named CAA Player of the Year after averaging 20.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, leading the team in both categories. Fellow redshirt senior guard Tyler Thomas is second on the team in scoring with 16.3 points per game.
Keys For Rutgers
If Rutgers can put the NCAA snub behind them and focus on the task at hand, they should be able to get past Hofstra and into a second round matchup against the winner of Cincinnati and Virginia Tech. The Scarlet Knights should have a big advantage in the paint with Cliff Omoruyi. If Rutgers guards can defend Estrada and Thomas, the Scarlet Knights should be in good position to take control of this contest. Offensively, Rutgers will need to feed Omoruyi early and often in the low post and let him go to work. The late season addition of freshman guard Derek Simpson seems to have brought some life back to the Scarlet Knights offense, expect more of that in this contest.
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