CHICAGO – Rutgers has no doubt.
After what the Scarlet Knights showed during the regular season, and then how they played here during the Big Ten Tournament, they firmly believe they deserve a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“We’ve got 19 wins in the best league in the country,” coach Steve Pikiell said. “Most competitive league from top to bottom.”
Now the Scarlet Knights just have to hope the selection committee agrees with them.
Ninth-seeded Rutgers lost to No. 1 Purdue 70-65 on Friday in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament at United Center, coming out on the wrong end of a heated, intense game.
‘March Madness deserves to see us’
But the Scarlet Knights fought. They played hard. They made nothing easy on the Boilermakers, whom they beat at Mackey Arena in January when Purdue was ranked No. 1 in the country.
“We don’t take the backseat to nobody,” Caleb McConnell said. “I feel like March Madness deserves to see us play in it, and I feel like that’s what they’ll get.”
McConnell and Rutgers now must wait until Sunday to know if the committee believes they should get an at-large bid.
“We have the National Defensive Player of the Year,” Pikiell said. “We have the best dunker in college basketball. Paul (Mulcahy), I think, is one of the best players. We did a lot of good things throughout the whole year, and I think today just showed you we can play with anybody.”
After beating Michigan in the second round, Rutgers entered Friday ranked No. 38 in the NET – firmly good enough for a bid. Aside from beating Purdue during the regular season, the Scarlet Knights beat Indiana, they beat Northwestern on the road, they beat Michigan State at Madison Square Garden in a game that was questionably considered a home game for Rutgers.
“It was counted as a home game, but the Knicks are the home team in Madison Square Garden, not us,” Pikiell said. “We never shoot there. We never practice there.”
Purdue coach Matt Painter is a believer
Purdue coach Matt Painter has seen plenty of Rutgers. He believed they deserve a ticket to the Big Dance.
“They’re obviously an NCAA Tournament team,” Painter said. “I think they could do some real damage.”
Rutgers struggled toward the end of its regular season after losing Mawot Mag to a torn ACL. The Scarlet Knights dropped six of eight, a stretch that included damaging losses to Minnesota, Nebraska and Northwestern.
There were also costly nonconference losses earlier in the season to Temple and Seton Hall.
But teams up and down the Big Ten endured similar issues.
Rutgers looked like an NCAA Tournament team in Chicago.
The Scarlet Knights believe they belong.
“We want a chance to compete for the National Championship,” Pikiell said. “This group has been great, and we can do some really fun things. I wouldn’t want to play us, that’s for sure.”
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