Rutgers is currently a No. 8 seed, according to the Bracket Matrix, and when I release my first bracketology of the year at the end of the next week, there is a pretty good chance I’ll have the Scarlet Knights in my field, too.
This is a big deal for a program that has experienced a lot more downs than ups over the years, most recently with head coach scandals and many losing seasons. But in his fourth season at Rutgers, head coach Steve Pikiell has his team poised for an NCAA Tournament bid some Selection Sunday.
Now, there is still plenty of basketball to be played, so I don’t mean to get ahead of myself. But it is realistic that the Scarlet Knights could be dancing come March. That begs the question: when was the last time Rutgers made the NCAA Tournament?
Rutgers Last NCAA Tournament Appearance
The last time Rutgers went dancing was 1991: 29 years ago. That means that none of its student body, outside of perhaps people coming back to finish degrees later in life, were alive the last time its school played in March Madness. Certainly no one on the current roster was alive back then. Pikiell was a 23-year-old assistant at Connecticut just starting his coaching career.
Needless to say, it has been a while.
Bob Wenzel coached the 1990-91 Scarlet Knights, his third season at the helm of the then-A-10 member. Senior forward Keith Hughes was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, posting 21.0 points and 10.0 rebounds per game to round out his double-double average. Senior guard Earl Duncan, a transfer from Syracuse, was the second-leading scorer and top distributor with 15.7 points and 3.8 assists each contest. Virginia transfer center Brent Dabbs finished off the team’s double figure scorers, averaging 13.5 points and 7.5 boards per outing.
Rutgers was 6-6 early in the season after losing six of eight, culminating in an 87-69 beating on the road at the hands of A-10 foe West Virginia. From there, though, the Scarlet Knights went on a tear, rattling off six-straight victories and winning 13 of the final 15 games of their schedule. Rutgers finished the regular season 18-8 (14-4) and atop the Atlantic-10, taking sole possession of the league’s crown. However, the Scarlet Knights would bow out in their first game in the A-10 Tournament, losing 90-87 to No. 8 seed St. Joseph’s in the quarterfinals. But it didn’t matter to the selection committee: Rutgers was awarded the No. 9 seed in the Southeast Regional, its second trip to the Big Dance in three seasons.
It would be a quick exit from the competition for Rutgers as the team fell 79-76 to No. 8 seed Arizona State in the first round. But the game a compelling one as the teams traded blows throughout the first and second halves. Hughes scored 21 on 8-of-21 shooting from the field and nabbed 11 boards to lead Rutgers, with Duncan not far behind at 20 on 6-of-11 shooting. Dabbs also chipped in 12 points and 6 rebounds. Arizona State’s Isaac Austin and Tarence Wheeler both went off, though, combining for 50 points on 19-of-28 combined shooting from the field, and the Sun Devils barely edged the A-10 champs.
For Rutgers and college basketball fans looking to relive a piece of history, the first and second halves of the Arizona State game can be found in full on YouTube. The difference in production is jarring and a sign of just how long it has been since the Scarlet Knights danced. Nothing is guaranteed now, especially with how brutal the Big Ten is this season, but this appears like Rutgers’s best shot at a tournament appearance for decades.