Commentary: Rutgers Season Not Dead Yet

NEWARK -- The Big East tournament is set with Rutgers facing DePaul Tuesday night in the first round. By beating Seton Hall last night, Rutgers brings a sliver of momentum into the final tournament with postseason hopes not yet dead.

NEWARK – As Miracle Max would say, there is a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive and that is where Rutgers basketball stands with its favorable draw in the Big East tournament.

One game below .500, Rutgers (14-15, 5-13) is not yet dead when it comes to postseason aspirations in year three under Mike Rice. If Rutgers is a one-and-done Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, say goodbye to a postseason berth, but one or multiple upsets puts Rutgers in a position to compete for an NIT or CBI bid.

Take a look at the numbers. Rutgers is 38th in the country in strength of schedule and is on equal footing with multiple NIT and CBI qualifiers from last season.

Pittsburgh finished with the same conference record (5-13) as Rutgers did this year and won the CBI as a 17-win program. The CBI also welcomed 15-16 Washington State and 16-15 Evansville in 2012.

In the NIT, 17 wins was enough to earn Iowa an invitation last year. Three wins in the Big East tournament is a stretch for Rutgers, but not impossible given a favorable path laid out in the Big East bracket.

Most importantly, Rutgers is still hungry and has not given up on itself like it could have three weeks ago.

"Everybody knows we're not done," said junior guard Mike Poole. "We still have stuff to do. DePaul beat us and we know that's our next game. They know we don't want to lose guys. We don't want to lose. We want to go out of the Big East tournament with a bang."

Of course, none of this matters if Rutgers cannot beat DePaul Tuesday night, where the Scarlet Knights are likely underdogs in Las Vegas. Rutgers went 0-3 against the first three teams it would face in the Big East tournament, but each one came down to the wire.

Rutgers showed it can close out a game when it shut down Seton Hall last night but to do it two or three times in a row may be too much to ask.

"Our guys followed the formula and made them do things they don't want to do," Rice said after the win.

Find a way to do that consistently and Rutgers could cause some commotion at the Garden next week.

To compete for a CBI spot, Rutgers has to beat DePaul at least. For the NIT, the Scarlet Knights have to follow that up with upsets of Notre Dame and Marquette. All three beat Rutgers but all three could have gone the other way if finishing were not such a weakness.

Here is a look at how each game ended in the regular season, with Rutgers falling apart late all three times.

DePaul -- After losing Elijah Carter mid-game, Rutgers had no momentum whatsoever until Myles Mack caught fire and tied the score with 3:23 left to play. Rutgers then missed three jumpers and two free throws to let one slip away in Chicago.

Notre Dame -- Bad call or not, a Carter missed layup on the final possession allowed the Irish to escape with a 69-66 victory in South Bend, Ind.

Marquette -- No game summed up the Rutgers season better than the blown lead on Senior Night against DePaul. Rutgers had the Golden Eagles dead to rights before Mack and Dane Miller missed key free throws and the final possession ended in a turnover after tripping over the basketball.

No Rutgers is not a favorite to pull this off, but the Scarlet Knights have something to play for next week and that is not often the case when the tournament rolls around.

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