NCAA Division: Division I
Conference: Big Ten
Past Conferences: American Athletic, Big East, Atlantic-10, Eastern Athletic Association, Eastern Collegiate Basketball League, Middle Atlantic, Middle Three, Independent
City: New Brunswick, NJ
Stadium: Jersey Mike’s Arena
NCAA Tournaments: 1975, 1976, 1979, 1983, 1989, 1991, 2021, 2022
National Championships: None
Conference Titles: 2
They started playing basketball on the banks of the Raritan River in 1906 and have played continuously since 1913, with the exception of a year off during World War II. There have been some notable high points along the way, as well as some painful low patches, since the program meandered in and out of several conferences before finding its current home in the Big Ten in 2014.
The first head coach to make an impact on the team was Frank Hill, who ran the show from 1915 through 1943 and remains the winningest coach in Rutgers history.
Between 1949-50 and 1963-64, the Scarlet Knights had just one winning season. The last of those campaigns was Bill Foster’s first as the team’s head coach, and he’d usher in the first span of sustained success for Rutgers.
Foster’s fourth team in 1966-67, featuring standout Bob Lloyd (27.9 points per game) and a New York City kid named Jim Valvano, went 22-7 and achieved the school’s first postseason berth in the NIT. The Scarlet Knights made it to the semifinals of the event and defeated Marshall in the third-place game, making the most of that initial March experience.
Foster went 103-46 in his final six seasons before moving on to Utah and later Duke, which he guided to the Final Four in 1978. Tom Young, who had elevated the program at American University, took over in 1973 and almost immediately brought Rutgers to national prominence.
First NCAA Tournament in 1975
Young inherited a talented bunch that included Phil Sellers, another NYC product who would become the program’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder. He led Rutgers to two more NIT berths in 1973 and 1974 and then to the team’s first NCAA Tournament in 1975.
That squad, with Sellers averaging 22.3 points and three others putting up at least 13, was an offensive force. The Rutgers Scarlet Knights team stats page showed a scoring average of 86.0 points. However, it couldn’t hang with Louisville in the opening round, falling 91-78 despite Sellers’ 29 points.
The table was set, however, for the greatest season in program history in 1975-76. Buoyed by Sellers, fellow senior Mike Dabney and future NBA standout and head coach Eddie Jordan, the Scarlet Knights entered the national rankings in mid-December amid an undefeated start that seemed to have no end.
After a win over 15th-ranked Princeton to begin February, Rutgers stood at 17-0. It improved to 22-0 by defeating Syracuse on Feb. 18 and knocked off 16th-ranked St. John’s in Madison Square Garden on March 6 to claim an ECAC Metropolitan crown, gaining a ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Betting tips suggested a lengthy run in the postseason for Young’s team,
As luck would have it, the Scarlet Knights were matched up with Princeton again in the opening round and needed to survive a late scramble for a 54-53 win. They had a much easier time against Connecticut and then VMI to race into the Final Four at 31-0.
Last NCAA Tournament Victory Until 2021
Indiana had a perfect season going, as well, and Bobby Knight’s squad gained most of the notoriety. The Hoosiers survived their national semifinal game while Rutgers could not, falling to Michigan in a game that saw Sellers, Dabney, and Jordan shoot a combined 16-for-51 from the floor.
The Scarlet Knights also lost the third-place game to UCLA to finish that magical campaign at 31-2.
Young had nine more winning seasons and NCAA Tournament trips in 1979 and 1983 before moving on to Old Dominion. That 1983 team defeated Louisiana in the first round, which would be the program’s last NCAA Tournament victory until 2021.
Bob Wenzel led Rutgers to four straight postseason tournaments from 1989-1992 (two NCAA, two NIT.) However, there were six consecutive losing seasons for the Scarlet Knights later in the 1990s and 13 in a row beginning in the 2006-07 campaign and running through 2019-20, the season cut short by COVID.
That rough patch coincided with moves from the Atlantic-10 to the Big East, to the American Athletic Conference, and to the Big Ten, and it involved four different head coaches. The last of that group, Steve Pikiell, has seemingly turned the tide.
Pikiell, who enjoyed plenty of success turning Stony Brook into a power in the America East, ended the program’s NCAA Tournament drought at 30 years by taking the 2020-21 team to the Big Dance. Rutgers made it count with an opening-round victory over Clemson before giving eventual Final Four squad Houston all it could handle in the next round.
The Scarlet Knights scored an early upset of top-ranked Purdue in 2021-22 and later knocked off three straight ranked Big Ten foes en route to a fourth-place finish in the league. The resume was enough to get them into back-to-back NCAA Tournaments for the first time since the mid-1970s, and Pikiell’s bunch has some solid NCAAB odds going into 2022-23.
Phil Sellers: 2,399
Bob Lloyd: 2,045
James Bailey: 2,034
Phil Sellers: 1,115
James Bailey: 1,074
George Sundstrom: 942
Eddie Jordan: 507
Geo Baker: 496
Brian Ellerbe: 495
Tom Young: 239
Frank Hill: 223
Bob Wenzel: 128
What Is the Highest Win Total in Program History?
In 1975-76, Rutgers won its first 31 games before losing in the Final Four. No other Scarlet Knights team had as many as 25 victories.
What Was the Worst Season in Program History?
The 1954-55 edition finished 2-22 for the worst winning percentage in Rutgers history. The team with the most losses was the 2015-16 squad, which went 7-25 and finished 1-17 in the Big Ten.
Who Is the Greatest Player in Program History?
It’s impossible to go against Phil Sellers here. Still the team’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder, Sellers was the senior leader on the 1975-76 team that opened 31-0. His 19.2 points per game average mark that season was actually the lowest mark of his career, during which he averaged 21.0 points.
Sellers played in 44 games with the Detroit Pistons in 1976-77.