You might have missed a little college basketball history last night, while you were watching Ohio State get absolutely barbecued from downtown by Michigan State. Over on BTN, Minnesota blew out a shorthanded Rutgers squad, giving the Scarlet Knights their 30th straight Big Ten loss. After the loss, Rutgers plummeted below 300 in the KenPom rankings, the first time a major conference team has sunk that low -- ever. At No. 301, Rutgers is now ranked below college basketball heavyweights like Seattle, Central Arkansas, and Longwood.
There can be a little bit of schadenfreude in watching such a collapse, especially if you're somebody who still isn't thrilled about Rutgers being in the Big Ten in the first place. But if we're being honest, while gawking at the tire fire on Twitter can be good for a few laughs, this level of ineptitude hurts everybody in the conference. And this season, it could actually hurt Ohio State.
Let's make one thing clear. Rutgers isn't the reason a team like Ohio State will almost certainly miss the NCAA Tournament. Bad non-conference losses, youth all over the roster, turnovers; those are the reasons. But Rutgers could be the difference between Ohio State getting a home game in the NIT, or a road game.
Ohio State's computer profile, at the moment, is not pretty. Per ESPN, the Buckeyes have an RPI of 79, one that will likely plummet further if Ohio State can't upset Iowa or Michigan State over their final two regular season games. They own just one top 50 RPI victory, their big early season win over Kentucky.
Another of Ohio State's "signature wins", Michigan, is right on the cusp. The Wolverines currently sit at 55 in RPI, and with games to play against Northwestern and Wisconsin, they can probably get another win or two. If only Michigan's computer profile could get a tiny bump, it might be enough to push them over the RPI top 50 threshold.
That could happen if Rutgers was only garden-variety major conference bad, instead of abjectly horrible. With an RPI of 280, Rutgers would be considered a lousy team in the Ivy or Patriot league, let alone the Big Ten. If that RPI was say, 160, consistent with a bad power team, not only would Michigan's profile slightly increase, but so would all of the Big Ten teams that are being dragged down a bit by Rutgers at the moment. Even if this hypothetically involves Rutgers beating a few Big Ten teams, the net benefit could give OSU a slightly better win, and improve their own middling profile a hair.
Right now, many NIT bracket projections have Ohio State in the 3-5 seed range. The top four seeds host first round games, and even a small bump could be the difference between going on the road, potentially even across the country, and playing in Columbus.
Of course, the even bigger negative impact comes from the opportunity cost of playing Rutgers in the first place. Every Rutgers game is a game Ohio State isn't playing against another Big Ten opponent. Would this season be any different if Ohio State had a shot at Purdue, Indiana or Wisconsin in Columbus? Or a chance to pick up a quality road win at Michigan? If the conference schedule played out in a slightly different way, it's not impossible to imagine a scenario where Ohio State is actually on the bubble this late in the season.
The fact that Rutgers basketball is really bad isn't news. This has been a bad basketball program for a long time. It hasn't finished with a record over .500 in a decade, and it isn't made the NCAA Tournament since 1991. Now, faced with even more significant resource challenges and a tougher schedule, prolonged struggle is to be expected, and when the team gets unlucky with injuries, the wheels can completely come off.
It's no certainty it can get better in the near future. Corey Sanders is a very good player, and this is a young team, but there aren't big name reinforcements coming. Rutgers' 2016 recruiting class has three players, a pair of mid three-star recruits and a two star, and the Big Ten is getting tougher. Penn State will have one of their best recruiting classes in school history coming next season. Northwestern has been improving every year. Illinois will eventually get healthy. Even if Rutgers makes incremental progress, where are those potential wins going to come from?
This, of course, isn't a situation unique to basketball. Rutgers struggled in virtually every sport last year, and that hasn't changed dramatically this season. Rutgers had an outstanding Women's Soccer season, and their wrestling team has competed very well in a difficult Big Ten. But across all sports this season, Rutgers is 26-72 in Big Ten play. Since joining the Big Ten, across all sports, Rutgers is 76-199.
It will take a few more years for Rutgers to become a full financial partner with the Big Ten, and for them to finish some facility upgrades. They have a new athletic director, who will need to time to change the culture of the program, and perhaps make additional coaching changes as well. Rutgers is at least helping the conference make a boatload of money, and after the league's next TV deal, it will probably be an even bigger boatful of money. There is a path for this situation to change.
But that's going to take time. And other programs might get dinged in the process, and when that happens, maybe Rutgers' struggles won't be quite as funny.