No. 21 Rutgers hosts Syracuse in battle of unbeaten squads

NCAA Basketball

No. 21 Rutgers hosts Syracuse in battle of unbeaten squads

Rutgers and Syracuse are scheduled to play Tuesday night, and as was the case the last six times the schools met, one of the teams will be nationally ranked at tip-off.

But in the latest sign things are much different now than in 2013, the ranked team is Rutgers instead of Syracuse.

Host Rutgers and Syracuse will both be looking to remain unbeaten when the former conference rivals face one another as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in Piscataway, N.J.

The teams enter their first meeting in almost seven years with identical 3-0 records following wire-to-wire wins.

No. 21 Rutgers last played on Nov. 29, when the Scarlet Knights led wire-to-wire in a 70-56 non-conference win over visiting Hofstra. Host Syracuse tied a school record by draining 15 3-pointers on Saturday, when the Orange beat Rider, 87-52.

This has already been a season of long-awaited accomplishments for Rutgers, which was ranked in the preseason for the first time since 1978 before winning its first three games by double-digit margins for the first time since 1980. The Scarlet Knights beat Sacred Heart, 86-63, on Nov. 25 before cruising past Fairleigh Dickinson, 96-75, two nights later.

But as far as Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell was concerned, the most notable thing about starting 3-0 in a season being played in a pandemic might simply be playing those games. The Scarlet Knights were able to play every other day starting Nov. 25.

“A huge achievement,” Pikiell said following the win over Hofstra. “It’s great to get three games in a short period of time, because a lot of teams haven’t played any games yet.”

Rutgers hoped to play at least once in between facing Hofstra and Syracuse, but proposed games against Wagner and Oregon last Wednesday fell through.

At least three Syracuse team members – two players and head coach Jim Boeheim – have tested positive for the coronavirus this season. The Orange had a two-week shutdown following the positive tests for Boeheim and one player last month but were able to play Niagara on Thursday even though one player tested positive and four others – including Buddy Boeheim, the son of Jim – were quarantining because they were deemed close contacts.

“It’s very hard to get your team to where you want it to be,” Jim Boeheim said following the 75-45 win over Niagara.

The back-to-back routs came after Syracuse barely escaped an upset bid by Bryant in the season opener Nov. 27, when the Orange earned an 85-84 win.

Rutgers and Syracuse are playing each other for the first time since Jan. 2, 2013, when both schools were in the midst of their final seasons in the Big East. The Orange, which entered that game ranked seventh in the nation, cruised to a 78-53 win – their 13th straight victory over the Scarlet Knights, whom they lead in the all-time series, 39-9.

Syracuse is not ranked prior to a game against Rutgers for the first time since Jan. 16, 2008.

Rutgers last beat Syracuse on Jan. 29, 2003, when the Scarlet Knights edged the Orange, 68-65.

— Field Level Media

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