Thursday, December 31, 2015

Indiana Hoosiers 79 at Rutgers Scarlet Knights 72 (NCAA Basketball, Big Ten) - December 30, 2015


Conference play in NCAA basketball got underway in earnest when Iowa upset #1 Michigan State on Tuesday night, and the Big Ten held several more games on Wednesday, including one at Rutgers. The Big Ten added Rutgers and Maryland in 2014 as it sought to extend its presence to the populous east coast, upsetting its midwestern fan base in the process by bringing in a couple of relatively weak football programs. For the Scarlet Knights, the result has been an embarrassment to their basketball program as well as they finished last with a 2-16 conference record in 2014.

Rutgers University is located just a few miles from Staten Island, but is not easy to get to on transit. There are two campuses that lies between Edison and New Brunswick stations, and although there are shuttles from the latter, they do not reach the stadium area; a two-mile walk from Edison might be your best bet if the weather is nice. At any rate, my buddy Eddie offered to drive yesterday, thus saving me a couple of hours on NJ Transit.



Rutgers plays in the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) which is also known as the Louis Brown Athletic Center, though I could find no mention of that name anywhere in the facility. The building is shaped like a trapezoid, with a single entrance along the east side. It is hard to believe that this is a Big Ten basketball arena.



General parking is $10 in lots right next to the venue, which are easy to get into but clog up after the game as there is no highway nearby for easy egress. Tickets are not cheap here either, with the lowest level 100 sections going for $80, those in the middle at $35 while those in the top 300 level are $15. You can see all three levels in the shot below; the 300 level is bench seating but as the RAC is quite compact, these are good enough. We found someone with extras in section 215 who sold them at a discount, so look around outside before approaching the ticket window. Note that if you are going to see a big name team here such as Michigan State or Wisconsin, the venue will likely sell out in advance, so buy your tickets online in that case.



The student section is to the left above, but as students are still on holiday, it was mostly empty, except for the band. Below you can see the other end zone which has a few seats and the media contingent. Note the Rutgers 250 along the end line; it is the school's sestercentennial (there's a word you don't see in sports that often).



This is the view from those end zone seats. You can tell that the visiting team is Indiana by their weird warmup pants that make them look like members of a barbershop quartet.



Overall, the RAC is not suitable for the Big Ten. It is too small, with capacity at 8,000, and very crowded in the concourses, with limited concessions as well. It has a good reputation for being loud and filled with passionate fans, but most of the 6,002 on hand yesterday were from Indiana, perhaps having stayed over after the Pinstripe Bowl. With the team likely to lose nearly every home game for the rest of the season, it might be the worst basketball venue in the power conferences.



The Hoosiers came in at 10-3 while Rutgers was a dismal 6-7, so a blowout was in the offing, and it looked that way early as Indiana held a 30-18 lead with 7 minutes to go in the first half. Both teams struggled from the floor and made several turnovers in a game that was kindly described as sloppy but was really just terrible execution. Anyway, freshman Thomas Bryant (#31 above) committed his third foul around this time and earned a spot on the bench for the rest of the half, and Rutgers used the opportunity to mount a 16-4 run to get to halftime tied at 34.

At the under-16 timeout in the second half with the Hoosiers up by a point, Bryant returned to the game and was immediately whistled for his fourth foul, sending him back to the bench. This time however, Indiana responded with a run of their own, sinking three treys to make it 54-44 and essentially ending the contest then. Rutgers never got closer than 6 the rest of the way as Indiana won 79-72 in a game that took less than two hours.



Max Biefeldt led the winners off the bench with 18 points and 14 boards, while Omari Grier topped Rutgers with 20 points. The teams combined for 40 turnovers, or one for every minute of action. Not pretty.

Notes

These two schools played in the 1976 Final Four, with both arriving undefeated. Rutgers lost to Michigan and then UCLA in the thrd place game, while Indiana won the championship, the last team to do so undefeated.

After the game, we drove down to High Point Solutions Stadium, home of Rutgers football. The gates were open so we went inside to have a look. I'll be back here in 2016 for a game.



I've been to 41 NCAA basketball venues, but four of those were for tournaments, one was a women's game, three were in secondary homes, and one has been replaced. Thus, this was my 32nd active home men's NCAA Division I hoops arena, which means only 319 to go!

Best,

Sean

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