NCAA men's basketball: Scarlet Knights are old, and the RAC always will be the RAC

Tom Noie
ND Insider
Feb 16, 2022; Piscataway, New Jersey, USA;Rutgers Scarlet Knights center Clifford Omoruyi (11) and guard Paul Mulcahy (4) reacts during the second half against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Jersey Mike's Arena. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

DAYTON, Ohio – Here are five facts about Rutgers, which opens First Four play in the NCAA tournament Wednesday night (9:10 p.m. approximately) against Notre Dame at University of Dayton Arena. 

►Rutgers made some serious history this season 

The Scarlet Knights became the first team in the history of college basketball to beat four ranked teams in a row when it rolled through a four-game, 11-day stretch with home wins over Michigan State, Ohio State and Illinois and a win at Wisconsin. 

Overall, Rutgers has wins over five ranked teams (all in the Big Ten) this season. It beat No. 1 Purdue (thanks, Ron Harper, Jr.), No. 12 Illinois, No. 13 Michigan State, No. 14 Wisconsin and No. 16 Ohio State. 

In comparison, Notre Dame beat one ranked team this season – then-No.10 Kentucky – and played only two all season (also Duke). 

Mar 6, 2022; Piscataway, New Jersey, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights head coach Steve Pikiell coaches against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the first half at Jersey Mike's Arena. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

►Head coach Steve Pikiell is no stranger to Notre Dame 

Prior to arriving in Piscataway in 2016, the 54-year-old Pikiell spent 12 seasons as the head coach of Stony Brook (2005-16). Three times he took his Seawolves to play Notre Dame at Purcell Pavilion. 

The Irish were 3-0, winning 95-66 in 2006, 88-62 in 2010 and 86-61 in 2015. 

“I love their coach,” Irish coach Mike Brey said Sunday about Pikiell. 

Former Pittsburgh point guard Brandin Knight, who tormented many Irish teams during his playing days, is an assistant on Pikiell’s staff. 

Mar 6, 2022; Piscataway, New Jersey, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights guard Geo Baker (0) looks to pass as Penn State Nittany Lions forward John Harrar (21) defends during the second half at Jersey Mike's Arena. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

►That starting lineup is old 

Starting a freshman, a graduate student and three seniors allowed Notre Dame to get old and stay old this season, something Rutgers already has done. 

The starting five for the Scarlet Knights consists of a sophomore (Clifford Omorunyi) a junior (Paul Mulcahy) and three seniors (Geo Baker, Ron Harper, Jr., Caleb McConnell). Omorunyi has played in 54 career games, Mulcahy 90, McConnell 113, Harper 120 and Baker 144. That’s a lot of games from those guys. 

All five also became the first starting group in program history to each earn post-season recognition in league play. McConnell earned Big Ten defensive player of the year honors. Harper was a second team all-league selection and Baker third team. Omorunyi, Mulcahy and McConnell were honorable mention all-league. 

Mar 11, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights forward Ron Harper Jr. (24) catches the ball while Iowa Hawkeyes guard Connor McCaffery (30) defends  in the first half at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

►Rutgers is the answer to a Notre Dame trivia question 

Name the team that Notre Dame beat for its first Big East tournament victory in school history. 

Yep, Rutgers. 

In 2000 during former coach Matt Doherty’s lone season on the Notre Dame sideline, the Irish finally broke a four-year run of going home early from Madison Square Garden with a 74-72 victory. All-American power forward (and New Jersey native) Troy Murphy scored 25 points with 14 rebounds and classmate David Graves added 10 points and four rebounds on March 8, 2000. 

The Irish lost the next night to Miami (Fla.). 

Dec 9, 2021; Piscataway, New Jersey, USA; A view of Jersey Mike’s Arena after the Rutgers Scarlet Knights defeat #1 Purdue Boilermakers at Jersey Mike's Arena. Mandatory Credit: Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports

► The RAC always will be the RAC 

One of the most unique homecourts – it looks more like an oversized (and ugly), windowless, character-less airplane hangar from the outside – received a new name at the start of this season. Rutgers once called home the RAC – the Rutgers Athletic Center, then the Louis Brown Athletic Center – before the building’s name was changed to Jersey Mike’s Arena.

Ugh. 

► March Madness:Notre Dame basketball headed back to NCAA Tournament as No. 11 seed

Back when Notre Dame was in the Big East, the RAC was a House of Horrors. The Irish went 3-9 in that building as a member of the Big East, including losses in their last two trips. During the 2002-03 season, Notre Dame was ranked No. 9 in the Associated Press poll when it lost in the RAC, 95-82. 

“We never had much success in the RAC,” Brey said. 

Every time the Irish visited the building, it was housed in what doubled as the baseball locker room. Brey often would kill the down time before tipoff swinging a bat that he’d found nearby. 

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI