The Scarlet Knights (4-0) are off to their best start since 2000 and return to the RAC to take on North Texas (1-2) on Wednesday night. There seems to be a genuine buzz building around RU early on in the season, and on Sunday, Steve Pikiell became the first coach to begin his tenure with 4 consecutive wins.
Rutgers will face a quick turnaround after this game, as they face Hartford on Friday afternoon at the RAC. But for now, the only focus is North Texas.
Here’s what I’m looking for:
- Corey Sanders return – In case you’ve forgotten, Corey was ejected after a second technical foul against Niagara. In the postgame press conference, it was obvious that Pike was not happy with the way Corey handled himself on the court. Personally, I didn’t see much in either technical, but I agree that Corey has to use a little more restraint. Especially considering that he was suspended last year for multiple games. I think he understands that now and is ready to move forward, and I expect a big game from him on Wednesday.
- More exceptional bench play – The reserves were incredible against Niagara, running up a 42-3 advantage in bench points. I would think that Nigel Johnson eventually breaks into the starting lineup, and maybe that even happens for this game. Even if he does though, there is still plenty of talent available to spell the starters. Candido Sa and Mike Williams, in particular, have both been excellent so far.
- Fast start – I know, I know. This was one of my keys for last game too. But I think it’s even more important here with the quick turnaround afterwards. North Texas is currently ranked at #287 by KenPom, while Rutgers has moved up to #151. North Texas also lost to Drexel by 21, just one week after Rutgers beat Drexel by 21. These are positive signs for RU. Nothing is ever guaranteed, but I’d love to see us come out of the gates fast and put this one away early.
As great as it is to be 4-0, I’m sure Steve Pikiell is doing everything he can to keep the players grounded and playing as a team. The focus for this week has to be avoiding any letdowns and adding two more W’s.
That starts tomorrow night at the RAC.
The Scarlet Knights (3-0) return home on Sunday for an early afternoon matchup against Niagara (0-3).
The Knights are off to their best start since 2008, and have been overwhelming opponents with their size. That does not bode well for Niagara, who don’t have a rotation player taller than 6’8″ on their roster.
Here’s what I’m looking for:
- Control the glass – This may end up being a common theme throughout most of the out-of-conference schedule. But in this one especially, with RU’s huge size advantage, we should dominate on the boards. Keep in mind, in the last two games, Rutgers is a combined +48 in that department. We are also currently the #1 team in the nation in Offensive Rebounding Efficiency, according to KenPom.
- Come out fast – In all three games this season, Rutgers has taken some time to get going. Division II Molloy was within 10 at the break. Drexel was down 2 before a 13-0 Rutgers run to close the first half. And DePaul kept things tight throughout the first half. I’d love to see a suffocating performance from start to finish in this one.
- Avoid the letdown – It seems like every season, Rutgers picks up an inexcusable loss to a bad out-of-conference opponent. This year, we’ve started 3-0 and some people are already looking ahead in the schedule and talking about 6-0. On paper, everything points to a win against Niagara. They’ve already lost to Buffalo, Brown, and Hartford. We can’t get complacent and let this one slip away.
I called DePaul a true barometer game before last Thursday’s clash, and overall I think we performed well, although it looked a little shaky in the last 5 minutes. We have to build on that momentum in this game.
Defend, rebound, play with energy, and we should be able to take care of business on our home floor. We’ll find out more on Sunday.
College basketball season must be right around the corner…the new KenPom ratings are here.
In case you missed the post on the Rutgers KenPom numbers last season, you can catch up here.
Now on to the key Rutgers takeaways from this year’s first release…
- No longer the worst KenPom rating among all Power 7 schools – Rutgers was way behind the P7 pack last year, finishing at 279. However, this year, we’ve jumped one P7 team and have closed the gap significantly on the rest of the group. KenPom has RU rated at 191, while Saint Louis (lowest P7) is at 224. The second-lowest Big Ten school is Penn State at 98.
- We’re projected to improve offensively – I know what you’re thinking…how could we not? After finishing last season ranked 303 out of 351, we are expected to take some positive steps forward. According to KenPom, our Adjusted Offensive Efficiency is 99.1 (up from 96.3), which puts us at #192. Still not where we want to be, but leaps and bounds ahead of last year.
- We’re also projected to improve defensively – Last year, RU was rated 235 with an Adjusted Defensive Efficiency of 106.9. The hiring of a defensive-minded coach seems to have made an impact though, as we enter this year at 184 (and an ADE of 100.6). I personally think this is even a little too low. We’re going to surprise a lot of people with our toughness and effort on the defensive end. More importantly, we also now have the size to control the defensive glass.
- Slow and steady wins the race – One of the most eye-popping differences between this year and last year will be our pace. Last season, we were the 53rd ranked team in the country in terms of how fast we played. This season? We’re projected at 241. Again, this is a direct reflection of Steve Pikiell’s philosophy. Play in the halfcourt, limit turnovers, control the tempo, and keep the game close deep into the 2nd half. It may not be the most exhilarating thing to watch, but in our case, slower is definitely better.
To find out more details, including how other teams were rated, check out the full 2017 KenPom ratings.
Ken Pomeroy (KenPom) is a statistics guru who provides an “advanced analysis of college basketball.” He is widely considered to be a brilliant basketball mind and his statistical equations are often compared to the work of Bill James.
Throughout each season, KenPom’s college basketball ratings are updated to determine the best teams based on his detailed algorithm. With that in mind, I thought it would be wise to look at some advanced Rutgers statistics from the end of last season to see if there were any numbers that stood out.
Here are the key takeaways (WARNING- they’re not pretty):
- Worst KenPom rating among all Power 7 schools – This probably goes without saying after our brutal 2015-16 season, but overall, Rutgers was ranked 279th by KenPom. For some perspective, the next lowest P7 school was LaSalle at 266. In addition, there were only two other P7 schools rated 200 or below (St. John’s and Saint Louis). The next lowest Big Ten school was Minnesota at 192. That’s quite a significant gap.
- Ranked 303rd (out of 351) in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency – The Adjusted Offensive Efficiency statistic measures the points scored per 100 possessions and is calibrated based on opponents. Using this metric, Rutgers scored only 96.3 points per 100 possessions.
- Ranked 235th (out of 351) in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency – This stat measures the points allowed per 100 possessions, and is also calibrated based on opponents. Rutgers wasn’t much better on this end of the floor, giving up 106.9 points per 100 possessions.
- Luck was not on our side – KenPom even has an algorithm to determine how much “luck” a team had over the course of the season. This can often be useful to tell you whether a team actually earned their high seed in the NCAA tournament, or whether they were the beneficiary of some breaks and are primed for an upset. Last season, Rutgers ranked 271st in luck, meaning that 270 teams caught more breaks.
- League schedule was a gauntlet – As you could probably guess, as a Big Ten member, Rutgers conference schedule was not easy. In fact, they played the 66th toughest schedule in the nation. This may not seem too bad on the surface, but it takes into account their light non-conference slate as well (which was ranked 216th).
Remember, these numbers are not a reflection of this year’s team and shouldn’t be analyzed as such. With the coaching change, the incoming recruits/transfers, and the players who left the program or graduated, there has been significant roster turnover entering 2016-17.
However, it’s interesting to see exactly how we measured up to other D-1 programs, as well as some of the intangible factors like the luck rating. I expect our efficiency numbers to improve across the board under Coach Pikiell (especially on the defensive end). Hopefully, that will also translate to a few more wins.