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Big Ten Men’s Basketball Mid Season Check-In: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Does Steve Pikiell have another rabbit in the hat or are the Scarlet Knights waiting on the #3 ranked recruiting class?

NCAA Basketball: Gotham Classic-Rutgers at Mississippi State Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Continuing our series checking in on Big Ten basketball, it’s every #1 ranked team’s least favorite opponent: the Rutgers Scarlet Knights! Rutgers still has a non-conference game against Stonehill on Saturday, but that shouldn’t change their season outlook too much. If it does, then shame on Rutgers.

Resume

Record: 7-4 (0-1)

Torvik: 79, KenPom:76, Haslam: 89, NET: 84, AP: No Votes, Coaches: NV

*NOTE: we are listing Torvik rankings for opponents. This is because a) NET rankings suck in December and you really shouldn’t pay attention to them until February and b) Torvik is completely free (KenPom is not) and we prefer using Torvik to Haslam. Numbers as of December 27.

Wins: @Seton Hall (99), Bryant (166), Georgetown (178), Howard (225), Saint Peter’s (261), Boston (298), Long Island (355)

Losses: N-Princeton (70), @Wake Forest (85), Illinois (14), N-Mississippi State (28)

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Seton Hall
I’m not sure why Rutgers gets to hoist a trophy in the shape of New Jersey. They lost to the best team in the state
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers exits the non-conference without a signature win. Losses to Illinois and Mississippi State are one thing, but getting smacked around by Wake Forest wasn’t a good look and the opening night loss to in-state rival Princeton set the tone for what’s been a disappointing non-conference slate.

The encouraging news is that the only win of any value came against Seton Hall after Mawot Mag returned from injury. The two worst losses aren’t awful and came before Mag’s return. With the NCAA tournament committee being on record as valuing Mag’s contributions to Rutgers, perhaps that will lead to the committee discounting the losses somewhat if Rutgers can have a productive Big Ten season.

On pace for: CBI or whatever they are calling that tournament these days

NCAA Basketball: LIU at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Torvik gives Rutgers just a 2.1% of making the NCAA tournament. While I’m not sure Torvik has factored in Rutgers’ upcoming home victory against Purdue, the Scarlet Knights do have an uphill battle the rest of the way. With next to non-conference resume to speak of and a down Big Ten, it will likely take an 11-9 or even a 12-8 Big Ten record to hear their name called on Selection Sunday. This isn’t an unusual position for Steve Pikiell at Rutgers, but there’s work to be done just to get Rutgers back into the conversation.

Biggest Surprises

Georgetown v Rutgers
The lone bright spot for Rutgers
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

BoilerUp89: Senior Aundre Hyatt has improved nearly everywhere for his final season. He’s been a better defender and is a capable three point shooter for the first time in his career having knocked down 37.3% of his attempts having last years 45 of 147 performance.

RUReady4Brazil: Hyatt has certainly raised his game and Freshman Point Guard JaMichael Davis takes care of the ball better than any point guard they have had in two decades. Many of us didn’t expect Davis to play much at all this year. He was thought by a good portion of the fan base to have been brought in solely because he’s Ace Bailey’s friend, but the team has been way better with him in the starting line-up. Davis doesn’t score much (no one does on this team), and his tenacious defense has helped them win some games, especially Seton Hall, by disrupting opposing point guards. Oskar Palmquist is WAY better than he was last year and probably needs more minutes also.

MaximumSam: The biggest surprise is Rutgers having two of the top three recruits next season. Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, and Rutgers. We are not prepared.

Biggest Disappointments

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 23 Gotham Classic - Mississippi State at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

BoilerUp89: This is a toss up between Cliff Omoruyi and the three point shooting for me. Heading into the season I fully expected Omoruyi to be the 2nd best center in the conference and be a consistent scoring threat for Rutgers. He’s been a non-factor more often than not with scoring outputs of 3 (Mississippi State), 4 (Wake Forest), 5 (Boston), 7 (Illinois), 8 (Georgetown), 11 (Seton Hall), and 12 (Princeton). You may also notice that all of Rutger’s quality opponents are games that Omoruyi didn’t take over on the offensive end.

Part of the reason Omoruyi may be struggling is that the shooting is so terrible and opponents can pack the paint. Rutgers is shooting just 30.7% from three on the year. Their best shooting performance from behind the arc (12 of 24) came against Seton Hall - a game they won by just 7.

RUReady4Brazil: The obvious answer is Derek Simpson. Like usual, I was more bullish on him than most last year, but then everyone fell in love with him and he is basically just the same guy he was in in the first place. He’s not a good shooter and can’t finish his quick drives with floaters or lay-ups consistently. Still, with Fernandes being better off the ball and Davis getting point guard minutes, if Jeremiah Williams becomes eligible, Simpson might drop to the 11th man and see very little game action. All they need from Simpson is some spark-plug offense off the bench, but he hasn’t been able to do that. The same could be said for Antoine Woolfolk, but with the need for him to provide stretches of defense off the bench.

Reasons for Optimism

Mississippi State v Rutgers Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

BoilerUp89: Rutgers still has an effective defense and the Trapezoid of Terror will make some Big Ten opponents into victims. If the return of Mag helps fix some of the offensive struggles through improved spacing or things click offensively for one of the underclassmen guards (Simpson, Griffiths, or Davis), Rutgers might be able to scratch out some wins in low scoring affairs.

RUReady4Brazil: 1. Pikiell. Any other coach and I’d be mailing it in myself as a fan. The team has been worse overall with more talent and at times even more pathetic on offense than this ‘23-’24 edition, but he has somehow coaxed something out of every team in the conference schedule we didn’t know they had in them. I’m actually more impressed this year with his flexible thinking when it comes to lineups/rotations than at any point before. There are a few different things that could happen, they don’t need every single thing to break right to win some games. 2. Gavin Griffiths could be in the disappointment section since he has not been as good as you’d expect a top 30 player to be. That said, when Griffiths gets hot, defenses face guard him and dare anyone else to score which is not something he would face if he was playing for any other team. If they can figure out ways to get him open or just the ball with a step on a defender, especially in the midrange, it could help everybody else do just enough to sneak a win or two extra. 3. Omoruyi is not a stationary post up player, but he is so athletic that if the ball handlers can get him the ball in a position where he can use leverage, he will finish a lot of easy dunks. The only people (and that includes players and coaches) who seem to understand this important fact are Austin Williams (who has battled injuries) and the enigmatic Fernandes. 4. If things don’t improve offensively and Jeremiah Williams is eligible, you might just see the old-school bulldog lineup of the Williamses at the guard spots with Hyatt, Mag, and Omoruyi that would give them the length and defensive acumen they need to revert to the strategy/identity of recent years.

Reasons for Concern

Mississippi State v Rutgers Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

BoilerUp89: Mag is a great glue guy and we’ve probably undersold his importance in the past, but let’s not overreact and act like his return fixes everything wrong with the Scarlet Knights this season. Mag is good rebounder and defensive player, but has never provided much scoring punch. If Rutgers can’t find a way to improve their three point shooting enough to make defenses at least respect them, this is going to be a long season.

RUReady4Brazil: Limiting this to just four is difficult enough. 1. This team shoots a terrible percentage on lay-ups and dunks which is something you have to be strong at if you can’t shoot from the outside. 2. When Noah Fernandes gets out of sorts, they have no offense to speak of even if Hyatt and Griffiths are making shots. 3. Interior defense has been abysmal outside of when Omoruyi AND Mag are both on the floor. If either needs a rest or has foul trouble, the Knights get eaten alive because they no longer have the size at the guard position to help with rebounding inside or clogging passing lanes. 4. Rutgers in the Pikiell era had previously never lost games because they were outhustled or out-”toughed”. The Scarlet Knights have been disinterested this year a few times and the fans may eventually shift their focus to ‘24-’25 Fab Five 2.0 mania if the players have a few more games of the sort.

Remaining Schedule

Home: Stonehill, Indiana, Nebraska, Purdue, Penn State, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State

Away: Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan State, Illinois, Michigan, Maryland, Minnesota, Purdue, Nebraska, Wisconsin

BoilerUp89: The double plays are not friendly to Rutgers this season. They draw Purdue, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Nebraska twice. The good news is that this gives Rutgers plenty of opportunities to pick up resume wins along the way. The bad news is that it makes it difficult to string together much needed victories.

RUReady4Brazil: It hasn’t really mattered who Rutgers has played in conference the previous two years. They lost to an awful Nebraska team, beat #1 Purdue twice, beat four straight ranked opponents at one point, but also lost to last place Minnesota with a 14 point lead inside 2 minutes that extinguished NCAA tournament hopes. Even if history says it doesn’t matter at all, this team is different because they need more out of their guards offensively to offset the defensive limitations. I am expecting something along the lines of a 6 or 7 win Big Ten season, they just don’t have even streaky firepower to sneak a few extra wins. Of course, I felt the same way each of the last five years at New Year’s.

Poll

The Scarlet Knights will...

This poll is closed

  • 22%
    Beat #1 Purdue
    (9 votes)
  • 2%
    Secure a double bye in the Big Ten tournament
    (1 vote)
  • 27%
    Finish with a conference record above .500
    (11 votes)
  • 35%
    Finish with a conference record below .500
    (14 votes)
  • 12%
    Play on Wednesday in the Big Ten tournament
    (5 votes)
40 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Rutgers will...

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    make the NCAA tournament
    (7 votes)
  • 44%
    make the NIT tournament
    (19 votes)
  • 18%
    participate in the CBI
    (8 votes)
  • 20%
    skip the postseason
    (9 votes)
43 votes total Vote Now