When C. Vivian Stringer's team opened the season at 6-0, including a win on the road at LSU, the smiles abounded. Then came the heart-breaking loss to North Carolina...at home...in double overtime. UNC is 15-3 and ranked 12th. Heartbreaking but you could live with it. Except the game opened with Rutgers down 11-0, and not scoring its first basket until the 15:11 mark of the first half. And yet the team fought back to take a four point lead at the half. But then not scoring for the last 1:57 of regulation while the heels scored five to tie. What happened? Every team has off moments, times when the opponent goes on a run. Rutgers has had them, but seemingly at the worst times. Look at the game flow of the UNC game from CBS Gametracker.
The red arrows point to those flat lines, the times when RU was not scoring. Two periods at the end of regulation were daggers to the heart, and turned the tide despite the valiant OT effort. And even in overtime, the team went cold at the end, hitting a 3 with :06 on the clock to get it a bit closer in the 96-93 loss.
Following the UNC loss, there were two good wins, both on the road. Had the ship been righted? Not exactly. Tennessee came to Piscataway and handed the Knights a ten-point loss, with Rutgers having its lowest scoring game of the season, just 45 points on offense. And again, there were stretches in the game when RU did not score. And the stretch at the start of and the end of the second half were significant. A slow start hurt. But then Rutgers scored just six points over the last nine minutes of the game. UT wasn't much better over that stretch, but they didn't need to be.
Stringer built her reputation over her career on defense. And Rutgers is doing it still. So is there a lack of scoring that is leading to these situations? Not really. Since 2009, this is the best scoring team that Rutgers has had, and by a fairly good amount. Considering the team scored just 45 against the Vols, it should be a lot better.
There was a 17-point loss at Ohio State, a team that's just 11-7, but that can score. And a similar pattern for Rutgers in the loss: slow start, allowing the Buckeyes to jump out to a lead they would never relinquish, and then some long stretches without scoring.
And the other day, at home, to the top team in the Big Ten, Maryland got off to a 25-7 start. An 18 point deficit. Just seven points through the first 8:02. Yet the team closed to within four at the half, only to see 28.6% shooting in the second half wash away that effort.
This team is 3-3 in conference, with 12 yet to play. Are the B1G losses that significant? They've yet to play three of the teams that are ahead of them. That will tell the story. The team has not necessarily played that well against "better" teams (UNC, Tennessee, Iowa, Maryland), yet they are still ranked, and they still are scoring at a decent pace (45% to 36% for opponents) and winning by maintaining a good margin of victory average.
As with so much of basketball, it's where you are at the close of the season. Will they play better at home (5-4 vs 7-1 away)? Will they score better? Will they score more consistently? Will they position themselves for a run at the B1G Tournament title and a good seed in the NCAA tournament? The team is currently 63 in this week's RPI, a drop of four places from last week. Can they "right the ship"?