Offensively, we are who we are.
Eddie Jordan spoke those words matter of factly, after the loss to the Michigan Wolverines last night, leaving Rutgers fans to wonder if there will be more electrifying wins this season. It's likely there will be. Though worn down, Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack are too good to let this season go without a fight, and that will hopefully lead to a few more wins.
However, the brilliant John Beilein put on a clinic of how to beat the Scarlet Knights. Northwestern did as well. Play a tight zone and pack it in close to the rim. Keep Junior Etou and Kadeem Jack closer to the perimeter and double team Myles Mack any time possible.
Basically, force Rutgers to beat you on three point shots. Now there are times you will get burned, when a few of the players start to feel it, but it's a sound strategy. Rutgers only shoots 30.2% from three point range, and a lot of that is attributed to Mack--who shoots 33.3%.
Rutgers is dead last in the Big Ten in 3 point shooting.
(Statistics gleaned from BigTen.org and ESPN.com)
In college basketball, the three point shot is the great equalizer. Those magnificent upsets in March? Most of them come from the three point shot. Teams will defend their opponents guards tightly to try and keep them from shooting the three. However, good teams have one or two pieces that can get to the rim early and alter the defense, leading to openings at the arc.
Those teams aren't Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have talent close to the rim. Both Mack and Bishop Daniels have shown an ability to drive. Etou and Jack are at their best as close to the rim as possible. If you can keep those guys away from the basket, you can beat Rutgers. The last thing Rutgers wants is to have open perimeter shots.
Most teams want to beat you inside out. Rutgers needs to beat teams outside in. Instead of getting to the rim, Rutgers has to make three pointers to force the opposition to change defense last night. Case in point, last in the second half last night, as Rutgers was holding a 4 point lead and coming out of a time out, Beilein made a coaching mistake. He went out of the zone that was so effective, and went to man. Rutgers recognized it immediately and Malick Kone was able to get to the rim for an easy lay-up. The next possession, Michigan went back to the zone and stymied Rutgers.
So, what does this mean going forward?
Not a lot for this year, but it says a lot about building the program. It appears Jordan's offensive system works, and his defense is improving (Rutgers is actually 8th in the conference in defense). And the players who will be in the program for at least another year or more are the best defenders on the team.
However, even though Corey Sanders has superstar potential, Jordan still doesn't have an insane "change the program in a year" class coming in. He has pieces. And some of these pieces, including Ryan Johnson (partially ineligible) and Justin Goode (redshirting) are considered spot on shooters.
If this is true, and Mike Williams can become more consistent, Rutgers has a good chance to be better next year. The three point shot makes you dangerous, because the moment a team gets hot, it will force defense to adjust and open the middle for players like D.J. Foreman, Junior Etou and whomever Jordan brings in with its final open scholarship.
Becoming dangerous is the next step for this program. They've gone from bad to competitive in a year. Next they have to go from competitive to dangerous. Team have to fear coming to the RAC. The three pointer and the momentum that brings in terms of fans, cheering and confidence is huge.
Eddie Jordan has to cultivate the three pointer next year. The more that swish through the net, the easier it will be to institute the rest of the Princeton offense, gaining back door cuts on overplays from the defense. Teams won't be able to zone RU as much either.
And, when Rutgers is dangerous, that's when you can catch the eye of a program changing recruit. And, with some backing and confidence from administration, maybe even land one or two. The 2016 and 2017 classes will be key for Jordan and company. When this team starts knocking other teams off at home regularly, eyes will start to open.
To me, the program is trending up. Jordan has something to sell and some talent coming in. The Wisconsin victory was huge for Jordan, and hanging around with some of the name programs in the conference will help as well. Another win or two at home--and stealing one on the road?-would do wonders.
But Rutgers has to start swishing some shots. Next year, they maybe able to do that.
They have to stop making the opposition only work. They have to scare them.
They have to change who they are on offense.