As this publishes, CBS has started to fill in the brackets--and for the 24th straight season Rutgers won't be one of the schools named.
Instead, Rutgers finished the season with a fight--but it was an exhausted, overworked fight. A fifteen game losing streak closed out the campaign--and now the Scarlet Knight's two best players, Kadeem Jack and Myles Mack, graduate. They also lose program stalwart Malik Kone. They have some pieces coming in next year and at least one open scholarship.
But let's look back--was Eddie Jordan's second campaign better than his first? It's tough to say. A lot of pre-season Rutgers predictions said the Scarlet Knights could be better this season, and their record could still be worse. So, let's look at some numbers.
2013-14 Record: 12-21
2014-15 Record: 10-22
2013-14 Scoring Differential in Wins: Won by an average of 9.5 points
2014-15 Scoring DIfferential in Wins: Won by an average of 6.5
2013-14 Scoring Differential in Losses: Lost by an average of 11 points
2014-15 Scoring Differential in Losses: Lost by an average of 14 points
2013-14 Average Points Scored: 71.1
2014-15 Average Points Scored: 59.3
2013-14 Average Points Allowed: 76.2
2014-15 Average Points Allowed: 67.2
2013-14 Best Win: Temple 71-66
2014-15 Best Win: #4 Wisconsin 67-62
2013-14 Worst Loss: Toss up-Fairleigh Dickinson (by 1) or Louisville (by 61 points!)
2014-15 Worst Loss: St. Peter's by 18.
Okay. Deep breath. Let's let that percolate for a minute or two.
So, what jumps out at me?
Well, let's talk the good news first--Rutgers defense improved by leaps and bounds. There are consistently better teams in the Big Ten than there are in the AAC--and while the D wasn't great all year, Rutgers was able to defend 9 points better than they had in Jordan's first year. That's a big deal. It's a sign that the players that came into the program this year did a better job on defense than the previous years. That is something the Scarlet Knights can continue to build on next year--focus on defense, improve it and continue to grow it.
In fact, the three point defense was significantly better. Opponents in Jordan's first year shot 37% from beyond the arc, while this season they shot only 33%. Rutgers must have been doing something right, even though to the eye it may not have seemed that way. Jordan has to continue to improve this with the team.
That said, the offense this season suffered horribly. Rutgers scored an average of 12 fewer points per game this season.
So, what do we take from that?
The previous season, Rutgers' offense kept them in games, and though they lost a lot of bad games throughout the year, they hung in a lot of those games. A 61-point loss had to affect the average, and yet, they still played closer games than Rutgers did this year. In 2014-15, Rutgers just couldn't score enough to stay close. Even though the defense was better, they could never put together the rallies they needed to outscore the opponent.
If Rutgers could score like they scored in Jordan's first year, you're looking at an NIT team. They key to Jordan's squad is talent. Rutgers needs guys who can put the ball in the basket. Because when you can't score, it doesn't matter how good your defense is. In basketball, teams can score the ball.
Next year? Rutgers better use this open scholarship on someone who can score. Deshawn Freeman would be a HUGE piece of the puzzle. Pair him with Corey Sanders, and you hopefully have your Mack and Jack of 2015-16. And then, find a way to make Junior Etou and Bishop Daniels major pieces of the puzzle. Both have shown flashes, and then both have disappeared. Consistency is important. Finally, Ryan Johnson, Mike Williams, and Justin Goode need to be able to shoot the three point shot consistently. If they can do that, and buy into what Jordan is selling, Rutgers can be dangerous.
Otherwise, it will be more of the same--or possibly even worse.
But beyond next season?
The key is the practice facility. If Senator Ray Lesniak can get Julie Hermann enough sway to get this done, Rutgers can be in good shape. Jordan will have something to sell recruits. The more offensive talent Rutgers can bring in, the better Jordan will look. Showing that Rutgers actually cares about basketball can change things around here in a hurry--and it will finally show Rutgers what they have (good or bad) in Eddie Jordan.
But the question posed earlier in this article was--did Rutgers improve from Jordan Season 1 to Jordan Season 2?
The easy answer is to say things stayed the same. Some parts of Rutgers game improved--the defense was a major step up and when Rutgers put a press on there were times where Rutgers looked like it could knock someone off. However, depth and a lack of scoring killed this team--where as last year, Jordan often had players he could bring in that could fill minutes--even if they didn't want to do what he wanted them to.
It also appeared that, for the most part, chemistry was improved. The new coaching staff seemed to get along, and there were only two major discipline problems the entire season--and when those players were disciplined, they came back stronger.
But the offense faltered so badly, it made the defense look bad. When you can't score, every possession is important, and Rutgers is just not talented or deep enough to get a stop every single time it needed. No one in basketball does. In retrospect, missing out on landing John Crosby--a talented recruit who could have backed up Mack--may have been the biggest loss of the season. Rutgers never truly could sit Mack and get him the rest he needed to stay fresh.
You can't have those kind of losses this off-season.
Rutgers needs to hold on to what they have. Keep the talent here, and try to limit transfers (every program has at least one). And if there is a transfer, that gives Rutgers some more targets to recruit, such as Charles Minlend, Jr. or Jonathan Laurent.
Let's put it this way: No matter how disappointing the last two seasons have been, it's not over for Eddie Jordan. The Mike Rice era is over now that Mack and Jack are gone. Only Greg Lewis remains. But year 3 is a key year, and Jordan really has to take a step up.
The out-of-conference portion of the schedule can't be a field of land mines anymore. Taking care of business in that part of the schedule will breed confidence for the young kids. And Rutgers can't go on any more extended losing streaks. Finish close to .500. Then people will start to believe.
Hopefully, when I write this article next year, it won't be more of the same.
But until then, another Selection Sunday passes without Rutgers name mentioned.
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