The men finished last week with a record of 2-1. Their two wins comimg against a very scrappy, hard fought NJIT team and a dominating performance against Fairleigh Dickinson. Rutgers lone loss was a ten point defeat to a Michigan State team that has national championship aspirations. All in all, considerating the amount of games forced into such a tight schedule, it was only natural for the team to have tired legs coming into the week. But give them credit, as they were able to hang with one of the best teams in the country, avoid a letdown against NJIT and get the win on a snowy Saturday night by steam rolling FDU. Geo Baker continues to impress and show flashes of what we can expect to see for years to come.
Player of the Week: Geo Baker
Baker had a pedestrian 11 points versus NJIT but did contribute 4 rebounds, 4 assists, a block and 2 steals. Nothing to write home about but it’s easy to forget that we’re only eleven games into his career and that’s actually a stat line that many players would consider a solid game. Geo had arguably his best game of the season against FDU where he broke out for 19 points, 11 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals and only one turnover on the night. The synergy between him and fellow guard Corey Sanders continues to grow and was on full display during the FDU game. On a fast break Sanders saw a streaking Baker get behind the defense and lobbed a perfectly placed alley-oop to him for the dunk.
Grinder of the Week: Candido Sa
Hear me out here. Sa does not see nearly as many minutes as guys like Deshawn Freeman or Mamadou Doucoure so he has to make the most of his time out on the court. In only 18 minutes of play versus NJIT Sa was able to grab 8 boards, 3 blocks and 1 steal. He couldn’t recreate that stat line against FDU but it was nice to see him get in the game and contribute so much in such little time. The starters will get the majority of the attention but if you see a guy like Doucoure get into foul trouble (which we’ve seen already) Candido could serve an important role on this team.
Sixth Man Award: Mike Williams
Coach Pikiell has been consistently sticking to the starting guard combo of Sanders, Baker and Thiam but Williams is still seeing minutes comparable to the starters. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that whether or not he is considered a “starter” is irrelevant. Williams is still a huge part of this team and one of the best true shooters on the team. He followed the week shooting 8 for 11 and a perfect 9 for 9 from the free throw line. As always he contributed on the boards with 5 rebounds versus NJIT and 6 versus FDU. With the team struggling from the three point line, Williams will almost certainly be relied upon to knock down some important shots this week.
Preview Of The Week Ahead
The upcoming week will see Rutgers play host to Fordham Tuesday night and in-state rival Seton Hall on Saturday. The Fordham matchup is already being dubbed a “trap” game by some but I really don’t see it happening. Coach Pikiell has the team very well grounded, believing in the system and taking things one game at a time. Those same qualities will be put to the test when Rutgers plays Seton Hall in front of a sold out crowd at the RAC. Certainly playing Florida State, Minnesota and Michigan State earlier this year will help serve them well in not getting overwhelmed in games like this. Seton Hall will be the favorite and rightly so as they are a super talented squad. But Rutgers has proven they can hang with the top teams in the country and they played Seton Hall tough last year (actually leading at half). I think I speak for a lot of Rutgers fans when I say this is the one game of the season that we really, really want to find a way to pull out.
Matchup Spotlight: Battle of the Backcourts
Angel Delgado is going to be a handful down low for both Freeman and Doucoure but I think this game is won or lost, in the backcourt. Both Myles Powell and Khadeen Carrington are super athletic guards who shoot the ball well and although Desi Rodriguez is listed as a forward, he very much has the athleticism of a guard. On offense, Sanders is at his best when he’s attacking the basket. I’d much rather see him drive the lane than pull up for a shot. Williams and Thiam remain two of the better shooters on the team but Baker has really been the stabilizing force of the back court. We’ve seen him elevate his game against competition like Bryant (29 points) and FDU (19 points) but yet to see him do it against better competition. Could this be the game?
Breakout Alert: Deshawn Freeman
Why Freeman? He tied his season low of 4 points scored last game versus FDU. Earlier this year he followed up a 4 point performance against Bryant with a 15 point, 11 rebound game versus East Carolina. He should have a good bounce back game Tuesday night against a beatable Fordham team and then the monster matchup against Seton Hall. Last year he finished the contest with only 7 points but did have 11 rebounds. He’s a senior, so this is his last game go around with the in-state rival. I fully expect Freeman to thrive off the lively crowd this weekend and really set the tone for the rest of the team.
Stat of the Week: Field Goal Percentage
Rutgers is second to last in the Big Ten in offensive field goal percentage at .420. I can’t tell you how many of those missed shots were under the basket but from watching every game so far this season, I can tell you it was a significant amount. For a team that struggles shooting the ball, those put backs are critical for them to win games. The good news is the team was able to shoot 57% over the two previous games which hopefully continues into this week.
Their defensive field goal percentage is second in the Big Ten at .356. This tells me they’re forcing teams into taking difficult and often contested shot. Issa Thiam is one guy that really stands out. He has been excellent on the defensive end especially around the perimeter. His long 6’10’’ frame and active hands force opponents into taking difficult and often contested shots. Now, if they can just keep the shooting percentage up, this would be a really dangerous team. Until then, the game plan will be to play strong defense and rebound, rebound, rebound.