What a week that was! Rutgers opened the week Tuesday night with a win over Fordham in what some fans dubbed a potential “trap” game. Rutgers didn’t play their best ball but handled their business and got the victory. In doing so Corey Sanders hit the 1000 point milestone, something only 41 other players have done in Rutgers men’s basketball history. This would set the stage for a monster showdown with in-state rival Seton Hall. Rutgers would scratch and claw their way to a thrilling 71-65 victory in front of a sold out home crowd.
I’ll be the first to admit that when the buzzer sounded at half I really did not think they were going to pull the game out. Seton Hall was knocking down shots with hands in their faces while Rutgers was struggling in almost all phases of the game. Even when Rutgers did close in, Seton Hall would immediately respond. It wasn’t looking good. But this team has nothing in common with what surely would’ve been a 25+ point loss only two years ago. Coach Pikiell along with his coaching staff (credit Athletic Director Pat Hobbs as well) have turned this roster into a team that can play with anyone in the country. Yes you read that right- anyone in the country. Rutgers is not an elite shooting team by any means but they make up for it with tenacious defense and rebounding. Add a budding star in Geo Baker and Rutgers is quickly turning into a team no one wants to see on their schedule. But let’s get to business and hand out some awards.
Player(s) Of The Week: Geo Baker and Corey Sanders
I know, I know, someone out there is saying, “Pat, geez make a decision” and I agree, I’ve never been a fan of “sharing” awards. But these two guys are the main facilitators of this team and both deserve recognition. They are the architects of the offense and glue that holds the defense together. Against Fordham they would both finish with 12 points but scoring that game was much more balanced with six guys scoring in double figures. It wasn’t the prettiest game but one that frankly, I just wanted to see Rutgers get through. Seton Hall was up next and it brought out the best in both guards. Sanders and Baker would combine for 39 of Rutgers 71 points, 8 boards and 5 steals in the contest. The chemistry these two have developed in such a short time is remarkable. I try not to get ahead of myself but the thought of Sanders coming back for a senior season, Baker a full year in and Peter Kiss finally eligible would be potential magic for Rutgers.
Grinder Of The Week: Deshawn Freeman
Freeman finished this week with both 26 points and 26 rebounds, with 10 of those boards being of the offensive variety. Not bad for a forward that’s been described as undersized for his position. What’s even more impressive is that he’s doing it against the top competition in the country.
Freeman Rebounds vs Ranked Opponents:
Florida State - 16
Minnesota - 12
Michigan State - 9
Seton Hall - 16
Freeman also scored double digits in each game giving him one rebound away from having a double-double in each contest versus ranked opponents.
Sixth Man Award: Eugene Omoruyi
I’ve been quietly building my case for Omoruyi to get a few a few starts (stay tuned). Coach Pikiell has been consistent with his starting five but Omoruy just brings energy and confidence when he’s on the court. He continued this past week with 8 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal versus Fordham. But how would he fare against Seton Hall? 10 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 block and that’s from coming off the bench! To me those are numbers that are begging to be inserted into the starting lineup. Coach Pikiell knows this team and might believe Omoruyi will is more effective off the bench but his play is at least creating the argument for him to start.
Preview Of The Week Ahead
Rutgers gets a nice little break the next few weeks after a brutal stretch of games that included up to three games per week. The men will play host for the final two games of 2017 when they welcome Stony Brook next week and Hartford a week later before getting into the heart of Big Ten play. This should serve as valuable time to get guys fresh but also for the coaching staff to keep the team sharp.
Matchup Spotlight: Mamadou Doucoure vs Stony Brook Front Court
Stony Brook does not have a true center on their roster but rather employ a 4 guard, 1 forward starting lineup like you saw their last game versus Providence. Doucoure has struggled getting in foul trouble and being forced to sit early in games. He’s an important part of this team and the future of the program. He’s got all the physical assets to be successful, he just needs experience and discipline. These next two games are low pressure contests that should get Doucoure more involved.
Breakout Alert: Issa Thiam
Thiam had a solid game versus Fordham but followed up with an uncharacteristically low 2 points and 1 rebound game against Seton Hall. He always find ways to contribute even if he’s not scoring especially on the boards and on the defensive end. He still remains one of the teams better outside shooters and is still only a sophomore. I’m not sure if it’s a confidence thing or maybe just trusting your shot, but he’s got the talent and length at 6’10’’ to fire off those shots high above defenders. Look for him to bounce back with a strong game versus Stony Brook.
Stat Of The Week: Three Point FG Percentage
Rutgers finished the week 5 for 20 for an even 25% from downtown. Rutgers game isn’t predicated on the three point shot, but opportunities will eventually present themselves. These next two games should help guys like Issa Thiam and Mike Williams to get into a shooting groove as they should be comfortable victories for Rutgers.