Rutgers went 0-2 last week with losses to Florida State at home and Minnesota on the road. Although they dropped both contests they competed hard while gaining some much needed experience. Outside shooting continues to be the biggest hurdle this season, along with unforced turnovers. But free throw shooting has improved and again they were able to compete with a very good team in FSU and possibly one of the best teams in the entire country in Minnesota.
Player of the Week: Deshawn Freeman
Before the season started I mentioned in our OTB staff predictions that he would be the team MVP and a double-double machine in doing so. Evidence of this was front and center when he went down with a leg cramp in the FSU game. The team struggled to get back on track without him on the court. Freeman would later return to the game finishing with 15 points, 16 rebounds and 2 steals. How would he fair against a loaded front court of Minnesota? Freeman ended the contest with 10 points, 12 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks. That scoring total could easily have been 20 points or so, as he shot the ball 4-16 with many of those missed shots under the basket.
Grinder of the Week: Deshawn Free-I mean Mamadou Doucoure
I mentioned last week that it’d be too easy to give this award to Freeman each time, so I’ll look to identify others who competed hard. Don’t feel too bad Deshawn will certainly win this award multiple times this year. But this week my grinder award goes to the DUKE. He played much better versus Minnesota rather than FSU but he’s still raw and learning to stay out of foul trouble. Sunday night we got a glimpse of what he is capable of. He would go on to lead the team in scoring with 13 points but also contribute 9 boards and 1 block. That might not be an amazing stat line but we’re talking about a true freshman here that really just needs more experience. But he’s a guy who has the size and toughness to bang with the bigger guys in the Big Ten.
Sixth Man Award: Eugene Omoruyi
I’m waiting to call Mike Williams name here but he’s struggled so far to find his groove. Omoruyi has been impressive coming off the bench. He finished with a team high 22 points versus FSU and while he struggled once Minnesota started double teaming him, he still managed to finish with 11 points. And anytime you’re forcing a defense to start double teaming a guy coming off the bench, you must be doing something right. He also finished the week 7 of 9 from the charity stripe an area that the team as a whole has improved on lately.
Preview Of The Week Ahead
Rutgers has a quick turnaround as they host a Michigan State team Tuesday night that has national championship aspirations. You can read our game preview here. The good news is that the game is at home (MSU struggled in away games last season) and the atmosphere should be on par with what we saw against Florida State. ESPN actually gives them a win probability of 23.8% which I actually thought was higher than I’d expect. Michigan State has an excellent defense and Rutgers struggles shooting the ball. These are tough match ups for Rutgers but necessary steps to make progress. The schedule will ease up a bit as they’ll follow up with winnable games versus NJIT and Fairleigh Dickinson.
Matchup Spotlight: Jaren Jackson Jr. vs Deshawn Freeman/Mamadou Doucoure
The 6’10’’ freshman already has 62 rebounds and 17 blocks on the season. He’ll most likely be matched up with either Freeman or Mamadou most of the night. Freeman hasn’t backed down to anyone this season so I expect him to come out ready. Doucoure matches up better with Jackson but is still pretty raw and has had foul trouble early on. Either way they’re going to need to hope Michigan State is having an off night shooting and clean up the boards.
Breakout Alert: Issa Thiam
The sophomore guard has the length to get outside shots off even with a defenders hand in his face and remains one of the better outside shooters on the team. I’m getting the feeling that he is more of a streaky shooter like we saw versus Cleveland State when we went 4 for 8 from three. I think he could get into that groove trusting his shot more when he has an open look. Often times he’ll hesitate or pump fake. I understand they’re not an offense that centers around the three point shot but if given an open look, there’s no one else I’d rather have taking the shot besides maybe Mike Williams. The breakout might not happen Tuesday night as Michigan State is a formidable opponent; but Thiam will have two more opportunities later this week.
Stat of the Week: Free Throw Shooting
Can Rutgers continue shooting the ball well from the free throw line? Rutgers shot 80% versus FSU and 77.8% against Minnesota. With the way Rutgers has struggled earlier this year (56% against Bryant, 50% against Coppin State) it’s a nice trend to see going in the right direction. Rutgers will have close games down the road and will need to knock down their free throws if they’re going to pull off a few upsets.