The leaves are starting to turn color and fall to the ground, the weather is getting colder, and the pumpkin lattes are being ordered at an alarmingly high rate. However, one true signal that college basketball is soon arriving is the unveiling of the KenPom rankings for the season ahead. If you aren’t aware of what they are, Ken Pomeroy has become the authority on advanced statistics for college basketball. He incorporates statistics such as adjusted efficiency on offense and defense, tempo rate, and percentages in regard to rate of occurrence with such traditional stats as blocks, turnovers, rebounds, etc. In my opinion, it’s a more detailed evaluation of teams compared to RPI rankings, which does not take into account nearly the amount of factors that KenPom does.
My preseason ratings are out, subject to tweaks as news warrants in the coming days. Let this be your official thread for the teams you think the computer missed on. I'll RT this on April 3rd so we can see how everyone did.— Ken Pomeroy (@kenpomeroy) October 20, 2018
A lot of data from last year is incorporated along with who is returning and replacement values of newcomers. KenPom gave Rutgers a preseason ranking of 149, which isn’t very good, but seems about right for a team having to replace so much production from last season with so many unknowns. Let’s review the past decade of where Rutgers started and finished the season in the KenPom era.
2018-2019: Started 149th, finished TBD (Steve Pikiell)
2017-2018: Started 125, finished 130 (Steve Pikiell)
2016-2017: Started 191, finished 135 (Steve Pikiell)
2015-2016: Started 221, finished 279 (Eddie Jordan
2014-2015: Started 103, finished 198 (Eddie Jordan)
2013:2014: Started 107, finished 170 (Eddie Jordan)
2012-2013: Started 52, finished 106 (Mike Rice)
2011-2012: Started 107, finished 120 (Mike Rice)
2010-2011: Started 149; finished 78 (Mike Rice)
Only twice in last eight seasons has Rutgers finished better than the preseason ranking they were given. Last season, the Scarlet Knights climbed as high as 91st after the Seton Hall win, but plummeted as low as 161 at the end of the regular season. The Big Ten Tournament run jolted Rutgers up 31 spots by the end of the postseason.
Big Ten Review
As a conference, the Big Ten begins ranked 3rd, behind the Big XII and ACC. Rutgers is once again starting last in the conference and this time it’s not even close. The thirteenth ranked team from the Big Ten is Illinois at 85th, 64 spots higher than Rutgers. The other twelve conference teams rank in the top 60, including nine teams in the top 40. Here are the Big Ten KenPom rankings for each team heading into this season:
Michigan State - 13th
Purdue - 18th
Wisconsin - 20th
Michigan - 24th
Indiana - 28th
Maryland - 30th
Penn State - 32nd
Iowa - 35th
Nebraska - 38th
Ohio State - 41st
Minnesota - 60th
Illiois - 85th
Rutgers - 149th
Non-Conference Opponent Review
There are three difficult non-conference opponents on the schedule for Rutgers and the KenPom rankings solidify that fact, as Miami is ranked 21st, St. John’s is 39th and Seton Hall is 54th. No other sub-100 non-con opponents are on the schedule as of now, although Eastern Michigan is lingering at 113th. No other opponents are in the top 200. The other six opponents are all ranked 213 or worse, with Maine as the only team worse than 300 (332). Still, it’s the most challenging non-conference slate that Steve Pikiell has had since arriving at Rutgers and with a brand new team, no less.
KenPom projects a regular season record of 10-20, including 4-16 in the Big Ten. Before you scream, remember that Rutgers is set to only play six out of thirty games against opponents ranked lower than them this season, with 23 of those games against opponents ranked in the top 85. They are underdogs in 23 of 30 games.
Preseason rankings aren’t the end all, be all, but mind you this isn’t a coaches poll. This is advanced analytics analyzed by a computer program that Pomeroy created. It’s certainly not a perfect ranking and Rutgers has a lot more unknowns than most teams this season with so many newcomers on the roster. However, it should at least give fans pause before setting expectations too high for this season.
Of course, we aren’t simulating a season in a computer game. There is a reason they play the games and it’s impossible to predict how the chemistry and development of this team will progress throughout the season. The good news is there are plenty of opportunities for this team to far exceed their preseason ranking of 149th. Aside from wins against higher ranked opponents, quality performances even in losses, particularly on the road, will help boost their ranking. However, the real hope is Rutgers can exceed their projected win total of 10.
Put me in the camp that believes they will. I think this team has the potential to be much better in March than they will be in November. I think the schedule in February is set up well for them to demonstrate that progress by winning more Big Ten regular season games than they ever have before. I don’t think this team is 91 spots worse than Northwestern and I think they could end up being better then them by season’s end, as one example.
The bottom line is the outside world, including media, coaches, and the computers, all have low expectations for Rutgers basketball once again. It makes sense for this to be the case. Losing your two most important players by far, production wise (Corey Sanders & Deshawn Freeman) and replacing them with mostly unproven one’s doesn’t breed confidence, especially after this program has finished last the previous four seasons in the Big Ten. That being said, it’s a big reason this Rutgers team could be the most fun to watch in years and expectations should be measured by more than wins and losses. Hopefully, progress will be reflected in multiple ways, including a much better KenPom ranking by season’s end.