Drexel (0-1) At Rutgers (1-0)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: The RAC in Piscataway, New Jersey
Tip-off: Sunday, November 11th at 3:00 p.m. ET
Stream: BTN2GO - Danny Breslauer, play-by-play; Ralph Bednarczyk, analyst
Radio: WCTC 1450 AM, WOR 710 AM - Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM - Matt Howe & Sam Marsdale
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #128; Drexel #279
(Rutgers moved up 21 spots after win over FDU.)
KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 76 Drexel 64;Rutgers has an 87% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Rutgers -13
Series History: Rutgers leads 6-2 including a 22 point victory in Steve Pikiell’s first season two years ago.
The Dragons played a solid Eastern Michigan squad relatively well on Friday, losing to the Eagles 66-62 on the road. Drexel only shot 36.8% from the field overall, but made 13 of 34 three-point shot attempts for 38.2%. As a team, they dished out 17 assists and committed just 12 turnovers.
Senior guard Trevor John led Drexel with 19 points on 6 of 17 shots, all of them attempted from behind the arc. Junior guard Kirk Lee, who averaged over 12 points per contest last season as a sophomore, had great opener, putting together a line of 13 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals.
In the frontcourt, sophomore forward James Butler had just 5 points against Eastern Michigan but he pulled down 9 boards. Junior forward Alihan Demir had a strong start to the season, registering 12 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists.
What To Watch For
Rotation, Rotation, Rotation
Pikiell played eight players against FDU for 17 minutes or more in the season opening victory. The core eight were Geo Baker, Peter Kiss, Montez Mathis in the backcourt, Ron Harper Jr. and Issa Thiam on the wing, and Shaq Doorson, Eugene Omoruyi and Myles Johnson in the frontcourt. Caleb McConnell was rightfully eased into the game and played 9 minutes, while Mamadou Doucoure only saw the court for six minutes and Shaq Carter just four. Carter coming in just for garbage time was most surprising, but speaks to the improved depth on this team. It will be interesting to watch what lineups Pikiell tinkers with in this game, as a big test is coming a few days later against St. John’s.
Rutgers shot 12 of 20 attempts from three-point range against FDU. That’s truly amazing after the past few years and it was the most by the Scarlet Knights since they made 13 against George Washington in 2013, the last season as Mike Rice as coach. The fact that six different players connected from deep gives hope that even on nights when they aren’t on fire, there are still enough options that Rutgers will be competent from three-point range this season, which could make a huge difference for this team in Big Ten play. Kiss talked in the preseason how he focused on his three-point shot and he made 3 of 4. Eugene Omoruyi did as well, which was surprising, but he showed why making 2 of 3. The best shooters from three last season at 36% each, Issa Thiam and Geo Baker, were 3 of 4 and 2 of 4 respectively. Ron Harper Jr. might end up being the best shooter on the team and made his only attempt. The balance was incredible and it will be something to watch for against Drexel to see how they follow up this shooting performance.
Its not fair to expect Rutgers to shoot over 50% overall from the field every game, but there were other encouraging signs on offense than just shots falling in the opener. They played team basketball and the ball movement was excellent. It starts with Geo Baker who is not a true point guard but does have a high basketball IQ. He dished out 7 assists and committed just 2 turnovers, while producing a team high plus 41 differential against FDU. Myles Johnson also gives this team a weapon in the paint they haven’t had in maybe ever. His ability to pass the ball and find open shooters on the wing is going to be huge moving forward. In addition, as I said in the preseason, this team truly enjoys playing together. Sharing the basketball with each other is something that will become the new normal and not an anomaly as in years past.
Fans should be pleased with what this group did in the season opener. Kiss proved he can score in multiple ways, Myles Johnson showed skill and poise in the paint, Montez Mathis showcased his athleticism and Ron Harper Jr.’s debut set the ceiling for his career to the rafters. These four players give Rutgers the potential to attack opponents in different ways then they’ve been able to in recent seasons. There development as the season progresses is essential to the success of this team. How they perform on less than 48 hours from the opener will tell us more about them.
Rutgers wasn’t terrible defensively against FDU, but it was obvious they have a ways to go from being where they need to be. That’s to be expected and Pikiell was obviously correct in saying this team is much farther along on the offensive end. As well as this team plays together offensively, they’ll need time to develop that same comfort level with each other on the defensive end. It’s a big adjustment for the newcomers, especially the freshman, but now that they have there feet wet, hopefully we see incremental progress each game.
In The Bonus
If this team didn’t get your heart pumping after Friday night’s performance I don’t know what to tell you. And for those already complaining about missing free throws, stop being miserable. The attendance was 5,500 for the opener in the pouring rain. Hopefully a beautiful crisp fall afternoon will bring at least the same turnout. It’s obvious this team will thrive off the crowd support and they need to put together another strong effort on Sunday with St. John’s looming a few days later. The hope for this contest should be another efficient game on offense and improvement on defense and rebounding, while continuing to play a team game. Drexel is another team that Rutgers should handle and will do if they can play that way. And of course, move to 2-0 and keep fans excited ahead of next Friday night’s showdown against the Johnnies.