Rutgers beat Maine today 70-55. Read Aaron’s take here. Here are my four thoughts, both on this game and Rutgers so far.
The New Guys Are Getting Better: While Ron Harper Jr (to me) has looked like he’s belonged on this squad since Day 1, the other 3 new guys (Montez Mathis, Caleb McConnell and Shaq Carter) haven’t always been perfect. Today and over the past few games, all four have improved. Today, Harper hit a key three in the first half that stabilized Rutgers. McConnell is comfortable playing side-by-side with Geo Baker—something I don’t think anyone expected early this season. Shaq Carter has great hands and actually makes the easy buckets when given an opportunity. Today’s X-Factor was Montez Mathis, who dove on the floor, elevated for huge rebounds, and played solid defense while chipping in some much needed offense. His dunk in the second half was a thing of beauty.
Today, Rutgers Dominated Secondary Stats: All season Rutgers’ offense has been spotty. There are games where it looks brilliant and games where it looks ugly. Today was a combo of both. Rutgers was getting a ton of open looks from beyond the 3 point line, but was missing them in the first half (2 of 14). The game was ugly and instead of running away with it, Rutgers was actually down 10 at one point. However, in the second half, Rutgers not only made some threes, but they also moved the ball well. In fact, throughout the whole game, Rutgers had 20 assists on 23 made shots. That is huge and really looks good on the stat sheet. They hardly turned the ball over and dominated Maine on the glass. Maine is not good, so these stats aren’t really a harbinger of things to come, but it’s a nice stat.
This is Still a Steve Pikiell Team: Rutgers can still defend and rebound. They might not be as good as they were in the past, but they lost some veterans that really knew how to defend and rebound in Corey Sanders, Mike Williams and Deshawn Freeman. But this team is adequate so far and has a lot of room for improvement. When Rutgers finally needed to stop Maine, they were able to. Just like they did with Columbia and Miami. They can get rebounds too, but there is still a lot of room for growth. Look out for that going forward.
At 7-5, This is Where I Thought They’d Be: It’s a little bit flip flopped, but this is the record I expected with a young team. Instead of losing at Miami and beating Fordham, Rutgers flipped the switch. The Miami win probably upped expectations and then Fordham probably really disappointed fans, but it’s the sign of a team that’s learning. There was a key comment in today’s Pikiell press conference: “We’ve learned how to practice well.” Look at that... with so many new players, Rutgers even had to learn how to practice well. There is so much room for improvement.