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Rutgers Men’s Basketball Finishes With Highest KenPom Ranking & Defensive Efficiency Numbers In Years

A review of advanced statistics highlights that progress was made this past season

Big Ten Basketball Tournament - Second Round Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

With the college basketball season coming to a close on Monday, as Villanova defeated Michigan to win the national championship, it’s time to look at how Rutgers finished statistically in 2017-2018. I decided to take it a step further and compare this season’s team to every Rutgers squad that has been measured by KenPom since the ratings system began in 2001-2002. Here is a full chart detailing what I deemed noteworthy team statistics, as well as a thorough analysis of this year’s team, while also looking at some historical marks.

(Warning: This is extremely stat heavy. This could appeal to many, but probably isn’t for everyone. Proceed at your own discretion.)

2017-2018 Season Review

Rutgers finished with it’s highest overall KenPom ranking in five seasons at 130th. While they failed to break the Top 100 for the seventh straight campaign, they eclipsed Pikiell’s first season by five spots. The impressive part of that is Rutgers was just 161st entering the Big Ten Tournament. Victories over Minnesota (117th) and Indiana (71st), while playing Purdue (5th) very close in the Quarterfinals loss, resulted in the Scarlet Knights ultimately jumping up 31 spots once the NCAA Tournament closed. Having Michigan (7th) make it all the way to the NCAA Championship, as well as Penn State (19th) win the NIT Championship, also helped their final ranking.

The identity of this team was with their defense and that not only showed through on the court, but also with advanced statistics. For the season, Rutgers finished with an defensive efficiency rating of 96.2, which ranked 28th out of 351 Division I teams. It was the highest rating achieved since the 2003-2004 team (also 96.2), which was a group that made it all the way to the NIT Finals. It was the best defensive ranking for Rutgers since the first season of the KenPom era, which was also’s Gary Waters’ first team in 2001-2002 (19th).

Offensively, this team ranked 12th out of the 17 past Rutgers seasons since KenPom tallied offensive efficiency ratings. The offense overall regressed slightly from last year to this past year, as the rating of 99.2 was more than 2 points worse than Pikiell’s debut season (101.5). Rutgers lost two of its four players who held over an 100 offensive rating during the 2016-2017 season (CJ Gettys, Nigel Johnson), while Deshawn Freeman regressed significantly from an efficiency standpoint. Mike Williams was the only player the past two seasons to achieve a rating over 100, but he didn’t have as strong a year as his junior campaign, with injuries being a major factor. Geo Baker was the only other main offensive contributor to rate above 100. While Issa Thiam and Shaq Doorson also did, they were involved far less in terms of offensive possessions, so it had less impact.

In terms of top 100 wins, Rutgers had five, the most they’ve accomplished since the 2011-2012 season. Those five victories included four Big Ten wins and their highest rated triumph of the season was over blood rival Seton Hall (26th). Pikiell now has eight top 100 wins in two seasons, which is double what the previous regime with Eddie Jordan won over three seasons.

Rutgers also had four single digit losses to top 30 teams, falling to Florida State (27th) by 5 points, Michigan State (6th) by 4 in overtime, and Purdue (5th) twice, by 2 and 7 points, respectively.

Despite a weak non-conference strength of schedule (347th), Rutgers did finish with an overall strength of schedule of 70th, due to playing 21 Big Ten games. They’ve had an overall strength of schedule ranked between 60th and 70th the past three seasons.

Historical Review

Average KenPom Ranking Per Season:

Gary Waters - 98th

Mike Rice - 101st

Steve Pikiell - 133rd

Fred Hill - 175th

Eddie Jordan - 216th

Average Top 100 KenPom Wins Per Season:

Gary Waters - 6.8

Mike Rice - 4.7

Steve Pikiell - 4.0

Fred Hill - 1.5

Eddie Jordan - 1.3


  • The historical numbers make things pretty clear. The Hill era was a major disappointment and the Jordan era was rock bottom. The Waters era was the peak period for the program over the past two decades and was a generally successful run, but for the longtime Rutgers fan, the what if’s and what could have been’s will haunt forever. Rice had a solid run that felt like he was close to getting over the hump, but his behavior set back the program significantly. Jordan deserves some sympathy for taking over the program right after Rice left it for dead, but the numbers prove Eddie’s teams actually got worse each season. As for Pikiell, there are obvious signs of progress with the defensive numbers, top 100 victories, and overall improvement with KenPom ranking. The jury is still out on his long term ceiling, but it should be stressed he took over the program when it was in far worse shape on the court than Jordan inherited it from Rice.
  • As highly regarded as Mike Rice was as a defensive coach and how hard his teams played on that end of the floor, both of Pikiell’s teams match up pretty closely numbers wise. The biggest difference is on the offensive end, where Rice had far more talent and depth to work with.
  • In terms of rebounds, this year’s team finished with an offensive rebounding percentage of 33.3%, which ranked as 43rd best in Division I. While it wasn’t as high as last season (37.4%, 7th overall), it is still a very good result. In terms of the last decade, only the Rice teams in 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 match up rebounding wise with the past two Pikiell teams.
  • You can see throughout the years, college basketball teams have improved on the offensive end. In 2003-2004 and this past season, Rutgers had a defensive efficiency rating of 96.2 However, that only ranked 46th in 2003-2004, but was 28th this past season. In Pikiell’s debut season, Rutgers had a defensive efficiency rating of 99.3, which ranked 70th. However, Mike Rice’s first season was slightly better (99.1), but ranked worse at 86th. The evolution of the three-pointer is a key factor.


The bottom line is that Rutgers basketball has had more bad seasons than not over the past 17 seasons, but you didn’t need advanced statistics to know that. However, the numbers support what most viewed on the court this season and that is the fact that things are trending up during the Pikiell era. The exciting thing to think about, while also being simultaneously a little scary, is that next season will essentially be a brand new team. Only three players returning averaged 20+ minutes per game last season in Geo Baker, Eugene Omoruyi, and Issa Thiam. The other two averaged between 12-13 minutes per contest in Shaq Doorson and Mamadou Dourcoure.

There will be up to eight new scholarship players on the roster next season. Sit-out transfer Peter Kiss and redshirt freshman Myles Johnson will make their debut’s, as well as incoming newcomers Montez Mathis, Shaq Carter, and Ron Harper Jr. Three scholarships are now available for next season and the coaching staff is focusing on the backcourt, as ball handlers and shooters are major needs.

While the core of this past team is now departed, a major reason for optimism is that Rutgers has been woefully inefficient on the offensive end for some time. The offense has the potential to make marked improvement due to the projected development of the returning players and the infusion of new talent to the roster. If Pikiell and the staff can keep the defense steady to what it was this most recent team, there should be a realistic hope that we will see overall improvement on the court next season. There are MANY questions yet to be answered this offseason and a lot still has to come together. Next season’s team will be very young and inexperienced, but it also has the chance to have more depth, balance and from an advanced statistics perspective, be more efficient on both ends of the floor.

Previous Offseason Coverage:

Offseason a Pivotal One For Rutgers Men’s Basketball

Corey Sanders Declares For NBA Draft, Ending Rutgers Career

Matt Bullock & Souf Mensah Granted Releases

Rutgers Enters Offseason With Recruiting Momentum As Program Build Enters Critical Stage