Yesterday, Rutgers lost to Maryland 77-63 and I had some thoughts on the game. Now I’ve got some thoughts going forward too. I don’t know more than the coaches. I don’t have all the data. All I have is my eyes and what the stats that are public say... that said...
The Best Line-up: I was interested to see how Caleb McConnell played yesterday against a talented Big Ten team before making up my mind about this, but I think the team I want to see most on the floor is McConnell, Geo Baker, Montez Mathis, Eugene Omoruyi and Shaq Carter. This clearly depends on match-ups, but unless the team has a monster front line like Maryland did, Rutgers can match-up pretty well with this. There is a scorer at each position except point guard, but McConnell has shown he can get his points too. It also frees up Geo to be an off the ball scorer and regain some confidence. Mathis is really starting to come on and if he brings energy like he did yesterday, he is going to see a major developmental growth. Carter is a guy who can easy lay-ups almost every time he touches the ball. I’m not sure about him on defense, but as long as he rebounds, he’s a plus.
Consistency at the Coaching Spot: Someone posted this on a message board and as far as I can tell it is spot on. Since 2006 there has been one player who graduated from Rutgers with the same coach as he had his freshman year: Hamady N’Diaye. More than anything else, not that it has some investment, Rutgers needs consistency. Next year, Issa Thiam and Eugene Omoruyi will join those ranks. It is important to grow and learn the same plays over and over under the same staff to the point where they are second hand. This is a professional coaching staff and while the team is struggling as it learns right now, they will still develop.
A Tense Squad: In three big home games, you could tell this team wanted something good to happen. So much so that they either forced it or gave every shot they took a second thought. When the team isn’t thinking and relying on instinct, that’s when they play best (think the comeback against Seton Hall or the game at Miami). When they are working hard and they sense the crowd is ready to explode, they try to be too flashy or force things. They aren’t comfortable and they aren’t willing to work their offense. That is inexperience. As they get more comfortable and hopefully find a home win, that should help them. Especially if they win doing what Pikiell wants them too.
Peter Kiss and Issa Thiam: These two really need to get it going (speaking of being tense). Both are passing up shots right now that they should be taking. When they take shots, they are missing them. Both are talented players, but at some point it has to click for them. Thiam is a good defender, but even that has been slipping yesterday. As Pikiell likes to say (he said this a lot in year one and two too), Rutgers is letting its offense affect its defense. That is definitely happening to Thiam and Kiss especially. Having a few shots go down will start things rolling for both. Still lots of games left.
Maybe the long breaks between games is making them rusty: The Scarlet Knights have played their best basketball this season when games are closer together. Pikiell doesn’t like it because there isn’t a lot of time to prepare, but for an inexperienced team that hasn’t found success yet maybe muscle memory and being in a rhythm are more important. Think about it, Rutgers opened the season with a game on Friday and then a game on Sunday. They shot over 50% from three in both of those games. Then they had a Friday Monday set. They were terrible on the Friday against the St. John’s buzzsaw, but they came out and held Eastern Michigan to 4 points in the first half on Monday night. They came the Wedesnday, Friday, Monday gauntlet against Miami, Michigan State and Wisconsin, where the Scarlet Knights arguably played their best ball of the season. With time off, they got beat by Fordham, Seton Hall, went into overtime with Columbia and needed until late in the second half to beat Maine handily. And then came yesterday. The next game is Wednesday. Maybe less time off will help keep them in a rhythm. Who knows? The games come fast and furious now.