The KenPom rankings to begin the 2019-2020 season were released this weekend and Rutgers starts in uncharted territory. The Scarlet Knights will open the most anticipated season in years ranked 63rd. They finished 78th last season. The program has never finished a season ranked higher than 71st since KenPom has recorded dating back to the 2001-2002. The season they finished that high was the 2005-2006 campaign, which is the last time Rutgers produced a winning record and earned a postseason appearance.
With a preseason ranking of 63rd, Rutgers is listed as 11th in the Big Ten. The ten teams ranked ahead are 45th or better, while the three teams behind Rutgers are Minnesota (81st), Northwestern (87th), and Nebraska (96th). The Big Ten opens ranked the third best conference in the country, behind the Big East (2nd) and the Big 12 (1st). The Scarlet Knights open Big Ten play against KenPom’s top ranked team to open the season, Michigan State. They’ll play in East Lansing on December 7th and KenPom currently gives Rutgers a 7% chance of winning.
KenPom starts Rutgers with an offensive efficiency rating of 105.6, which is ranked 86th and a defensive efficiency rating of 93.4, which is ranked 42nd. Last season’s results and returning players are the biggest factor in these projections. I expect Rutgers to be better offensively, but probably worse defensively, at least initially. Even at 86th offensively, that would mark significant improvement for Rutgers, who haven’t had a Top 100 offensive efficiency rating since the 2012-2013 season, finishing 82nd.
In regard to non-conference opponents, Rutgers top ranked foes are Seton Hall (20th), Pittsburgh (67th), St. Bonaventure (127th), and NJIT (140th). The rest of the non-conference opponents are ranked 240th or worse, including three opponents in the 300’s and Division II Caldwell, who aren’t ranked. For Rutgers to break the 14 year drought of posting a winning record and making the postseason, they must win all the games they should in non-conference play and at least split against their toughest opponents, Pitt and rival Seton Hall.
Overall, KenPom projects Rutgers to finish with a record of 17-14 and 8-12 in Big Ten play. If that happened, it would likely require them to win at least two games in the Big Ten Tournament to make the NIT. While most have expectations for Rutgers to finish better than 11th place in the conference and to make the NIT, it’s important to know that the premier site that measures advanced statistics has Rutgers slightly below that hope. Of course, this team has the potential to prove the computer wrong and exceed these preseason projections. With the improvement of Shaq Carter, Ron Harper Jr. and the rest of the sophomore class this offseason, along with the additions of Akwasi Yeboah, Jacob Young, and Paul Mulcahy, there should be legitimate hope they can. They’ll start that quest on November 7th at home against Bryant (325th).