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Rutgers Basketball: Spain Trip Overall Takeaways & Stat Review

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The Scarlet Knights went 4-0, but the benefit of this experience ahead of next season is more than just what the numbers say

courtesy of Rutgers Basketball

The Rutgers men’s basketball team are on their way back home to Piscataway, New Jersey on Friday after an 11 day trip of Spain. The Scarlet Knights completed a perfect 4-0 record on the trip, winning by an average margin of 26 points. Granted, the competition wasn’t close to that of the Big Ten conference, but it was still a beneficial opportunity for the players, both from a basketball perspective and life experience. The two weeks of extra practice time before the trip, the game experience for a team mixing in three new players and adjusting to life without last season’s leading scorer and rebounder Eugene Omoruyi was huge. Also for the coaches it was useful in trying out multiple lineup combinations and having game film to review before the actual preseason. The entire trip and experience was invaluable for the program. The players have an even more detailed blueprint on what they need to work on in the next six weeks before practice begins in what is the most anticipated season for Rutgers basketball in many years. Now they come home to a brand new practice facility, have a little time to rest up and then get back to work in September.

Let’s wrap the Spain trip up with an extensive review.

Game Recaps

Game 1 I Game 2 I Game 3 I Game 4

Quotes From Head Coach Steve Pikiell

“It was an unbelievable trip,” said head coach Steve Pikiell at the airport terminal on Friday. “Spain is a spectacular country. We couldn’t get any more activities in than we did. Today is the only day that it has rained, so we had a great trip weather-wise. We saw things, did things, and played four great games, the last against terrific competition.”

“Everyone played,” said Pikiell “We had four different leading scorers and really passed the ball well. We showed signs of being a good basketball team.”

“We have great kids first and foremost,” said Pikiell. “They represented Rutgers the right way. We can be a unique team. We have a lot of versatility. A lot of guys have improved…Stats don’t tell the whole story. I like our newcomers a great deal, but I really love our veteran guys too.”

“We need to get better on defense, but we can really score, which is a good thing,” added Pikiell.

“Both (Carter & Harper) are very improved,” said Pikiell. “Getting better has been a staple of our program, but those two put in a lot of time and changed their bodies…They are going to pose problems for people moving forward.”

“We saw the power of Rutgers,” said Pikiell when asked about the tour’s impact. “Everywhere we turned, there was somebody from New Jersey, somebody from Rutgers, or somebody that knew someone from Rutgers. It was tremendous for our players to experience different cultures.”

Rutgers Hosted Youth Clinic For Barcelona Community

Scholarship Players - Stats Review

(Note: All stats are per game averages, except +/- rating is total for all four games. Also +/- rating is defined as “a metric that looks at how teams perform with a certain player on the court, how they perform with a certain player off the court, and calculates the overall impact that player has on team success”.)

Ron Harper Jr. - 17.0 points, 26-49 FG (53.1%), 6-23 3-pt FG (26.1%), 10-12 FT (83.3%), 5.8 rebounds, 1 assist, 0.8 steals, 0.8 blocks, 19:25 min, +/- rating of +55

Shaq Carter - 16.0 points, 28-45 FG (62.2%), 1-4 3-pt FG (25.0%), 7-14 FT (50.0%), 9.3 rebounds, 1.0 assist, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, 17:41 min, +/- rating of +55

Jacob Young - 13.3 points, 20-39 FG (51.3%), 8-18 3-pt FG (44.4%), 5-7 FT (71.4%), 3.8 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 2.5 steals, 17:51 min, +/- rating of +73

Geo Baker - 10.5 points, 14-25 FG (56.0%), 5-12 3-pt FG (41.7%), 9-11 FT (81.8%), 4.3 assists, 1.8 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 21:55 min, +/- rating of +62

Peter Kiss - 10.5 points, 15-29 FG (51.7%), 5-12 3-pt FG (41.7%), 7-8 FT (87.5%), 2.3 rebounds, 1.0 assist, 0.8 steals, 16:32 min, +/- rating of +60

Caleb McConnell - 8.5 points, 14-28 FG (50.0%), 3-11 3-pt FG (27.3%), 3-6 FT (50.0%), 2.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.5 steals 17:09 min, +/- rating of +40

Akwasi Yeboah - 8.3 points, 11-32 FG (34.4%), 2-14 3 pt FG (14.3%), 9-11 FT (81.8%), 7.0 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 1.3 assists, 17:37 min, +/- rating of +76

Myles Johnson - 5.5 points, 11-22 FG (50.0%), 0-7 FT (0%), 8.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.5 blocks, 1.3 steals, 17:04 min, +/- rating of +43

Montez Mathis - 5.3 points, 9-22 FG (40.9%), 1-8 3-pt FG (12.5%), 2-6 FT (33.3%), 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.0 steal, 19:25 min, +/- rating of +36

Paul Mulcahy - 0.8 points, 1-9 FG (11.1%), 1-7 3-pt FG (14.3%), 3.3 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 0.8 steal, 15:08 min, +/- rating of +26

Note: Mamadou Doucoure was unable to make the trip due to Visa issues, which was a common problem for every high major program that traveled internationally this summer with players that are citizens from outside the United States.

Takeaways

  • Ron Harper Jr. asserted himself on this trip in a big way and showcased the major strides he has made this offseason. He has developed his body and his game is benefiting because of it. He made 20 of 26 shots from two-point range (76.9%), was active on the boards, and was efficient in the amount of minutes he played. He struggled some from behind the arc, but he has shown the ability to catch fire from deep late last season. The biggest thing for Harper Jr. moving forward is maintaining his offensive efficiency with a heavier workload (16th best efficiency rating in Big Ten play last season per KenPom) and becoming a consistent, double-digit scorer, as well as a reliable rebounder and defender. If he can do that, he would become one of the best players in the entire conference. If Rutgers wants to make a significant climb up the Big Ten standings next season, they need Harper to continue to grow on the trajectory he appears to be on and this trip reaffirmed it’s a reasonable expectation.
  • Shaq Carter’s stock rose more than anyone on this trip, averaging close to a double double and shooting an impressive 62.2% from the floor. It’s obvious that the frontcourt’s that Rutgers faced in Spain are nowhere near the level of the Big Ten, but they did dominate inside, as they should have. The fact that Carter was the main reason why is very encouraging. He showed flashes of being an offensive force last season, but was inconsistent and struggled defensively. The staff has been very happy with his growth this offseason and it was on full display in Spain. If Carter can become a reliable frontcourt player next season, it will certainly help fill the void that Omoruyi’s departure created.
  • Jacob Young is a close second in regard to his stock rising, but the staff have known they have had a player with the potential to become special since he joined the program last summer. The former 4-star recruit was a gunner at Texas, where he was mostly feast or famine on the offensive end. Pikiell and assistant Brandin Knight have worked on developing Young into a complete player. The signs were there in Spain that he is closing the gap to becoming one, as he was the team’s best three-point shooter, was second in assists, had a respectable 3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio, led the team in steals and had the second highest +/- rating on the squad. His ability to play point guard while also providing scoring punch and defense are part of the reason expectations are raised for next season for this team. He should be an exciting player to watch the next two seasons.
  • Akwasi Yeboah didn’t have any standout game stat wise per say, but he quietly put together the best +/- rating on the team at 76. He shot poorly, but we know he is a tough player and his stat line lends to that belief. His defense must have been stout as well to have such a high rating as he did. His veteran presence will be huge for this team next season. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, there is no doubt he will play big minutes for this team and will make them better.
  • Last season, Rutgers averaged 12.6 assists and 13.1 turnovers per game as a team. Newcomers Young and Paul Mulcahy showed in Spain why they are big additions to the backcourt, as they combined to dish out 28 assists and committed just 9 turnovers between them. Geo Baker was improved in this area as well, posting a 3.4 to 1 assist to turnover ratio. Considering they will be the three primary ball handlers next season, it’s crucial they continue this type of production once the real games begin. If they do, it will lead to more scoring opportunities in the halfcourt and a more efficient offense overall.
  • Speaking of efficiency, Rutgers shot 49.5% as a team from the floor. They did struggle from three-point range and got worse as the trip went on. They finished just 33 of 111 from behind the arc, which is just 29.7%. It was a positive they got game experience shooting from the new distance that the three-point arc will be next season, but I still think they are too reliant on the deep ball. This team was effective inside and on the fast break during the trip, as they were at times last season, and that will likely be the best style for them to be successful with next season. They have the versatility and passers to play this way and hopefully their lack of efficiency from three-point range on this trip will give Pikiell the evidence he needs to ingrain this philosophy into his players heading into the preseason.
  • Free throw shooting overall wasn’t great, as the team made 54 of 86 attempts for 62.8%. Last season, Rutgers shot 63.7% from the line. It’s an area they need to improve on but take this as a sign of hope: Baker, Young, Harper Jr., Yeboah, and Peter Kiss, combined to make 40 of 49 attempts for 81.6%. All took at least 7 attempts and Young was the only one below 80%. This gives even more reason as to why this team needs to attack the rim as much as possible next season, because they do have players who can be efficient free throw shooters. The overall average was brought down in particular by the big men, as Shaq Carter and Myles Johnson struggled from the line and took about 25% of the team’s attempts. Their improvement is important as well, but the more the players mentioned above can get to the line, the better Rutgers’ shooting percentage from the charity stripe will be. It’s certainly possibly that they can shoot closer to 70% instead of 60% as a team next season from the line.

The biggest takeaway is there are plenty of positives that came out of this trip, but also take the stats with a grain of salt. It’s impossible for us to fully evaluate where this team is at without being able to watch the games and it’s clear the competition was not close to a Big Ten level. The stats and Pikiell’s comments breed confidence that this team shared the basketball very well and that is an encouraging development. Pikiell also mentioned that they need to improve on the defensive end and that is a major key to next season.

I stated above the benefits of this trip and that remains true. What does make me optimistic is seeing the positive developments of Shaq Carter, Jacob Young, and Ron Harper Jr. The addition of Yeboah is really going to help and Mulcahy has a ways to go, but he already showed his ability to distribute the basketball in an effective manner on this trip. Although I didn’t mention Caleb McConnell and Montez Mathis before now, they both had good moments on this trip and their potential to be major contributors next season remains high. Myles Johnson was a beast on the boards and quietly shot 50% on the trip. Peter Kiss shot well and got some quality minutes too.

The fourteen players that were on this trip were able to build on-court chemistry and bond off the court. This team can now hit the ground running when preseason practice begins in a few weeks and should be even more focused after having this experience. The first game of the 2019-2020 season begins on November 7th at the RAC against Bryant. Only 83 days to go and we will have plenty of coverage leading up to that joyous occasion!