We’re 4 games into the season and Rutgers still has not held a halftime lead. Despite their sluggish starts, the Knights have managed a 3-1 record, but the quality of their opponents is about to increase so there’s no more margin for error. After 4 games, we’re starting to see patterns develop with this team - some positive, some concerning - but there’s still a long season ahead. Let’s get into the film.
We’ll start on a positive note…there’s a lot to like about Aundre Hyatt. I highlighted him in last week’s film session and he gets top-billing again today for his defensive awareness, which I think is an underrated part of his game.
Against NJIT, I counted four possessions where he came off his man to provide help as the last line of defense at the rim. Those four defensive possessions resulted in 3 blocks, 1 turnover, and 0 points for NJIT.
That sequence could have easily resulted in at least 6 NJIT points, but Hyatt was able to recognize the action and react. And he did all that without fouling once.
Next up - Jaden Jones doing something that we haven’t really seen from Rutgers this season, making a 3 in transition.
In the first two games of the season, Rutgers only had a combined 17 fast-break points. You could see early on in this game that there was an emphasis on attacking more off of defensive rebounds. Here they do it right - get out quick, good spacing, find a shooter.
While we’re on the subject of transition points, here’s Hyatt again.
First off, I love the tip pass by Mulcahy, and credit Geo for not wasting any time once the ball comes to him. But this play is made by Hyatt, who’s thinking fast break as the ball is coming off the rim.
It’s no secret that Caleb McConnell has had a really rough start offensively. He’s shooting 20% from the field (0-7 from 3pt) and 44% from the foul line. That’s why this next play stood out to me.
Backdoor cut. A great way to take advantage of an aggressive defense and something the Scarlet Knights don’t do nearly enough. McConnell, specifically, needs to do more of this. Like it or not, he’s going to be on the floor because of his defense. On the offensive side, he has to find easy baskets and see if that unlocks the rest of his game.
It’s much more effective than this…
That previous clip was from Rutgers’ first road game of the season - at DePaul last Thursday night as part of the Gavitt Tipoff Games. The final result in that one was not what we wanted and some of that was due to the effort-level just not being good enough.
One possession, 3 offensive rebounds for DePaul. If I’m Steve Pikiell, that 16 second clip was played on loop for the team over the weekend.
Later on in the first half, Rutgers had a sloppy possession that actually broke open for an easy bucket, but they couldn’t execute the final pass.
DePaul’s defender gets caught ball-watching as Harper Jr. drives and leaves his man (Hyatt) wide open under the basket. It looks like Harper Jr. notices Hyatt but hesitates and passes it back out, leading to a missed opportunity on one end and, eventually, a layup at the other end.
One of the Scarlet Knights’ best possessions in the first 20 minutes came from a surprising group - Mulcahy, Mag, Hyatt, Jones, and Gonzales-Agee.
No over-dribbling, no over-thinking. They run the play, the ball goes right into the paint, and Hyatt finishes over the defender. 16 seconds left on the shot clock when the attempt goes up.
In the second half, Rutgers again turned a deficit into a lead. At one point midway through, they put together 3 consecutive excellent defensive possessions, resulting in 2 steals and a shot clock violation. Here’s the first possession of that sequence.
All 5 guys are active and engaged, Gonzales-Agee and McConnell trap on the drive and Mulcahy is in position to intercept the cross-court pass. The next two defensive possessions were just as good. Go back and compare this to the clip above where DePaul got 3 offensive rebounds in a row. It’s night and day.
I won’t dive into the wild last four minutes of this game because it was uncharacteristic for both teams. But I think it’s important to note that DePaul made five 3-pointers in a six possession span (after starting 4-19 from 3pt), with most of those being contested, high-degree-of-difficulty shots. In the end, it was one loss, and now the Scarlet Knights have to turn the page.
Upcoming Week: Lafayette Monday 11/22 (Game Preview), @UMass Saturday 11/26