We’ve reached full-blown crisis mode in the Rutgers basketball season and it seems like anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Coming off an NCAA tournament berth last season, I don’t think anyone thought the Knights would be 3-3 after 6 games. But here we are.
There’s no way around it, the Lafayette game was a significant setback and the most shocking loss of the Steve Pikiell era. When watching the game back, I was able to find one small silver lining, so I’ll start with that before diving into the issues.
Before we get into the film, I’m going to ask you to ignore the shooting numbers for a minute. 15% from 3pt and 29% overall is not going to win you a lot of games. That goes without saying.
Looking past that, I was impressed with Jaden Jones and how he continuously attacked Lafayette’s 2-3 zone. Despite only playing 13 minutes, I found three instances where he forced the issue and put pressure on the defense. In an offense that was far too passive up to that point, especially when they saw zone, his aggressiveness stood out.
The final result of these three plays were a missed jumper and two Lafayette fouls, so it didn’t necessarily amount to much in this game. But I’m encouraged by how confident he’s playing on the offensive end. Watch that last play again - under 3 minutes left, Rutgers needs a bucket, and it’s the freshman (who just re-entered the game) that’s actively trying to make something happen. Good sign.
The most concerning development from this one was in the rebounding department, something we’re not really used to seeing under Steve Pikiell. Yes, Rutgers missed a lot of shots. But this is a program that finished outside the Top 200 in eFG% in each of Pike’s first 4 seasons in charge. They were always an active rebounding team though. I noted this last week after re-watching the DePaul game, and it’s now a very alarming trend.
That’s one 14 second sequence with two missed opportunities at a rebound. On the offensive end, Caleb McConnell makes a pass and inexplicably starts celebrating as he back-pedals (Remember, Rutgers is 348th out of 358 in 3pt shooting). The long rebound comes out to exactly where he should be standing and Lafayette gets out in transition.
A few seconds later, Lafayette misses an open 17-footer, but the shooter is able to grab the rebound without any Scarlet Knight even attempting to box him out. Just not good enough on either end.
Transition defense was a problem throughout the game for Rutgers. Midway through the second half, Lafayette quickly turned a 1-point lead into a 7-point lead after two RU breakdowns in transition.
Back-to-back defensive possessions, and in both cases, the Knights fail to find the shooters. In the first, Dean Reiber makes a late attempt to recover and fouls. In the second, there’s no recovery and Lafayette gets a wide-open 3.
Let’s move on to Saturday afternoon at UMass. If you just look at the box score, you’d think Rutgers would’ve fared pretty well in this game. The Knights had 25 assists on 34 made baskets, shot 55% compared to 47% for UMass, and won the rebounding battle 36-24.
Offensively, they finally found some answers against the zone, thanks to improved ball movement and player movement.
Those are probably Rutgers’ two best offensive possessions against the zone all season. They get ball inside, cut to the basket, and the passing is quick and decisive.
Unfortunately, the problems in this one were on the defensive end. UMass made 16 of their 32 3pt attempts, mainly because Rutgers failed to effectively close out on shooters all game. Here are three consecutive UMass possessions from the 1st half.
In each of these possessions, UMass gets an open look at a 3 because Rutgers is slow to react defensively. This was a sign of things to come for the remainder of the game.
It’s one thing to be slow to react, but it’s another thing to completely lose focus on your defensive responsibilities.
Three more open looks for UMass, with each shot attempt coming after a Rutgers defender loses track of their assignment. In each of these plays, the RU defender gets caught watching the ball as their man moves to get a clean look at a 3. That last shot came with just over a minute left, and ended up being a pretty big moment in the UMass comeback.
Upcoming Week: Clemson on Tuesday Nov. 30; @Illinois on Friday Dec. 3rd