After getting run out of the gym by Illinois in the Big Ten opener, Rutgers faced a tough week against two ranked opponents. First up was #1 Purdue at Jersey Mike’s Arena, followed by Seton Hall for the Garden State Hardwood Classic.
Thursday night it was Purdue, who came into this game as a deserving #1 in my opinion. The Boilermakers have a ton of talent, but their best player is Jaden Ivey. Facing a Rutgers defense that had struggled this season, Ivey was expected to go off. But despite scoring 15 points, he was mostly held in-check, and much of the credit for that goes to Caleb McConnell. Let’s get to the film.
This is off a missed Purdue free throw just under two minutes left. Trevion Williams flies in for the rebound and the Boilermakers get a fresh shot clock. A basket here for Purdue and it’s back to a two-possession game. Watch McConnell as Purdue tries to get the ball to Ivey.
Here’s another great example. McConnell chases Ivey across the court, through two screens, and maintains his defensive position as Ivey catches the pass and starts his drive. Ignore the bad foul call at the end, that’s really good defense.
McConnell also spent some time guarding Sasha Stefanovic. And again, his defensive anticipation was elite. Here’s my favorite defensive possession of the night, a Purdue set that McConnell singlehandedly blows up, leading to a shot clock violation.
In the season preview roundtable, I said that the most important player on this team is Cliff Omoruyi. I still believe that. Against Purdue, he played 30 minutes and finished with 11 points and 3 rebounds. Not earth-shattering numbers, but that doesn’t actually show the impact he had on this game. Purdue’s game plan early on was to pound the ball inside. Here are the Boilermakers first two possessions of the game.
Disciplined defense, good footwork, and he keeps his hand straight up to contest without fouling. On the second possession, Zach Edey actually gets deep position initially, but Cliff uses his strength to stand him upright and make him lean away from the basket on the shot.
Here are two more examples against Trevion Williams later on. Williams scores on both of these possessions, but Cliff’s work defensively can’t be overlooked. Most importantly in each of these clips, he gets a good contest but resists the urge to smack down and pick up a cheap foul.
One more clip for Cliff because I want to highlight his impact outside of the box score. First off, his positioning here is really good as Ivey drives, and it denies Purdue a chance to get the ball to Edey. Then when the shot goes up, Cliff slips back underneath and works for a tough box-out against Edey that allows Ron Harper Jr. to grab the rebound.
It was a night of many heroes for Rutgers, and Mawot Mag needs a mention as well. Mag was making his first start and he was ready to go. Just like Cliff, the final stat line doesn’t show his full value on both ends of the floor. He was all over the court in the first half - playing active defense, grabbing tough rebounds, and even scoring 7 consecutive RU points early on. He also earned his stripes as a backdoor cut aficionado, something that will always get you ink in this column.
In both of these plays, Mag takes advantage of the lack of awareness from an overaggressive defender. Simple but effective offensive execution.
I can’t finish talking about this game without acknowledging the historic performance from Ron Harper Jr., who posted an incredible 30 and 10 in 37 minutes, and was responsible for big shot after big shot. Plus, it gives me a chance to include this -
But Rutgers is a rollercoaster this season, and while the loss to Seton Hall on Sunday was not a bad loss by any stretch, it’s RU’s inconsistent offensive execution that raises a red flag.
First off, let’s talk about Paul Mulcahy, who looked like a shell of himself against Seton Hall. He’s an important part of this team from a leadership standpoint, but it’s no secret that the ball often gets stuck in his hands on the offensive end.
Mulcahy is a great passer, maybe the best on the team, but it’s the decisiveness that has to improve. In the clip above, the eventual post-entry pass is fine, but the shot clock had already been drained down so far that it didn’t leave Cliff a lot of time to work.
The Scarlet Knights looked out of sorts offensively all night. Part of it was due to Seton Hall’s defense and part of it was due to poor execution. Rutgers is currently 26th in the nation in Assist Rate (60.1%), dropping from 11th prior to this matchup. Against Seton Hall, they had just 8 assists on 23 made field goals (34.8%). The primary reason for this was bad spacing.
In these next two clips, the Scarlet Knights actually get bailed out with tough makes from Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr., but the horrible spacing takes away their options and forces the shooter into a contested shot. Even on the clear-out for Harper, the spacing on the weak-side has to be better in case he needs to pass out of it. If Seton Hall brings a double-team, he has no options.
Here’s another example. Bad spacing and player movement without a lot of purpose, leading to a turnover and a Seton Hall run-out.
Interestingly, Seton Hall is one of the worst teams in the country in Assist Rate (38.7%). As a team, they only had 8 assists as well. The difference is that they have guards/wings who can create off-the-dribble, and Bryce Aiken, Jared Rhoden and Kadary Richmond all did that in this game. Rutgers is much more dependent on ball movement and spacing to generate offense, and they came up short in both of those areas.
Upcoming Week: Rider on Saturday Dec. 18th