With Dave gone, I’ll be taking over the Rutgers basketball game analysis/thoughts articles. In choosing a name for my analysis series, I needed something that defined this team, its coach, and its players. I decided to go with the same thing that has defined Rutgers basketball for the entire Steve Pikiell era, “Underdogs”. Rutgers has been yet again, counted out in the preseason media poll. Picked to finish 8th in the conference, Rutgers is once again an underdog. My thoughts:
Take This Game with a Grain of Salt: Yes, Rutgers won by 40 and there are lots of reasons to be optimistic, but you have to keep this in perspective. Rutgers beat Columbia, an Ivy League team that has won 10 games over the last two seasons. This is not Illinois, it’s not even Hartford. So yes, winning this strongly is encouraging, but Columbia is ranked 321st in the KenPom so Rutgers needed to be this dominant against them.
Rutgers Came Out Strong: The Scarlet Knights scored the first 15 points of the game against Columbia, which is an encouraging sign, as Rutgers suffered many slow starts to games last season and it was something that hampered the team’s success. However, Rutgers scored just 10 points in the following 13 and a half minutes. After that, Rutgers ended the game on a 50-14 run. Save for that aforementioned cold stretch in the first half, Rutgers was in sync offensively. After the first half, the Scarlet Knights really put their foot down and didn’t give Columbia any reason to think they could be in this game. That’s exactly what Big Ten teams are supposed to do in this type of game.
Cam Spencer was Elite: The transfer from Loyola-Maryland came in as a great scorer and elite 3-point shooter. Spencer’s more than just that; Yes, he was the Scarlet Knight's best scorer tonight, but he was also elite on defense. He was strong out of the gate in the second half, right when Rutgers needed to pull away from Columbia. Spencer scored Rutgers's first 9 points of the second half and 12 of their first 15. He finished with a game-high 17 points on 7-13 shooting, 5 assists, and 6 steals in 29 minutes. Spencer had more assists and steals than Columbia did as a team! Overall, he looked very comfortable and his shot was certainly on tonight.
Steve Pikiell, Pounding Nails: This was a defensive classic by Pikiell’s team. He likes to hold teams under his “speed limit” of 65 points, well Columbia had just 35. Rutgers forced 25 turnovers and held the Lions to 23.4% from the floor and just one made three in 21 attempts. They were all over loose balls and racked up plenty of steals on the defensive end, 14 steals for Rutgers including 6 for Cam Spencer alone. Against an inferior opponent, this is exactly what Pikiell—and everyone—wanted to see.
Starters Good, Bench Depth?: All 5 starters scored in double figures today and despite none of them playing over 30 minutes, combined for 59 of 75 points for Rutgers. The bench saw extended time and yet, they only scored 16 points. The depth is tbd for Rutgers this year, as the jury is still out on whether there’s a legit backup to Cliff Omoruyi or if anyone off the bench today is going to be an effective factor in Big Ten play. One things for sure though, someone is going to have to step up. Even with McConnell back when Hyatt can be a true sixth man, one or two guys are going to have to show they’re capable of giving big minutes off the bench.
Cliff Omoruyi was strong on the boards but needs to finish better at the rim. He shot just 4-for-10 today.
Aundre Hyatt played well starting in place of the injured McConnell. His 12-point, 10-rebound double-double showed potential for improvement this season.
Derek Simpson is going to be very good, but the game is moving a little too fast for him right now, Excited to watch him develop over the course of this season.
Free throws are still a problem. Rutgers went 5-for-14 from the line, that’s unacceptable no matter the outcome of the game.