The game against Illinois on Wednesday night was without question one of the most anticipated games in the recent history of the RAC/Jersey Mike’s Arena. After beating three ranked teams in a row, Rutgers was beginning to create some buzz, not only locally, but on a national level as well. I was curious to see how they would respond to all the positive publicity.
Well, the Scarlet Knights responded with their best 40 minutes of the season so far.
One of the most stunning statistics in the final box score was the rebounding margin. The Illini are in the Top 15 nationally in terms of rebounding margin. On Wednesday, Rutgers outrebounded them 46-28. The Knights also pulled down 14 offensive rebounds, and seemed to be focused on attacking immediately after getting each one. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
Long rebound off a 3-point miss, and credit to Geo Baker for going up high and getting it. Caleb McConnell jumps right back into the play, gets a little shovel pass from Geo, and steps into a jumper. Immediate attack.
This next one follows the same script. Rutgers miss (this time RHJ at the rim), effort play to bring in the rebound (Cliff Omoruyi tips the ball out to Paul Mulcahy), immediate attack.
One last one to drive this point home. Same script, with a fantastic extra pass from Geo.
It’s important to note that those 3 plays above feature 3 different guys making the effort play. Those sequences are also from much different points in the action, this was not just a 4-5 minute stretch in the game.
And since I’m talking about effort, how about Aundre Hyatt? That’s the classic example of the box score not telling the whole story. If you just look at Hyatt’s box score, you probably think he played 13 uneventful minutes. If you watched the game, you realize he was a major contributor to the win.
The first clip below is really interesting because I think Hyatt is actually in the wrong spot as Rutgers tries to run a ballscreen with Cliff and Geo. But he stays in the play, heads straight to the rim and gets the tap-in. Sometimes, effort covers up a mistake.
Later in the second half, Rutgers overloads one side of the floor and runs another ballscreen for Geo. Hyatt makes himself available for the corner 3, but as soon as Geo rises, he again crashes the glass. The rest of the sequence goes like this…effort play from Caleb McConnell to keep the ball alive, effort play from Hyatt to beat two Illini players to the ball, foul on Illinois.
Things never really got close down the stretch but I wouldn’t say I was feeling relaxed. At least until Hyatt made one last hustle play to wrap it up.
That win set the stage for a Sunday showdown at Mackey Arena against Purdue. This time, Rutgers came up short, despite putting up a valiant effort in one of the toughest environments in the country.
It wasn’t a bad Rutgers performance by any means, I actually came away from this loss feeling better than I have after some RU wins. Purdue just executed really well, racking up 19 assists on 26 made baskets. Their ball-movement made it difficult on the RU defense throughout and created several good looks from 3-point range.
In each of the two clips below, Jaden Ivey takes advantage of the collapsing Rutgers’ defense and kicks it out for a wide-open shot.
Obviously Ivey is the main guy you want to slow down, but I thought the Scarlet Knights struggled with their defensive rotations once the ball left Ivey’s hands, especially early on.
Here’s another example of the Purdue execution. Same play in each of these next two clips, a handoff from Zach Edey to Sasha Stefanovic. In each case, Cliff Omoruyi doesn’t hedge, and Stefanovic’s defender runs into the brick wall of Edey, allowing too much space for a 41% 3-point shooter.
From a Rutgers perspective, these are the small details that need to be cleaned up.
But as I said above, there was nothing to hang our heads about in this one. The Scarlet Knights played well, and showed some impressive ball movement of their own.
In each of these examples, there’s a series of passes to create the final shot. The entire group is connected and the ball never sticks. Really good execution.
This last clip has all of that, and even throws in two shot fakes for the fundamental-lovers.
Upcoming Week: @Michigan on Wednesday 2/23, vs Wisconsin on Saturday 2/26