In the previous film session, I talked about Rutgers’ excellent defensive performance against Iowa. By any objective measure, it was a masterpiece. But in the context of this season, one of the reasons that performance stood out so much is because the defense tends to come and go for the Scarlet Knights in 2021-22.
Against Northwestern, we saw the inconsistency again. Let’s jump right in to the first clip. Remember, these same RU players held Iowa 40 points below their season average.
No offense to Ryan Greer, but this is a guy who’s averaging 4.4 points/game. He has the ball in his hands with a minute to go in a one-point game. This is crunch time…and he easily gets to the rim.
Even though it’s a somewhat lazy screen by Pete Nance, Geo Baker doesn’t really fight to get through it, and gets taken out of the play. Then Cliff Omoruyi gets beat off the dribble. And Ron Harper Jr. provides no help from the weak side. Too many issues here from a Rutgers perspective.
If you watched the game live, as Greer was dribbling near half-court, the color commentator mentioned how Northwestern was about to run the same high ball-screen action that they were running all night. And still, it seemed to catch Rutgers off-guard. That was a bit concerning.
Here’s another example of the defensive problems.
Geo initially does a good job of denying Chase Audige. But when Audige cuts to the weakside corner, everything falls apart for Rutgers. Geo gets crossed up with Oskar Palmquist and loses his assignment. He’s caught under the basket as Julian Roper drives into the paint, leaving Audige alone in the corner for a wide-open 3. Complete lack of defensive communication here.
In this next one, the Wildcats run a nice play to get Boo Buie the ball up top. Buie takes one dribble and draws the attention of three Rutgers’ defenders. He probably could have dropped it underneath for an easy layup, but instead he darts it to the corner for an open 3-pointer.
I can’t move on from this one without mentioning the incredible performance of Paul Mulcahy, who almost carried the Scarlet Knights to a win anyway. Obviously, he was making shots, but he’s also really good at finding space off-the-ball. This is a great example from early on in the game.
At the point that Mulcahy passes back to Caleb McConnell, the paint is clogged with bodies. McConnell picks up his dribble and Mulcahy slips between two Northwestern defenders to create a passing lane and a Rutgers layup.
It’s fitting to end the Northwestern review with a Mulcahy highlight because the Michigan State review is going to be more of the same. The win over MSU was an important win for Rutgers and Mulcahy had his fingerprints all over it, filling the stat sheet with 15 points, 12 assists and 4 rebounds in 31 minutes.
Mulcahy has turned a corner in the last few weeks, and his confidence is soaring right now. In my opinion, he has the best footwork of any guard in the Big Ten, and he’s using it to create a lot of good things for Rutgers offensively. I counted four examples where he got into the paint and made a play using nothing but a pivot foot and patience. Here are the first three.
The final clip in that sequence was really the turning point in the game, and I thought it was interesting to note the 5 players on the floor - Reiber, Mag, McConnell, Mulcahy, Miller. This was the beginning of a 15-3 Rutgers run that effectively put the game away.
This next one didn’t count because of a foul, but Mulcahy’s footwork and vision is on display again.
In the later stages of the second half, Mulcahy started working the pick-and-roll with Cliff Omoruyi. It was a thing of beauty, taking advantage of both players’ strengths.
And here’s that same action to the opposite side of the floor. Again, nothing too complicated here, just really good execution.
I thought Tom Izzo put it best in his postgame press conference, Mulcahy was playing bully-ball against the Spartans. And for the second game in a row, he completely controlled the action in the second half.
Upcoming Week: Ohio State on Wed. February 9th / @Wisconsin on Sat. February 12th