We sent some questions over to On The Banks, our SB Nation Rutgersian cousins, and Aaron Breitman was kind enough to answer them for us. Without further ado we give to you...Rutgers!
1) For those of us who haven’t followed Rutgers season so far can you give us a quick recap of how the non-conference portion of the schedule went for you guys?
Rutgers starts four sophomores and a junior, so while hopes were very high for this team at the start of the season, they are very much a work in progress so far. They have struggled to find an identity and avoided big upsets with a two point win over Bryant and five point win over Drexel. Their best win so far was a 12 point victory against Stephen F. Austin, who then went on to shock Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium the following game.
When the competition has been stiffer, Rutgers has failed every test so far, which coincides being away from the RAC. They lost by six points to St. Bonaventure on a neutral court in Toronto, as well as two double digit defeats at Pitt and Michigan State last week. They played MSU tough on the road and it was a one point game midway through the second half, but execution was an issue down the stretch.
This is a team that has the ability to play stingy defense, but also have lapses and get beat off the dribble too easily at times. They’ve had trouble switching off of screens and while they’ve been better defending the three as of late, closing out on perimeter shooters has to be more consistent.
Offensively, they are much better when they share the basketball and attack the rim. Against Pitt, they couldn’t penetrate and ended up settling for contested three’s totally out of rhythm of the offense and it sunk them. They were much smarter and more aggressive against MSU, but without a true go to scorer, there isn’t enough firepower to beat a top team right now.
2) Geo Baker is still pulling the strings on offense and averaging double-figures in points for the third straight year. Who is his co-star this season?
For Rutgers to make a true leap up the Big Ten standings this season, I’ve said all along they need sophomore wing Ron Harper Jr. to become a star. While he has been pretty consistent in scoring eight or more points every game, he has struggled with his outside shot and disappears at times. He does lead the team in scoring at 12.8 points per game and is shooting 49% from the floor overall, but is is just 58% from the free throw line and 27% from three. He still forces it at times, but Harper Jr. is best getting into the paint and knocking down the mid-range jumper.
For Rutgers to win in the Big Ten, Harper Jr. needs to play a starring role. It took him awhile to get his shot going last season, before catching fire and finishing No. 16 in conference play with an offensive rating of 113.8. The hope is he will do so earlier and for a more sustained period of time this season.
3) Rutgers is a bad three-point shooting team at 28.3% from distance as a team. Where, and how, do they get their points instead?
They have been much better scoring inside the arc this season, shooting 55.1% from two-point range, which is No. 34 in Division I. The result has been 59% of their scoring comes from two-point range, which is No. 22 in the country. The issue is they don’t have enough players to create their own shots, only one true option in the post offensively and end up forcing bad shots from the perimeter with the shot clock winding down.
There was a lot of talk about playing a more up tempo style this season, but that really hasn’t happened. They rarely get many easy baskets in transition, which is a problem, but they are good on the offensive glass with rate of 33.7% (No. 48 in DI). Rutgers will rarely be the more talented team in Big Ten play, so they need generate offense through opponent mistakes and with strong team rebounding.
4) Who is an under the radar player for the Scarlet Knights that will make our readers sound smart at the bar when they bring them up to their friends?
Akwasi Yeboah is a grad transfer from Stony Brook and was recruited there by current Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell before he took this job. He has been cool and steady all season coming off the bench. He is averaging 10 points and almost four boards per game, while shooting 37.5% from three-point range. Yeboah has also been clutch in getting baskets when Rutgers has needed on badly in certain spots. He has size, but is much more comfortable playing along the perimeter.
Another player to keep an eye on is freshman point guard Paul Mulcahy, who makes the Rutgers offense better when he is on the floor. He has an almost 3-to-1 assist to turnover ration and is a pass first player, but his defense is a liability at this point. However, I think it might be time to let him work through those issues, as his ability to penetrate, court vision and passing is something they desperately need more of.
5) Final score prediction and game MVP?
Rutgers always plays Wisconsin tough at the RAC and this team is really in need of a win. The fact the Badgers have struggled from three-point range, especially on the road, makes me think this will be a close, hard fought battle. Rutgers plays a deeper rotation and with an almost sold out home court, I think they wear down the Badgers in the final minutes. Rutgers 67 Wisconsin 61 and MVP is Ron Harper Jr. with close to a 20 point game.
6) BONUS GREG SCHIANO QUESTION! How are y’all feeling about the new/old head coach? Is it enough to keep Jalen Berger in state and away from Madison?
I understand the appeal of Greg Schiano might not travel well outside of New Jersey, but he is the perfect coach for what Rutgers needs right now. He has instantly boosted recruiting and fan support based on his relationships and previous success during his first tenure as coach almost a decade ago. We won’t know how high the ceiling ultimately will be for a long time and it’s fair to question whether it will ever be more than middle of the pack in the Big Ten, but there is little doubt he will bring a certain level of respectability back to the program. The question is how much. And yes I think he lands Berger, who he recruited while at Ohio State and can’t we agree Wisconsin has gotten enough running backs from New Jersey? (Editor’s note: We’ll agree to disagree)