Nothing Says Unpredictability in the Big Ten Like Rutgers

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 6th, 2015

Rutgers has won one more Big Ten game than most people would have guessed after the Scarlet Knights shocked Penn State on Saturday at the RAC. It wasn’t the prettiest of games, or even in the top trillion of prettiest games, but they defended when it counted and shut down Nittany Lions star, DJ Newbill. The result mirrored a non-conference season in which Rutgers won a couple of games that it shouldn’t have won, lost a couple of games that it shouldn’t have lost, and has looked equal parts horrific and pretty good seemingly on a possession-by-possession basis. Coming off of a season where this team went 12-21 in the American, count yours truly amongst those who thought they would struggle mightily in their first season in the more difficult Big Ten. This year’s conference isn’t nearly as strong as it usually is, however, and Rutgers isn’t nearly as terrible as it was last season. Here’s a glimpse at some of the ups and downs of Rutgers’ season to date.

Eddie Jordan has his team playing much better on the defensive end of the floor this season. (USATSI)

Eddie Jordan has his team playing much better on the defensive end of the floor this season. (USATSI)

On the positive side, Rutgers has notched wins against a 10-3 Vanderbilt team and at a Clemson team that has beaten LSU and Arkansas. It also did a really nice job on Saturday in its win against Penn State, holding the Nittany Lions to 28.8 percent shooting. The Scarlet Knights’ biggest accomplishment, though, could be how they actually led a still-unbeaten Virginia team by a point at the half on November 29. Granted, Eddie Jordan’s team only scored eight points in the second half on its way to a 45-26 loss, but it held one the country’s most efficient offenses to 0.83 points per possession by cutting off any quality looks. Big men Greg Lewis (6’9″, 245 pounds), Kadeem Jack (6’9″, 235) and Junior Etou (6’7″ 230) clog things up in the paint, which allows the guards to extend to the three-point line — the Rutgers defense allows opponents to shoot only 30.2 percent from behind the arc and 44.2 percent on two-pointers — both among the top 80 in the country.

Things are not quite as positive offensively, as this team continually struggles to make shots. Jordan runs some creative sets utilizing his background with the Princeton offense, and sometimes a play will work perfectly with a nice cut leading to an easy layup. More frequently, though, his team will look confused and settle for a forced three or a contested attempt in the lane. Jack, for example, uses the sixth most possessions in the conference (27.4%) and he’s not taking the best shot in a good number of those opportunities. The Virginia game was a low point offensively, but a lack of consistency there is the reason why losses to teams like St. Peter’s and St. Francis (PA) happened.

Looking forward, whether this team gets better offensively as the season progresses will determine its fate. The Scarlet Knights have proven they can defend, but much like Northwestern last year, a bad-offense/good-defense profile will only take you so far. No matter how well the defense is performing, the nation’s 270th most efficient offense will preclude the Scarlet Knights from competing against some teams. Myles Mack is having a solid senior season, but he needs Mike Williams and Bishop Daniels to make more shots so that he doesn’t have to be the only threat from the perimeter. With Williams, it seems to be a confidence thing. Daniels is still working his way back from an injury, but he’s flashed some potential since his return. In a strange season where the middle of the Big Ten is wide open, keep an eye on Rutgers as it attempts to obtain more conference wins than most people could have imagined. On the right day, when the offense is clicking and the defense remains steady, the Scarlet Knights have proven they can beat a number of teams that were supposed to be better than them.

Brendan Brody (307 Posts)

Brendan Brody is in his fourth season covering the Big Ten for RTC. Email him at, or follow him on twitter @berndon4.

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