The Rutgers men’s basketball team has had an up-and-down season through its first four games. The good news for the Scarlet Knights (3-1) is that they have a winning record and have performed well in several areas. With that being said, the team also has plenty of things to work on as the season progresses.
Let’s start with what the team has been doing well. One thing that head coach Steve Pikiell has undoubtedly been happy with is the team’s rebounding on both ends of the floor. Rutgers is currently fourth in the Big Ten conference with 42 rebounds per game.
Sophomore guard Ron Harper Jr. leads the team with 26 boards. Sophomore center Myles Johnson has also been effective, with 23 boards of his own.
The Knights are leading the Big Ten in total blocks and blocks per game. With 26 total blocks and approximately seven per game, the team has made its presence felt on the defensive end. Junior guard Geo Baker leads the team with seven rejections.
Rutgers will look to keep up its blocking prowess as the season progresses, especially with elite offenses like Michigan State coming up on the schedule.
Defending home court
With a perfect 3-0 record at home so far, the Knights have shown their ability to defend the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) against non-conference teams. Their effectiveness at home bodes well for the team's upcoming schedule, as it will close out November with three games at the RAC.
These contests against Stephen F. Austin, NJIT and UMass will show how much Pikiell’s squad has grown during the beginning portion of the season.
With close games against Bryant (73-71) and Drexel (62-57), Rutgers has shown that it is not invincible at the Banks. More convincing wins, such as the one against Niagara (86-39), will inspire more confidence heading into the all-important conference games.
AREAS TO WORK ON:
Getting into some of the weaker areas for the Knights so far, shooting from long range has been an issue. They currently rank 12th in the conference with just a 28% 3-point field goal percentage. Inefficiency from beyond the arc will not cripple the team against lighter non-conference opponents, but the program will need to improve in this area if it hopes to beat nationally ranked Big Ten teams.
Free throw shooting
Inefficiency from the free throw line was a major issue last season and was a point of emphasis for Rutgers in preseason practices. Through this year’s first four games, the team has not improved much. It ranks ninth in the conference with a 67.4% free throw percentage.
For context, Wisconsin is first with an 81.7% mark. This was especially a problem in Saturday’s loss against St. Bonaventure. Leaving points at the line will continue to cost the program, especially once the schedule gets harder. The Knights need to prioritize this during their three-game homestand to close out November.
Playing complete games
There have been a couple of times this year where Rutgers has played much better in one half than the other. On the opening day of the season against the Bulldogs (4-2), the Knights led by as many as 16 points in the second half.
They looked like they were going to cruise to an easy win, but let Bryant go on a run as the team barely managed to hold on to the 73-71 win. It was outscored 41-35 in the second half after leading 38-30 at halftime.
Against the Bonnies (1-3), Rutgers' incomplete performance had worse consequences. This time, its first-half play was the problem. The Knights were outscored 43-30 and were trailing by 19 at one point. They almost managed to come back, but ultimately came up short in the 80-74 loss.
If Rutgers had started the game with the intensity it had in the second half, the team most likely would have won. As the season goes on, the Knights have to be able to play consistently well throughout the entire game. If they do, they will improve their chances to get wins against top Big Ten teams.
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