Skip to content

What went wrong for Rutgers men's basketball in 2023-2024?

The Rutgers men's basketball team had a disappointing 2023-2024 season as several players struggled.   – Photo by Evan Leong

With the Rutgers men’s basketball team’s loss to Maryland in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, its season is now over. It was a disappointing campaign for the Scarlet Knights (15-16, 7-13), who suffered their first losing season since the 2018-2019 season.

With the season at its official end, let’s take a look at what went wrong for Rutgers.

In retrospect, the Knights’ postseason chances were over before the games were even played, due to Cam Spencer and Paul Mulcahy transferring out of the program late in the offseason. Spencer and Mulcahy’s transfers sent the coaching staff scrambling for backcourt help with a limited pool of players. Ultimately, head coach Steve Pikiell was unable to replace the talent and leadership that Spencer and Mulcahy provided.

At first, though, Spencer and Mulcahy’s departure was met with intrigue, as it allowed Rutgers to run a faster-paced offense, something that it had never done under Pikiell. While the offensive pace did get faster, the results were significantly worse.

This is because the transfers that came in to replace Spencer and Mulcahy were unable to significantly contribute right away. The players who were supposed to take an offensive step up and carry the scoring load were unable to do so consistently and senior forward Mawot Mag was unable to get fully healthy.

Sophomore center Emmanuel Ogbole, graduate student guard Austin Williams and redshirt junior guard Jeremiah Williams were late additions to the roster and were meant to help fill the void Spencer and Mulcahy left, but that should have been a red flag in itself, as all three players were coming off knee injuries and Jeremiah Williams was suspended to start the season.

Ogbole recovered from his knee injury and made his debut against Michigan on February 3, serving as a backup to senior center Clifford Omoruyi, but his impact was limited, as he was very raw, having only started playing basketball when he was 17 years old.

Austin Williams showed scoring and defensive spurts at times, but he was in and out of the lineup throughout the year, as he was battling injuries and getting his knee drained every week. Those injuries never allowed Williams to find consistency on the court.

Jeremiah Williams proved to be an impact player once he made his debut on February 3, with Ogbole, as his ability and leadership helped spark a four-game winning streak, but his debut came a little too late as the Knights were already facing an uphill battle to achieve a postseason berth. Jeremiah Williams also could not shoot like Spencer or Mulcahy and thus did not solve Rutgers’ court spacing issues in its half-court offense. Whether through injuries or suspensions, none of these players were able to significantly contribute to the Knights for the entire season.

With the loss of Mulcahy, Spencer and Caleb McConnell, the scoring load fell on Omoruyi, sophomore guard Derek Simpson, fifth-year guard Noah Fernandes and freshman guard Gavin Griffiths. All four players showed flashes of their scoring potential but were unable to consistently score throughout the season.

While Omoruyi was still one of the premier interior defenders in the Big Ten, he struggled to generate on offense without Mulcahy passing him the ball. 

Simpson and Fernandes each had a handful of great games but Simpson’s shot-making was inconsistent and he ended the year shooting 30.5 percent from the field and 28.2 percent from three-point range. These poor shooting numbers also hampered his ability as a creator as opposing guards were able to sit back on him.

Fernandes battled injuries throughout the season and he did not have the speed or height to drive inside the paint and either finish or kick the ball to the corner or wings. Fernandes did shoot a respectable 35.4 percent from three-point range, but he was ultimately hampered by a lack of playmaking.

Perhaps expectations were too great for Griffiths who was at that point, Rutgers’ highest-ranked recruit, but also a freshman who had never played in the physical Big Ten. For most of 2023, Griffiths looked overmatched defensively and struggled to find his place on offense. He often settled for poor shots and lacked the physicality to drive inside the paint. 

Once February came around, Griffiths’ defense improved drastically and he settled into the offense, evidenced by a 13 percent uptick in his three-point percentage in his last seven games. He was the team's leading scorer in its final game against Maryland, but the improvement came too late for the Knights, whose season was all but wrapped up by that point. Griffiths will be an important building block for the future but it may have been unrealistic to expect him to shoulder the offensive load in his first season, despite the recruiting ranking.

Overall, the players expected to shoulder the load on offense did not, and nobody else stepped up thus, the Knights struggled to shoot the ball, create offense and space the floor. Rutgers had the fifth worst field goal percentage, the fourth worst effective field goal percentage, the 19th worst free-throw percentage and the 12th worst three-point percentage in NCAA Division I basketball. Even the fourth-best adjusted defensive efficiency could not make up for those abysmal shooting percentages.

The final nail in the coffin for the Knights was the loss of Mag. Those who thought Rutgers could make it back to the NCAA Tournament this season most likely thought Mag would recover from tearing his ACL last February and return to being one of the best glue guys in all of college basketball. Though Mag made his season debut on December 9 against Seton Hall, he never looked fully comfortable on the court and his season was derailed by a left calf injury that kept him out of 8 of the final 10 games of the season. The Knights lost 6 of the 8 games he missed. 

Without a healthy Mag, Rutgers was without one of its best defenders and slashers. His three-point percentage also dipped by 5.5 percent as well, giving the Knights even less court spacing when he was on the floor.

What could have gone wrong went wrong this season and as with most disappointing seasons, blame lies all around. But Pikiell will have to assess what went wrong and move on to the next season quickly to make the most of the upcoming star-studded recruiting class and make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2022.

For more updates on the Rutgers men's basketball team, follow @TargumSports on X.

To view more of Ellis Gordon's work, follow @EllisVGordon on X.

Related Articles

Join our newsletterSubscribe