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Offensive ceiling is rising for Rutgers



Photo credit Rutgers Athletics

In defeating Minnesota 90-55 on Wednesday night, Rutgers earned its largest margin of victory in a Big Ten game since joining the league in the 2014-2015 season. In addition, it was the most lopsided win in a conference game for the program since defeating St. Joseph’s 91-55 on February 11, 1989.

It is also the first time that Rutgers has scored 80+ points in back to back games since joining the league. They lost to Iowa last Sunday 93-82.

While Rutgers remains No. 2 nationally in defensive efficiency at 87.7, this team has struggled at times on the offensive end. Even after the last two games in which they combined to score 172 points (86.0 ppg), their offensive efficiency rating of 108.1 is only ranked N0. 113 nationally.

The biggest reason for the Scarlet Knights being inconsistent is their shooting. RU is shooting 48.9% from two-point range and 32.7% from three-point range. They’re ranked No. 238 nationally with both. However, there is one major positive trait that stands out and breeds hope that the offense can still improve this season.

Rutgers is sharing the basketball at an elite level and have done so for the majority of this season. In the win over Minnesota, the Scarlet Knights had 30 assists on 37 made field goals. It was the most assists in a Big Ten game ever for the program, breaking the record of 23 assists set all the way back to last Sunday at Iowa. It was actually the second time this season they recorded 30 assists in a game this season after not doing since 1992. Six different players scored in double digits in Wednesday’s win.

” I just thought  30 assists says it all. We really passed the ball and shared the ball,” explained head coach Steve Pikiell. “It all starts with Paul (Mulcahy), I think 400 assists. He got his 400th today, so proud of him and what he brings to our team.”

Mulcahy became just the sixth player in program history to reach 400 assists in his career. He is on pace to pass Myles Mack (425) and Geoff Billet (428) to move into fourth place all-time this season. Mulcahy has an outside shot to catch Brian Ellerbe in third place (495) and Geo Baker (496) in second place. Eddie Jordan stands well above the rest of this prestigious list with 585 assists. If Mulcahy returns next season with his extra year of eligibility from Covid, he could ultimately pass the program great.

It was last season that Mulcahy became the first Rutgers player since Ellerbe 37 years prior to average over 5 assists per game. He led the Big Ten at 5.3 assists per game and now averages 5.0 per game this season. In his last two games, Mulcahy has combined to dish out 22 assists.

With his unique size at the point guard position, along with his vision, passing ability and unselfishness, Mulcahy poses serious matchup problems for opponents. What’s been impressive this winter is that he has improved his assist-to-turnover ratio from 2.0 to 1 last season to 2.7 to 1 this season. And he has battled through a shoulder injury that caused him to miss a few games earlier this winter. He is a tremendous facilitator who when Mulcahy is at his best, Rutgers is as well.

In addition, Cam Spencer has added another component to Rutgers’ ability to share and distribute the basketball. He is averaging 3.7 assists per game. He also has a 2.9 to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio. While his shooting is crucial to the RU offense, his ability to find open teammates has elevated the team’s performance.

Eight other Scarlet Knights handed out at least one assist against Minnesota, including five with multiple dimes. Caleb McConnell and Derek Simpson had three assists, while Mawot Mag, Oskar Palmquist and Jalen Miller had two apiece.

Caleb McConnell has improved virtually all of his offensive statistics this season. He is averaging a career high 3.2 assists per game. His ability to find his teammates at a higher rate has helped this team as well.

In the Big Ten, Mulcahy 4th in assists, Spencer is 9th and McConnell is 16th. With assist-to-turnover ratio, Spencer is third, Mulcahy is 4th and McConnell is 14th. As far as assist rate on a national scale, Mulcahy is 88th at 29.3%, Spencer is 243rd at 23.8% while McConnell has a respectable rate of 18.0%.

For the season, RU is No. 12 nationally with a 61.3% assist rate. As a team, Rutgers is third in the Big Ten averaging 16.1 assists per game.

“You know, it really starts with Paul. But all these guys – Cam (Spencer) – I mean, they can all pass the basketball,” Pikiell stated. “They embrace the success of a teammate. Oskar was hot today, they got him the ball. Cliff (Omoruyi) during a certain stretch in the second half, we just got him the basketball. You know, a lot of different guys scored, six guys in double figures and that’s because you’re really sharing in the basketball. This team cares about winning. They care about winning and never did they say ‘I need more this or that’ – they just wanted to win. We have good leadership, Caleb (McConnell), and Paul, and Cliff, Oskar’s a good leader too. So, we got a good group.”

This season, Rutgers has established their identity as one of the top defensive teams in the country. They aren’t the most efficient offense, but the Scarlet Knights are sharing the basketball at an elite level. There will be games they struggle to score due to poor shooting. However, shot selection is less of an issue than shot execution. With Mulcahy directing and Spencer and McConnell supporting, RU is more difficult to defend and more balanced in their offensive attack.

Turnovers are an issue at times. However, overall their rate of 17.8% is above average at No. 115 nationally. RU is attacking the glass with a high offensive rebounding rate of 33.6% which is No. 41 nationally. They’re on pace for their best season from the foul line in 51 years in shooting 74.0% (88th).When this team can get out in transition off of forcing turnovers and defensive rebounds, they create high percentage scoring chances.

All that being said, Rutgers the biggest need for improvement is to shoot from the floor better as a whole. However, the base of their offense is on solid ground due to how they share the ball and how many regular distributors they have. This team as a whole is willing to make the extra pass. The more that happens, the more it will lead to quality shots.

As the season progresses, the offense continues to evolve. After the past two games, hope should be high that this team has the potential for a higher ceiling moving forward on the offensive end. Paired with elite defense, an improved offense will only make Rutgers that much tougher of a team to contend with down the stretch of this season. The pieces are in place for that to happen. It’s this team’s willingness to play together and share the game that makes it possible.

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  1. BataliBoli98

    February 2, 2023 at 9:28 pm

    I tend to agree but at one point during the game I said to my son that Minnesota reminds me of a taller version of Coppin State. Also, remember that at the half RU had a respectable, but not overwhelming, 34 points. I thought that, especially in the second half, Minnesota completely stopped trying on defense and that they are very poorly coached. That was the softest zone D that I can remember seeing in a very long time. Separately, I am convinced that some coaches do zero research. How is it possible that they were not ready for the screen to free Cliff following the opening tip?!? It was embarrassing that Minnesota wasn’t prepared for that possibility. Go RU!

  2. thevinman

    February 2, 2023 at 11:20 pm

    I am loving the offensive outburst by Rutgers.

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