With almost two-thirds of the regular season complete and Big Ten play almost at the midway point, things are picking up. Rutgers men’s basketball had a rare weekend off. However, there are plenty of noteworthy nuggets for fans to know entering another crucial week of the season.
RU hosts the top three-point shooting team in the league in Penn State on Tuesday (1/24) and then looks for revenge at Iowa on Sunday (1/29).
Here are five topics that Rutgers fans can chew on ahead of the Nittany Lions visiting the RAC.
Second Best Quad 1 record in Big Ten
Rutgers is 4-3 against Quad 1 opponents this season. Quad tiers within the NET rankings are fluid as teams move up or down based not only on their own results, but by those of teams they’ve played as well. A reminder that the Quad 1 tier includes opponents ranked No. 1 – No. 30 at home, No. 1 – No. 50 on a neutral court and No. 1 – No. 75 on the road.
The Scarlet Knights own wins on the road at No. 4 Purdue and No. 51 Northwestern along with home victories over No. 19 Indiana and No. 24 Ohio State. The three losses were at No. 24 Ohio State, at No.41 Michigan State and No. 46 Miami.
RU’s NET ranking of No. 22 is now third best in the league after Indiana jumped four spots following their double digit home win over Michigan State on Sunday. The latest NET rankings posted late Sunday night.
As for actual Quad 1 records, let’s look at how the Big Ten stacks up.
No. 4 Purdue is 7-1 against Quad 1 foes this season so far but Rutgers is second best in the Big Ten at 4-3. No. 19 Indiana is 2-5 and No. 24 OSU is 2-6. Illinois is No. 31 in NET and has a Q1 record of 2-4. No. 41 MSU is 4-5 and No. 39 Iowa is 4-4. No. 45 Maryland is 2-6 and No. 48 Penn State is 2-4. Both No. 51 Northwestern and No. 64 Wisconsin are 2-3. No. 77 Michigan, who is tied for second place in the league with RU is 0-6. Closing the league out is No. 92 Nebraska at 1-7 and No. 216 Minnesota is 1-4.
The point is the resume of Rutgers currently is impressive based on Quad 1 wins compared to the rest of the Big Ten. There are also less than 20 teams in college basketball with at least four Quad 1 wins and just a few more than a dozen with a winning record with that many wins.
One Game separates nine teams in Big Ten Standings
After Big Ten play this past weekend, Rutgers remains in a second place tie in the league standings with a 5-3 record. Michigan State was tied with RU after beating them on Thursday. However, they lost at Indiana so they drop half a game behind. It’s Michigan who now have an equal 5-3 mark after beating Minnesota on Sunday.
Rutgers very much controls their own destiny the rest of the way. However, there is now just one game that separates nine of the top ten teams in the Big Ten standings. Purdue created separation in beating Maryland on Sunday to improve to 8-1. They now have a 2.5 game lead over Rutgers and Michigan. Behind them are Wisconsin at 4-3 and MSU at 5-4, followed by five teams with .500 records. They are Penn State, Iowa, Indiana and Illinois at 4-4 along with Northwestern at 3-3. The Wildcats have had their past two games postponed due to Covid-19 issues.
The margin for error is slim and parody is the theme of this season for the conference. While Rutgers is in position for a top four finish in the league, things can change quickly. Protecting home court at the RAC, sweeping Minnesota and adding another 1-2 road wins are the key to a top four finish.
Temple Loss looks better today
If you didn’t see the score on Sunday, Temple pulled the most stunning upset of the season. They were able to take down No. 1 Houston on the road 56-55. The Owls didn’t make a field goal in the final 7:20 of the game but held on with great defense.
This victory certainly makes Rutgers’ 72-66 loss to Temple in November look better. The Scarlet Knights were without Paul Mulcahy and Caleb McConnell. Despite their absences, the loss was a Quad 4 loss earlier this season. Temple suffered some injuries to key players before rebounding in a big way.
They’re 6-2 in the AAC standings, just a half game behind Houston. They moved into Quad 3 territory a few games ago and if they can fall under No. 100 this season, they’ll be classified as a Quad 2 loss for Rutgers. The Owls moved to No. 126 in the newest NET rankings that posted Sunday night so it’s now a real possibility. They host Houston for the rematch on February 5.
Kill Shot A Strength
Evan Miyakawa is a PhD statistician and data scientist who is a rising star with college basketball analytics. His site is full of insightful data and this past weekend he tweeted about a category that Rutgers has excelled in this season.
🧵The “Kill Shot”: Tracking double digit scoring runs in games (10-0 or better) over the course of the season.
A team with more scoring runs than the opponent wins 81% of the time. Here’s the landscape of the top 75 teams in terms of runs scored and runs conceded👇 pic.twitter.com/LiX2cCG0jB
— Evan Miyakawa (@EvanMiya) January 20, 2023
Rutgers ranks as one of three teams considered the most explosive based on their efficiency with kill shots this season. Even so, it could be considered misleading as the Scarlet Knights have struggled at times this season on the offensive end. Their success with producing kills is mostly due to their ability to string together defensive stops. In fact, the other two teams grouped with RU is Tennessee and Houston, who are the top two teams in defensive efficiency per KenPom this season. Rutgers is currently No. 4. While Tennessee and Houston are in the top 31 in offensive efficiency per KenPom, RU is only No. 124.
Here’s a table of the most Kill Shots per game for all D1 teams:
Houston and Rutgers are the only teams over 20 Kill Shots this season. High octane mid-majors Liberty and Youngstown State also have had lots of scoring sprees. pic.twitter.com/8NVXOZKyB3
— Evan Miyakawa (@EvanMiya) January 20, 2023
It’s fair to note that most of these kill shots by Rutgers came in non-conference play. This is a big reason why RU was able to produce large margin of victories against low majors which positively impacted their NET ranking. In addition, they’ve surrendered few kill shots to opponents the entire season including Big Ten foes.
The Scarlet Knights produced a kill shot in both the first and second halves against Maryland at home. It resulted in a fairly comfortable 14 point victory.
The most impressive kill shot of the season for Rutgers came in the Big Ten opener. It was a 17-0 knockout punch of Indiana. The RAC was rocking midway through the second half because of it. A two-point deficit turned into a 15 point lead that the Hoosiers never recovered from.
Their ability to create scoring droughts is a reason for optimism with this team. It’s a big reason they’ve been excelling at closing out close games, most notably with wins against Purdue, Northwestern and Ohio State. Even if Rutgers can’t deliver kill shots at such a high rate in Big Ten play, their ability to get defensive stops gives them a higher probability on going on impactful runs. Even if they have runs of 6-0 or 8-2, they can prove the difference between winning and losing. Holding teams to three or four minute scoring droughts or even longer, has long been a strength for this program under Steve Pikiell. This season it has been the case once again and the advanced stats back that up.
Caleb McConnell & Paul Mulcahy move up in program record books
In the loss to Michigan State on Thursday, the two longest tenured players on the team continued a forward march up the record books.
Caleb McConnell swiped 4 steals and passed former teammate Geo Baker for fourth all-time in program history. He now has 184 in his career and is six away from passing Rashod Kent for third place. McConnell has a solid chance to catch Myles Mack in second place with 211 steals. Eddie Jordan is the program’s all-time leader at 220, putting McConnell 36 steals away from tying him. McConnell is averaging 2.4 steals this season, which is more than the 2.1 steals he averaged last season.
Paul Mulcahy’s four assists against Michigan State allowed him to pass Anthony Farmer for sixth place all-time in program history. With 372 career assists, Mulcahy is now 57 away from passing Myles Mack (425) and Geoff Billet (428) for fourth place in program history. If he ultimately decides to return next season to use the extra year of eligibility, he’d have a very good chance to pass Brian Ellerbe (495) and Geo Baker (496) for second all-time. He’d also have an outside shot at Eddie Jordan’s program record of 585 assists.
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