Rutgers men’s basketball enters the first week of 2023 with three Big Ten games over a seven day period. It begins at No. 1 Purdue on Monday night at vaunted Mackey Arena. The Scarlet Knights then return home for Maryland on Thursday, January 5 and Iowa on Sunday, January 8. It’s a major opportunity to jump out to a winning record in league play by week’s end. It can also build on already strong metrics as conference play begins in earnest this month, despite suffering some painful losses this season so far.
As of New Year’s Day, Rutgers No. 21 in the NET rankings and No. 18 in the KenPom ratings. This puts RU in a very strong position for postseason play with two-plus months remaining in the regular season. There is obviously a long way to go. However, the Scarlet Knights do not face an uphill climb like they had the previous three seasons.
The NET stands for NCAA Evaluation Tool. It is a major factor for the NCAA Tournament selection committee in determining at-large bids and seeding. Last year, Rutgers made the NCAA Tournament with a NET ranking of No. 77 which was the worst of any at-large team since the evaluation system was in place. A big difference this season is that RU avoided a catastrophic loss like they suffered last season to Lafayette. In addition, this year’s team went 7-0 against low major teams with an average margin of victory of 31 points. This was a major positive in regard to its standout NET ranking.
When asked after Friday’s 90-57 win over Coppin State if NET factored into the team’s strong performances against low major competition, Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell said that it didn’t.
“We just play and get ready for the games. These guys know, I don’t spend any time on that. We play, we get ready to play,” said Pikiell. “These are all good teams. That team scored 107 points. I don’t worry about that. It’s good for you guys to talk about. It has nothing to do with anything according to me. We just play and we play hard. We’re just trying to get these guys ready for what’s ahead.”
Another positive in regard to its NET ranking is that all four of Rutgers’ losses were by seven points or less. That includes two defeats by a combined three points.
As for KenPom, the advanced statistics site is also utilized by the NCAA Tournament selection committee. The Scarlet Knights are currently No. 3 nationally in defensive efficiency. While they are just No. 127 in offensive efficiency, their overall adjusted efficiency margin is the 18th best in all of Division 1 college basketball. Only Purdue (No. 6) and Ohio State (No. 12) are higher than RU in the Big Ten.
Rutgers finished No. 28 at the end of the 2019-2020 regular season which was the program’s best finish of the KenPom era. They obviously have a chance set a new record this season and No. 18 currently is tied for the highest they’ve ever been.
Overall from a NET perspective, Rutgers is 1-2 against Quad 1 opponents. They are also 0-0 against Quad 2 opponents, 2-2 against Quad 3 opponents and 6-0 against Quad 4 opponents. Losses to Temple and Seton Hall certainly hurt as Q3 foes. However, if both teams fare relatively well in their respective leagues, the metrics will improve.
Of course, none of this matters if Rutgers fails to post at least 10 wins in Big Ten play. The point is though is that with ten more quad 1 games remaining in the regular season, the opportunity to improve their already strong resume exists. Five quad 2 games remain as well.
It’s an unfamiliar position for RU to be in. The Scarlet Knights needed strong finishes to the past three regular seasons to bolster their NCAA Tournament resumes. This season, holding their own in league play by finishing over .500 will likely have Rutgers firmly in the field of 68 come conference tournament weekend. Their strong position with metrics as of now doesn’t guarantee anything. This team needs to perform at a high level in Big Ten play to maintain their current good standing in the postseason picture. However, needing to do so finally without having their backs against the wall so early in the regular season could be a boost for this team long term come March.
Thanks for reading the The Scarlet Faithful. For more Rutgers Athletics content from The Scarlet Faithful, follow us on Twitter and Instagram. You can also subscribe to our YouTube Channel. You can subscribe to The Scarlet Faithful podcast on Apple, Spotify, Pocket Casts and anywhere else you listen to podcasts.