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Rutgers Basketball must finish the season on a positive note

It was only 11 days ago when the college basketball community was discussing the notion that Rutgers basketball was back in the NCAA Tournament conversation. After all, Rutgers was playing its best basketball of the season and reeled off four big wins in a row, including two road wins and a blowout of previously 11th-ranked Wisconsin. Rutgers had done so well, newcomer Jeremiah Williams earned Big Ten Player of the Week for averaging 16 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists in the Scarlet Knights’ wins over Maryland and Wisconsin.

During the Scarlet Knights’ four-game winning streak, Rutgers played with energy, emotion, and for what felt like the first time this season they were actually having fun on the court.

Everything came crashing down after their February 18th trip to Minneapolis. A much-improved Minnesota team blitzed Rutgers offensively as the Scarlet Knights’ 2nd-ranked defense could not figure out the Gophers all night, allowing 51.0% shooting overall from the field, 50% from three-point range, and -4 rebounding. Not only did Minnesota play really well on the offensive end, they were well-prepared defensively for Jeremiah Williams as they held the transfer guard in check with 9 points. The Gophers were able to run away from the Scarlet Knights in a resounding 81-70 victory.



Despite the loss to Minnesota, Rutgers remained in the hunt and set their sights towards Mackey Arena where they were given the tall task of trying to take down 3rd-ranked Purdue. After going the distance with Purdue in late January and having previous historical success in West Lafayette, Rutgers Nation felt optimistic about a possible upset of the Boilermakers.

But this time around Purdue wasn’t having it.

After licking their wounds from the beating they took at Minnesota, Rutgers kept pace with Purdue for about 10 minutes in the first half before the wheels flew off the wagon in a fervor. Purdue absolutely manhandled the Scarlet Knights. According to KenPom, Rutgers had its worst defensive effort of the season against Purdue as they allowed the Boilermakers to convert on 12 made three-point field goals, 58.9% shooting overall, 1.43 points per possession, and were absolutely hammered on the glass by -13. By the end of the night Rutgers surrendered 96 points to Purdue, which was the most points allowed in regulation by a Steve Pikiell-coached team at Rutgers during his tenure.

With the loss to Purdue in the rear-view mirror, Rutgers had a big opportunity to turn the tide in their favor with a home game against Maryland, who similarly to Rutgers has been struggling this season. A wild atmosphere at The RAC was in store for the game, and to the fans’ dismay, the Pikiell-led Scarlet Knights delivered an extremely embarrassing performance on both ends of the floor. One of Rutgers’ worst offensive showings was on full display as the Scarlet Knights somehow failed to register a field goal for nearly 12 minutes in the game, a scoring drought that began in the first half and continued into the second half. For the second time this season, Rutgers was held to 46 points as the Scarlet Knights lost by 17 to the Terrapins.

The poor performance in late January against Penn State was alarming, but Rutgers responded with four straight wins and kept optimism alive; however, the performance this past Sunday against Maryland was extremely concerning. Not only did Rutgers play poorly in the loss to Maryland, the team’s body language looked terrible as they appeared listless and defeated on the court.

No longer was this team playing with energy and emotion, and they weren’t having fun on the court.

When you lack creativity on the offensive side of the ball, fail to execute, and play with little energy, you’re bound to lose. And that's what's happened with Rutgers during this three-game losing stretch. It’s time for Rutgers to turn the tables in the remaining games of the regular season.

We could beat a dead horse about how poor the offense has played throughout the majority of the season and how the defense has struggled in their last three games, but Rutgers still has a fighting chance to play for a postseason berth in the NIT.

“There’s still a good shot at the NIT, they just have to win maybe 3 of 4 plus a [Big Ten] tournament game, but the good news is you get Michigan next,” said Richie O’ Leary on a recent episode of The Knight Report Podcast.

With four games remaining in the regular season, Rutgers has an opportunity to get off the mat, and fight to prove they haven’t given up. Thursday presents a great opportunity as Rutgers will battle Michigan, who is having its worst season since the 2001-02 season under former head coach Tommy Amaker.

Although Rutgers is in the midst of a three-game losing streak, Rutgers Nation needs to rally around this team and to show its continued support to help ensure this team finishes the season on a positive note. I mean, which Rutgers fan doesn’t want to see their team play an extra postseason game even if it’s in the NIT?

If Rutgers were to clinch a berth in the NIT, it would be a tremendous accomplishment for a team that most college basketball writers in the preseason pegged to finish in the bottom of the Big Ten. Also, a game in the NIT would be much more meaningful to this year’s team than last year’s team when they bowed out in the first round to Hofstra after failing to hear their name called on Selection Sunday. A game in the NIT would give some of the younger players on the team postseason experience and something graduating players could look back on.

Despite the highs and the lows of this season, there’s still plenty to play for in the remaining games of the regular season. Rutgers still has an opportunity to upset potential NCAA Tournament teams in Nebraska and Wisconsin on their home floors. Nebraska has been virtually unbeatable this season at Pinnacle Bank Arena as the Huskers have posted a home record of 17-1 with their only loss at the hands of Creighton. If Rutgers were to knock off Nebraska in Lincoln, they would be only one of two teams to have done so this year. Rutgers is all too familiar with the setting at the Kohl Center in Madison. Rutgers has achieved much success there in the last two years with big wins over the Badgers in 2022 and 2023.

In what could very well be the last home game of big man Cliff Omoruyi’s college career, Rutgers will play host in their final game of the regular season against Ohio State. Omoruyi has had his season struggles this year but he has always fought hard in the trenches, putting his body on the line game after game. Known as one of the most prolific rim protectors in all of college basketball, fans will surely want to send Omoruyi off in good grace.

The game against Ohio State will also be Aundre Hyatt’s last game at The RAC as he will bid farewell one last time to Rutgers Nation.

But, let’s be honest, if Rutgers wants to win any of their remaining games, they have to get back to playing tough, hard-nosed defense. They have to get back to playing the type of defense that helped them blowout Wisconsin; held Michigan without a field goal for nearly 10 minutes in the second half; forced Maryland to shoot 2-of-18 from three-point range; and held Northwestern without a field goal for nearly 8 minutes deep into the second half. This team is more than capable of playing elite defense after their three-game skid. For much of the season, Rutgers has been ranked in the Top 6 for defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.

Listen, it’s been a rough year for Rutgers fans. There’s been some things to cheer about and there’s been some things to be discouraged by; however, there is much to look forward to for the remainder of the year and for next season.

“Go for the future. Put [Gavin] Griffiths out there. Put Jamichael Davis out there. Let’s see what some of these young guys can do. Because you gotta start playing for next year at this point,” said Richie O’ Leary.

Despite freshman Gavin Griffiths’ immense struggles this year and failing to meet some expectations, the young man still has potential to grow and develop into a key piece for next year’s team. Griffiths has shown flashes of brilliance this season as he’s scored in double-figures four times and posted a career-high 25 points against Boston University back in November 2023. Although Griffiths has averaged 16.7 minutes per game this season, in his last two games he’s played an average of 23.5 minutes.

Jamichael Davis might be one of the most impressive players on the team this season as the freshman has been relied on heavily by Pikiell to defend the best guards in the Big Ten. Davis has lived up to the bill and has been an incredible backcourt defender for much of the season. Not really known for his offensive prowess, Davis has shown growth and development in his offensive abilities by scoring in double-figures six times this year. Davis has also seen an increase in his playing time as he’s averaging 28.5 minutes per game in his last four games.

Maybe Pikiell has already started playing towards the future?

This off-season was always going to be challenging for Steve Pikiell after captain Paul Mulcahy and sharp-shooter Cam Spencer bailed in the summer. With very little to choose from in the transfer portal, Pikiell tried to replace Mulcahy and Spencer with veteran guards in Noah Fernandes, Austin Williams, and Jeremiah Williams. At times this year both Fernandes and Austin Williams have provided a lift for Rutgers, but both guys haven’t quit on Pikiell. Give credit to both of them for fighting through tough career lingering injuries to see the basketball court and provide Rutgers Nation with some good memories.

Jeremiah Williams will likely return to The Banks next season as the transfer guard has been a pivotal, intricate piece this year, and he will surely be a key piece for the team next season as his veteran leadership and experience will be needed. Because of negligence by the NCAA, it’s a damn shame Jeremiah Williams wasn’t ruled eligible earlier in the season. Who knows, if Jeremiah Williams had been ruled eligible earlier the trajectory of this year’s team might’ve been different.

Finishing on a positive note will mean everything to these players and it will surely help build momentum for what could be a very special season next year.


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