Sunday, June 26, 2022

Deep Dive: A look into Rutgers' opponents


(photo courtesy of USA Today)

We take a look into Rutgers' future non-conference opponents for the upcoming season

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights' 2022-23 non-conference schedule has finally come to form. In the past week the Scarlet Knights scheduled a home-and-home contest with the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, per report by Jon Rothstein of College Hoops Today. The Demon Deacons will visit the Scarlet Knights this upcoming season. Next season, the Scarlet Knights will travel to Winston-Salem. Also, the Scarlet Knights scheduled a multi-team event at The RAC a couple of weeks ago. The event will take place between November 10-16 and includes games against the Columbia Lions, Sacred Heart Pioneers, and UMass-Lowell River Hawks. The Scarlet Knights will play its Garden State rival the Seton Hall Pirates on December 11 at The RAC in the Garden State Hardwood Classic. Rutgers has also scheduled contests with the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils, Coppin State Eagles, Bucknell Bison and the Rider Broncs. Per Brian Fonseca (of NJ Advance Media), Rutgers scheduled a contest with the Temple Owls on a neutral floor at The Mohegan Sun. Lastly, Jon Rothstein reported the Scarlet Knights will head on the road to take on the Miami Hurricanes in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Let's take a look into each one of Rutgers' non-conference opponents for the 2022-23 season (highest to lowest according to last season's NET rankings).

Wake Forest Demon Deacons
  • Conference: Atlantic Coast (ACC)
  • Conference Finish: 5th
  • Record: 25-10 overall; 13-7 conference
  • Final NET Rankings: 42
  • Final Sagarin Ratings: 42
  • Last Year's Noteworthy Wins: at Virginia Tech (80-61); at Virginia (63-55); at Florida State (68-60); Notre Dame (79-74)
  • NIT Tournament: Quarterfinal, lost to #1 Texas A&M 67-52
  • Series against Rutgers: Wake Forest leads the series against Rutgers 1-0. 
  • Last meeting: Both teams met for the first time in 2015 when the Demon Deacons beat the Scarlet Knights 69-68 in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.
  • Key Returners/Transfers: Jake LaRavia (14.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.6 spg), Daivien Williamson (11.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.2 apg), Tyree Appleby (10.9 ppg, 3.7 apg), Jao Ituka (15.3 ppg)
  • Notes: The Demon Deacons are led by Steve Forbes who will enter his 3rd season at the helm. Forbes has done a great job turning the Demon Deacons and helped them post a 25-10 overall record. Many felt the Demon Deacons were robbed from making last year's NCAA Tournament; however, they were able to go on a remarkable run in the NIT Tournament before falling to Texas A&M in the quarterfinals. The reason why the Demon Deacons were left out of the NCAA Tournament picture was because of their lack of Q1 and Q2 wins. The Demon Deacons padded their non-conference schedule with a slew of low NET ranked teams. The matchup between Rutgers and Wake Forest this upcoming season will be an interesting one, and will likely be another crucial test for both teams during the non-conference portion of the schedule. This is a game Rutgers probably needs to win at The RAC to help their tournament resume and NET ranking. Credit Steve Pikiell for scheduling the Demon Deacons and allowing Rutgers to face a quality opponent in the non-conference portion of the schedule. Wake Forest returns some experience and will have a solid program in the 2022-23 season. One small side note, Rutgers and Wake Forest both recruited freshman Bobi Klintman last year and Klintman committed to the Demon Deacons.
Miami Hurricanes
  • Conference: Atlantic Coast (ACC)
  • Conference Finish: 4th
  • Record: 26-11 overall; 14-6 conference
  • Final NET Ranking: 47
  • Final Sagarin Rating: 52
  • Last Year's Noteworthy Wins: at Duke (76-74); vs Auburn (79-61); UNC (85-57); at Virginia Tech (78-75); vs USC (68-66); vs Iowa State (70-56); at Wake Forest (76-72); vs Wake Forest (92-84)
  • NCAA Tournament: Elite Eight, lost to #1 Kansas 70-56
  • Series against Rutgers: Miami leads the series against Rutgers 10-6 according to Sports Reference.
  • Last meeting: Rutgers def. Miami 57-54 at the Watsco Center in 2018.
  • Key Returners/Transfers: Isaiah Wong (15.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.0 apg), Jordan Miller (10 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.1 apg), Nijel Pack (17.4 ppg, 43.6 3-pt%), Norchad Omier (17.9 ppg, 12.2 rpg)
  • Notes: Jim Larranaga will enter his 12th season, and his Hurricanes will be loaded with talent on the roster. This might be the toughest team Rutgers faces in the non-conference schedule. The Hurricanes will likely start four players who averaged scoring in double-digits. Expect the Miami Hurricanes to make another return to the NCAA Tournament and finish near the top of the ACC standings. Miami's most dangerous players are Isaiah Wong, Jordan Miller, Nijel Pack (transfer from Kansas State), and Norchad Omier (transfer from Arkansas State). Rutgers will have to compete for 40 minutes against the Hurricanes and keep this one close if they expect to pull off the upset. Rutgers can ill afford to get off to a slow start and fall behind by double-digits. This is just one of two great opportunities for Rutgers to possibly steal a Q1 win on the road. 
Seton Hall Pirates
  • Conference: Big East
  • Conference Finish: 6th
  • Record: 21-11 overall; 11-8 conference
  • Final NET Ranking: 48
  • Final Sagarin Rating: 36
  • Last Year's Noteworthy Wins: at Michigan (67-65); Texas (64-60); UConn (90-87); Creighton (74-55); at Creighton (65-60)
  • NCAA Tournament: First Round, lost to #8 TCU 69-42
  • Series against Rutgers: Seton Hall leads the series against Rutgers 36-25 since 1949-50 according to Sports Reference.
  • Last meeting: December 12, 2021 - Seton Hall def. Rutgers 77-63 at The Prudential Center.
  • Key Returners/Transfers: Kadary Richmond (8.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.1 apg), Alexis Yetna (8.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg), KC Ndefo (10.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Al-Amir Dawes (11.3 ppg, 40% 3pt), Femi Odukale (10.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.4 apg) 
  • Notes: Kevin Willard left Seton Hall for the head coach position at Maryland. Highly touted Shaheen Holloway who led the 15-seed St. Peter's Peacocks on a miracle run to the Elite 8 in the NCAA Tournament takes over as the Pirates' new head coach. Holloway has picked up some key transfers in the portal and has some experience returning to the roster. The Pirates should be able to re-load for next season and be a threat in the Big East. The matchup between the Scarlet Knights and the Pirates will be pivotal for both teams when they meet in December at The RAC for the Garden State Hardwood Classic.
Temple Owls
  • Conference: American Athletic
  • Conference Finish: 4th
  • Record: 17-12 overall; 10-7 conference
  • Final NET Rankings: 111
  • Final Sagarin Ratings: 108
  • Last Year's Noteworthy Wins: at UCF (66-62); SMU (64-57)
  • AAC Tournament: Quarterfinals, lost to Tulane 69-60
  • Series against Rutgers: Temple leads the series against Rutgers 32-15 per Sports Reference.
  • Last meeting: Temple def. Rutgers 88-82 at Liacouras Center in 2014.
  • Key Returners/Transfers: Khalif Battle (24.1 ppg), Damian Dunn (14.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.0 apg)
  • Notes: Aaron McKie may have his best team yet next season as Temple returns experience and two major key players, Khalif Battle and Damian Dunn. Temple should finish near the top of the American Athletic Conference, and should be good enough to earn a berth into the NCAA Tournament this upcoming season. When Rutgers and Temple tip off at the Mohegan Sun, this will be an absolute dog fight. Expect Rutgers and Temple to trade punches in this contest. This will probably be one of the most fun and entertaining games of the Rutgers non-conference schedule.
Rider Broncs
  • Conference: Metro Atlantic Athletic
  • Conference Finish: 9th
  • Record: 14-19 overall; 8-12 conference
  • Final NET Rankings: 240
  • Final Sagarin Ratings: 239
  • Last Year's Noteworthy Wins: at St. Peter's (58-49); Monmouth (74-65); vs Iona (71-70)
  • MAAC Tournament: Semifinals, lost to Monmouth 72-68.
  • Series against Rutgers: Rutgers leads the series against Rider 12-1 per Sports Reference.
  • Last meeting: Rutgers def. Rider 68-56 at The RAC in 2012. Rutgers was scheduled to meet with Rider last season but the game was nixed due to COVID-19 issues within the Rutgers program.
  • Key Returners/Transfers: Dwight Murray (13.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 4.7 apg), Allen Powell (12.1 ppg, 2.5 apg), Mervin James (11.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg)
  • Notes: Although both schools are approximately 30 miles apart, Rutgers and Rider will meet just for the 14th time in history. Rider is coming off a 14-19 season and will be looking to stay atop the MAAC for the 2022-23 season. Rider is led by Kevin Baggett who will be entering his 11th season at the helm. Per reporting from The Rider News, at least five players have entered the transfer portal by the end of the 2021-22 season; however, Rider has added a couple high school recruits and transfers, including Tariq Ingraham from Wake Forest and Allen Betrand from Rhode Island. Folks will have to wait and see what impact Ingraham and Betrand may have when they arrive to Lawrenceville.
UMass-Lowell River Hawks
  • Conference: America East
  • Conference Finish: 8th
  • Record: 15-16 overall; 7-11 conference
  • Final NET Rankings: 247
  • Final Sagarin Ratings: 255
  • Last Year's Noteworthy Wins: at George Washington (67-56); at Dayton (59-58)
  • America East Tournament: Quarterfinals, lost to UMBC 93-85 OT.
  • Series against Rutgers: Rutgers leads the series against UMass-Lowell 1-0 per Sports Reference.
  • Last meeting: Rutgers def. UMass-Lowell 89-66 at The RAC in 2015.
  • Key Returners/Transfers: Ayinde Hakim (11.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 2.7 apg), Allin Blunt (11.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg)
  • Notes: Pat Duquette will be entering his 10th season at the helm for the UMass-Lowell River Hawks. Duquette is 110-155 overall at UMass-Lowell. Under his guidance, the River Hawks have been unable to finish better than 5th in the America East Conference. The River Hawks have had very little success since joining the America East. Duquette was able to nab three transfers from the portal including Mikey Watkins (Merrimack), Abdoul Karim Coulibaly (St. Bonaventure), and Yuri Covington (William & Mary). However, the River Hawks lost four players to the transfer portal, most notably Kalil Thomas who averaged 9.0 ppg.
Coppin State Eagles
  • Conference: Mid-Eastern Athletic
  • Conference Finish: 7th
  • Record: 9-23 overall; 6-8 conference
  • Final NET Ranking: 301
  • Final Sagarin Rating: 315
  • Last Year's Noteworthy Wins: vs Howard (59-57); vs NC Central (79-73)
  • MEAC Tournament: Championship, lost to Norfolk State 72-57
  • Series against Rutgers: Rutgers leads the series against Coppin State 1-0.
  • Last meeting: Rutgers def. Coppin State 64-39 at The RAC in 2017.
  • Key Returners/Transfers: Sam Sessoms (11.6 ppg), Justin Winston (8.7 ppg), Jesse Zarzuela (14.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg)
  • Notes: Juan Dixon enters his 5th season behind the helm at Coppin State. He was able to pick up two key transfers in the offseason, Sam Sessoms and Justin Winston. Sessoms is a familiar face to Rutgers, as the Scarlet Knights have faced him several times when he played at Penn State. Despite landing two key transfers in the portal, the Eagles should be a walk-over for the Scarlet Knights. Expect Coppin State to land near the bottom of the MEAC once again.
Sacred Heart Pioneers
  • Conference: Northeast (NEC)
  • Conference Finish: 7th
  • Record: 10-20 overall; 6-12 conference
  • Final NET Rankings: 323
  • Final Sagarin Ratings: 313
  • Last Year's Noteworthy Wins: at Lafayette (74-67); Long Island (69-65)
  • NEC Tournament: Quarterfinals, lost to Long Island 82-75
  • Series against Rutgers: Rutgers leads the series against Sacred Heart 4-0 per Sports Reference (since 1949-50).
  • Last meeting: Rutgers def. Sacred Heart 86-63 at The RAC in 2020.
  • Key Returners/Transfers: Nico Galette (12.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.0 apg)
  • Notes: Anthony Latina is coming off another rough campaign with the Pioneers as they 10-20 overall and 6-12 in the NEC. If there were any positives from last season, Sacred Heart was able to reel off wins against LaSalle, Lafayette, and Columbia on the road last year. The Pioneers nabbed an upset conference win against Long Island at home. Sacred Heart ranks near the bottom of the NET Rankings, and play in one of the worst conferences in the country. This is a game Rutgers should not lose, especially at home. There is a little bit of turnover on the roster as the Pioneers lost three players to the transfer portal, including their most productive scorers in Aaron Clarke and Tyler Thomas. Both Thomas and Clarke averaged more than 16 ppg. Latina is bringing in three transfers in the portal including Brendan McGuire (Quinnipiac), Raheem Solomon (Niagara), and Aidan Carpenter (Siena). How much production Latina gets out of his three incoming transfers remains to be seen. Sacred Heart returns 11 letterwinners and a several starters, according to
Bucknell Bison
  • Conference: Patriot League
  • Conference Finish: 10th
  • Record: 9-23 overall; 5-13 conference
  • Final NET Rankings: 334
  • Final Sagarin Ratings: 322
  • Last Year's Noteworthy Wins: Rider (81-74); Siena (65-65); Boston (89-78)
  • Patriot League Tournament: Quarterfinals, lost to Colgate 96-68
  • Series against Rutgers: Rutgers leads the series against Bucknell 18-6 per Sports Reference (since 1949-50).
  • Last meeting: Rutgers def. Bucknell 78-48 at The RAC in 2000.
  • Key Returners/Transfers: Xander Rice (13.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.9 apg), Andre Screen (11.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg)
  • Notes: There isn't much to talk about last season when it comes to Bucknell basketball.  The Bison had a brutal campaign last season after finishing with a total of 9 wins overall and finished at the bottom of the Patriot League. Bison head coach Nathan Davis is in rebuild mode as he tries to get his Bison back into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2017-18 season. Last season was the worst finish for the Bison since Davis took over the program in 2015. Davis has a young team but loses three players to the transfer portal, most notably Andrew Funk. Funk averaged over 17 ppg and has committed to Penn State. Davis was able to grab Jack Forrest (St. Joseph's) from the portal. The good news for the Bison, Xander Rice and Andre Screen will be returning. Rice averaged 32.5 minutes per game and 13.1 ppg, while big man Screen averaged 11.4 ppg and 6.5 boards per game.
Central Connecticut State Blue Devils
  • Conference: Northeast Conference
  • Conference Finish: 9th
  • Record: 8-24 overall; 5-13 conference
  • Final NET Rankings: 345
  • Final Sagarin Ratings: 348
  • Last Year's Noteworthy Wins: Long Island (65-62)
  • NEC Tournament: Quarterfinals, lost to Bryant 73-59
  • Series against Rutgers: Rutgers leads the series against Central Connecticut State 4-0 per Sports Reference.
  • Last meeting: Rutgers def. Central Connecticut State 79-48 at The RAC in 2021.
  • Key Returners/Transfers: Nigel Scantlebury (13.4 ppg, 3.5 apg)
  • Notes: Patrick Sellars arrived last year to Central Connecticut State with a massive rebuild on his hands. The Blue Devils ranked near the bottom of the NET last year and were only able to win 8 games last season. The Blue Devils return several starters and picked up a transfers Kellen Amos (Binghamton) and Brody Limric (Quinnipiac). The outlook for the Blue Devils looks grim as they should repeat near the bottom of the Northeast Conference.
Columbia Lions
  • Conference: Ivy League
  • Conference Finish: 8th
  • Record: 4-22 overall; 1-13 conference
  • Final NET Rankings: 351
  • Final Sagarin Ratings: 345
  • Last Year's Noteworthy Wins: Penn (73-69)
  • Ivy League Tournament: Did not qualify
  • Series against Rutgers: Rutgers leads the series against Columbia 21-17 per Sports Reference (since 1949-50).
  • Last meeting: Rutgers def. Columbia 68-65 at The RAC in 2018.
  • Key Returners/Transfers: Geronimo Rubio De La Rosa (12.3 ppg, 3.2 apg), Liam Murphy 12.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg)
  • Notes: Jim Engles might be feeling the heat in New York as the Columbia Lions finished a dismal season with only 4 total wins and dead last in the Ivy League. Engles is 39-99 since taking over Columbia in 2016. The Lions finished with one of the worst NET Rankings in the country (351 out of 358). The Lions lost Ike Nweke to the transfer portal, one of their most productive players. Nweke averaged 15.9 ppg and 6.3 rpg. Nweke committed to Quinnipiac. Engles was able to bring in four new freshman recruits. There has not been much turnover on the roster as Columbia returns Geronimo Rubio De La Rosa and Liam Murphy, both players who averaged more than 12 ppg.

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights have scheduled their 11 non-conference opponents. Rutgers fans will have plenty of opportunities to see the Scarlet Knights tip off at home this upcoming season as nine of the eleven non-conference games will be played at The RAC. The two remaining non-conference games will be played on the road, including one at a neutral site.

The scheduling philosophy has been tweaked just a little bit this year, as Rutgers will play four high major non-conference opponents as compared to last season when Rutgers only faced two quality opponents (Seton Hall and Clemson). Also, Rutgers will play its first neutral court non-conference game since Rutgers tipped off against St. Bonaventure in Toronto, Canada in 2019. This is all encouraging news and gives Rutgers four chances at snagging quality wins.

The Scarlet Knights will host the Seton Hall Pirates on December 11th at The RAC, and this could possibly be a Q1/Q2 opportunity for the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers will also host the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, who are expected to be a solid program in the ACC this year. When the Demon Deacons come to Piscataway, they could possibly be a Q1 opponent but likely a Q2 opponent. These are two quality opportunities for Rutgers to seize to help improve their NET ranking. Last year, surprisingly Rutgers was an astonishing 7-7 against Q1 opponents; however, the Scarlet Knights were just 2-4 against Q2 opponents.

The Scarlet Knights will travel to Coral Gables and face the Miami Hurricanes on November 30th in the annual Big Ten-ACC Challenge. This will be Rutgers third trip to Coral Gables in 6 years. Assuredly, this will be a Q1 opportunity for the Scarlet Knights. If Rutgers were able to pull off the upset of Miami this upcoming season, it will significantly help boost Rutgers' tournament resume and NET ranking. 

For the first time since 2019, Rutgers will play a neutral site game in their non-conference slate against the Temple Owls. Despite the Owls finishing 111 in the NET Rankings last season, Temple will be a much more improved team in 2022, and this could potentially be a Q2 opportunity for the Scarlet Knights. It definitely helps the Scarlet Knights that they are playing a quality opponent on a neutral court (Mohegan Sun in CT). Neutral court victories are viewed as valuable to the NET Rankings.

Overall, Rutgers fans have a lot to look forward to when the Scarlet Knights tip off against four quality opponents this upcoming season. These are all great opportunities for Rutgers to help bolster its tournament resume. Last year, fans were on edge because of head scratching losses to low level non-conference opponents and the lack of quality non-conference opponents on their schedule. Rutgers' non-conference strength of schedule rating was 255th in the country. It was the improbable run the Scarlet Knights went on through the Big Ten gauntlet in February that helped them bolster their tournament resume and to eventually earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Listen, we know Rutgers fans want this team to play more high major non-conference opponents, but it is ridiculous to expect Rutgers to play against high major opponents for a good chunk of their non-conference schedule. The Scarlet Knights already play in the toughest conference in the country filled with high major opponents. However, it might have been more beneficial if Rutgers had scheduled a couple more high mid-major programs on the non-conference docket rather than fill the rest of their schedule with potential Q4 opponents.

Despite playing a few more quality opponents this season, Rutgers did continue the trend of playing low-level opponents. Of the seven contests against low-level opponents, at least five opponents were NET rated 301 or worse. One can say Rutgers scheduled games against low-level opponents because Coach Pikiell may want to test different lineups and play certain players to see what fits best in his rotations when the Big Ten Conference schedule arrives. Although this may be true, Rutgers will have to learn its lesson from last year and avoid any catastrophic losses at home. 

All too often last season, Rutgers allowed low-level opponents to hang around and keep games close, and somehow Rutgers managed to lose to a few low-level opponents, including Lafayette and UMass. The embarrassing loss to the Lafayette Leopards, who were NET rated 319 last season, left a major stain on Rutgers' tournament resume, and if it were not for the improbable run we mentioned earlier, the Scarlet Knights probably would not have made the NCAA Tournament. Rutgers nearly lost to the Lehigh Mountain Hawks in their season opener, which would have been another devastating blow to the team's resume. Following the game against Lehigh, Rutgers had to battle toe-to-toe with the Merrimack Warriors before pulling ahead late in the game for the victory.

There is almost no benefit for Rutgers scheduling low-level opponents in the non-conference schedule. A win over a 300+ NET rated team does not bolster Rutgers' resume or NET ranking. It is likely all seven of their non-conference games against low-level competition will be Q4 matchups. These are the games Rutgers must avoid losing at all costs, especially because the games at home. A home loss to a Q4 opponent would be a devastating blow to Rutgers' tournament resume. It is also likely the NCAA Tournament Committee may not be as forgiving to Rutgers as they were last year. Rutgers will have to remain focused and determined to win all of their games against their low-level competition.

It would be a dream come true if Rutgers were to finish the non-conference portion of their schedule undefeated but it is not likely. Rutgers fans can expect the Scarlet Knights to probably finish 9-2 or 10-1 in the non-conference slate, with at most two losses to two of the four high major opponents. In a very early projection, RHI predicts the Scarlet Knights to win and lose the following non-conference games:

  • Miami Hurricanes (Away, Q1), L
  • Wake Forest Forest Demon Decons (Home, Q2), W
  • Seton Hall Pirates (Home, Q2), W
  • Temple Owls (Neutral, Q2), L
  • Rider Broncs (Home, Q4), W
  • UMass-Lowell River Hawks (Home, Q4), W
  • Coppin State Eagles (Home, Q4), W
  • Sacred Heart Pioneers (Home, Q4), W
  • Bucknell Bison (Home, Q4), W
  • Central Connecticut State Blue Devils (Home, Q4), W
  • Columbia Lions (Home, Q4), W