Monday, February 27, 2023

Q&A with Jaden Daly of A Daly Dose of Hoops

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights men’s basketball team is nearing the end of the regular season and the Big Ten Conference tournament is about to begin; however, Rutgers has some work to do to become a lock in this year’s NCAA Tournament. As we get ready for another exciting chapter to the 2022-23 campaign, let’s take a moment to reflect on the great season Rutgers has had, discuss the impact by certain players, what this team can improve upon, what the future holds, and predictions going forward heading into the postseason.

In order to do all of that, I reached out to Jaden Daly, founder and managing editor of A Daly Dose of Hoops, and wanted to ask him about his thoughts on this year’s team since he has covered a lot of Rutgers basketball.

Jaden Daly is no stranger to the college basketball world, especially in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area. Jaden provides some of the best college hoops coverage of not only Rutgers basketball but also St. John’s basketball and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC). Jaden is a workhorse behind the scenes and has attended over 60 college basketball games this season to provide you the best coverage for Rutgers, St. John's, and MAAC basketball.

Check out all of Jaden Daly and his team’s work on his web site at A Daly Dose of Hoops ( and please follow Jaden @DalyDoseOfHoops on Twitter.

Note: This Q&A was conducted two days prior to the Rutgers vs. Penn State men’s basketball game on February 26th.

Rutgers Hoops Insider (RHI): Jaden, thanks for taking time out of your very busy schedule to do this Q&A with me today. It's really an honor to be able to do this with you. You have become one of my favorite college basketball sports writers and I absolutely love your web site 'A Daly Dose of Hoops'. You do an excellent job covering the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and college hoops in the tri-state area. The web site is so informative, and the writers on your web site are so passionate about the many different leagues across college basketball. 

I know you've kept all of your followers on Twitter informed with how many games you've attended and covered this season, and quite frankly I think I've lost count. You've covered so much college basketball this season it's really incredible. 

I know you've covered a few Rutgers basketball games this season so I have to ask you, from all of the different venues you've attended this season is there really a venue out there that matches the atmosphere of a Rutgers basketball game at The RAC? Which mid-major colleges do you think have the best atmosphere in the northeast?

Jaden Daly (JD): Well, first let me say that I appreciate the kind words extended toward me and the site at large, as it means the world to me whenever I hear something like that. It’s a labor of love that I wouldn’t trade for many things in this world. I’ll be going into March at 66 games (Tuesday's Seton Hall/Villanova game being #66), and will probably get up near 90 by the time the season is over.

That said, when I look back at all the different places I’ve been to, the RAC is unmatched. It may not be the best venue around, but what it lacks in style points and appearance, it more than makes up for in mystique, in-game atmosphere and an intimidation factor for visiting teams that I really wouldn’t be able to describe unless I were actually in the building with you. When that place starts shaking and hits another gear, it’s right up there with Allen Fieldhouse, Mackey Arena, Gampel Pavilion, and so many other venerable home courts that are almost impossible to win on if you’re coming in as a road team.

At the mid-major level, Iona definitely has one of the better setups and homecourt advantages at the Hynes Center, and that was established long before Rick Pitino was even in the stream of consciousness in New Rochelle. The fan base there is among the best in the MAAC, and goes to great lengths to support the program at all costs, sometimes even better than some of the higher-level schools in the region. And when Fordham reaches the levels it has this season, Rose Hill is an entirely different animal that is truly unlike any other gym in New York or New Jersey.

RHI: You were present for the Rutgers-Michigan State showdown at The Garden back in early February. Prior to the game, a lot of unhappy Rutgers fans were concerned about the game being played at The Garden because they felt the Big Ten robbed Rutgers of a home game at The RAC. However, Rutgers fans showed up in droves and painted The Garden scarlet red for the day. You wrote a brilliant article about the game. Tell me how incredible the atmosphere was for this game? Would you say the atmosphere for this game triumphs the atmosphere from the 2018 Big Ten Conference Tournament game when 14-seed Rutgers stunned 6-seed Indiana at The Garden?

JD: Rutgers’ presence at the Garden is a lot like the line in Field of Dreams, right? If you build it, people will come. And like I wrote in that Michigan State column you mentioned, there was a time five years ago when Rutgers would NEVER get an audience in Manhattan. Even if it tried to get on the undercard of a St. John’s game, or some other national brand like a Duke or a Kentucky that has come up here for non-conference games, Rutgers would have been laughed out of the room under Fred Hill, Mike Rice or (cringe, shudder) Eddie Jordan.

But what blew me away was how much it felt like the RAC had been transported across the river and doubled in size. When Rutgers was in New York for the Big Ten tournament, the crowds weren’t this sizable or boisterous. I was fortunate enough to cover the quarterfinal against Purdue and I always say that was the moment, that was the sign where you knew something special was about to happen. I didn’t get to see either of the first two games outside of the last minute of the Indiana game on my phone (true story), so I can’t account for how Wednesday and Thursday sounded that week. I did, however, cover the game against Michigan in 2020 the month before the season got shut down, and that impressed me too from a Rutgers fan support standpoint. Nothing, though, was as electric as this year, it reminded me of a Big East tournament game in terms of how engaged everyone was.

RHI: You've covered a lot of Rutgers basketball and have attended a few games this season, what impresses you most about this year's team? Which player has impressed you the most this season?

JD: The one thing that stands out with me regarding this year’s team is its cohesiveness. That’s usually a trademark of most Steve Pikiell-coached groups, they’re in almost every game and seldom get blown out, but this team in particular has shown it could take a punch and not be affected as much as some of the past units. Losing Mawot Mag, and we’ll touch on that a lot more later in this interview, is still something that this team is trying to overcome, but regrouping from not having Caleb McConnell and/or Paul Mulcahy in stretches hasn’t stopped Rutgers from trying to affect games or impose its will on opponents. 

In particular, I love how this team has managed to come back after losses in Big Ten play. The loss at home to Iowa could have sent Rutgers on a downward spiral, but the wins at Northwestern and at home against Ohio State (as an aside, how different do those two games look now going into March than they did in January?) got everything back on track and allowed fans to keep the same level of faith. Even the win at Wisconsin that halted the three-game losing streak was huge, too. I expect something similar going into Penn State coming off the letdown against Michigan.

From a player standpoint, I would have to say Mulcahy, with an honorable mention to Aundre Hyatt. Mulcahy has taken games into his own hands more this season, which was something I wanted to see given the question marks going into the year of how Rutgers would score without Geo and Ron. Cam Spencer would have won this contest going away until Big Ten teams started to figure him out more as the year went on, and I’d like to see him try to solve the adjustments better over the last week or two before the NCAA Tournament. Hyatt has been everything you could ask for in a sixth man now pressed into a larger role after the Mag injury, and was one of the big reasons why Rutgers was able to beat Maryland and Penn State earlier this year. He’s a guy who understands his role, but still wants to do more in such a way that it doesn’t affect his own bottom line, but benefits the team and the big picture as a whole.

RHI: Freshman Derek Simpson has played significant minutes this season. Some people compare him to being the next Geo Baker. What impresses you most about Derek Simpson? Do you think Derek Simpson will become "the guy" this team can rely on down the stretch in close games in the future?

JD: It’s easy to compare Derek and Geo, right? They both have the same build, play the same position, have similar styles…heck, they even wear the same number! But for all the common threads, they strike me as different players, especially at this phase and time in their careers.

Derek has been unafraid to step up in big moments, going back to the Temple game at Mohegan Sun, and has demonstrated a fearlessness in crunch time that you don’t normally see from freshmen so early in their first seasons. What makes him different is he doesn’t have to do as much as Geo did when he was a freshman, when the talent around him was also developing alongside him. Now that Pikiell has been able to put more of his own image on the roster, player development comes naturally and Simpson can be shepherded along on a more gradual track. But I do think he can eventually become the guy when everyone in front of him graduates, maybe as early as his junior year. The Temple game I mentioned stood out, and I remember telling Jerry Carino that night that it wouldn’t shock me if he were all-Big Ten two years from now.

RHI: Freshman Antwone Woolfolk is a bruiser. He's built. He's strong. He's athletic. What role do you think he will play on this team in the years to come? Can he develop into an elite interior player on this team?

JD: I like what I’ve seen from Antwone in his limited action. Much like Derek Simpson, he doesn’t need to do too much with Cliff Omoruyi and Dean Reiber in front of him, but I think he’ll be a serviceable big man who can be an unsung hero type down the road. I don’t know if he’s an elite presence yet, but he’ll definitely fill some gaps and not be pushed around in the process. In that sense, he’s a hybrid of C.J. Gettys and Deshawn Freeman, and I think as Rutgers continues to blossom, a lot of people lose sight of how indispensable those two were during Pikiell’s early years, so to compare Antwone to them is a huge compliment.

RHI: Tell us some things you think this team can improve upon to become an elite contender in the Big Ten some day?

JD: First and foremost, Rutgers NEEDS to upgrade the non-conference schedule. If not for how the last three Big Ten seasons have gone, Rutgers wouldn’t even be on the bubble otherwise with the way the non-conference has played out. And when you look within your own state and see how Kevin Willard — and now, Shaheen Holloway — would schedule at Seton Hall in order to prepare the Pirates for the Big East, it’s a level and an energy that should be at least matched in Piscataway, if not exceeded.

I’m not placing as much of a premium on recruiting as some others might, because when you win, you become more attractive. That always takes care of itself, and it’s being felt more and more with each new commitment. Gavin Griffiths wouldn’t have come to Piscataway before this recent run of success. Ace Bailey wouldn’t even give Rutgers the time or day a decade ago. But as the talent pool deepens and the expectations ramp up, Rutgers needs to make a stronger commitment to hold up its own end of the bargain. Playing a stronger non-conference slate and maybe getting into more multi-team events, as much as Pikiell has a disdain for them, would help.

From an administrative end, I think Pat Hobbs has already done more than enough since becoming the athletic director. Rutgers was too incompetent for too long at the top before he assumed the reins, and his fundraising and managing abilities continue to be a breath of fresh air. Trust his instincts, and you’ll see how much further the university’s profile will be elevated.

RHI: Unfortunately, in early February during the Rutgers-Michigan State game, Mawot Mag tore his ACL and has been declared out for the season. Since that game, Rutgers has gone 1-4 without Mag and have lost some of their swagger and confidence. They really haven't looked like the same team that beat Purdue, Indiana, and Northwestern back in December/January. Rutgers was playing with a killer instinct. What do you think this team needs to do to get that swagger and confidence back?

JD: I think, and Cliff Omoruyi mentioned this in a postgame press conference earlier this season, Rutgers just needs to get back to basics and play more like itself. You can’t replace a guy with the energy and impact of Mawot Mag, but rather than try to replicate what he would normally bring to the table, I would try to take advantage of what else Rutgers has in order to maximize its strengths.

When you have a team connected and committed to getting the job done, that’s half the battle. No one can ever knock the grit or the heart on this team, and if some of the role players now stepping up into a more significant contribution with Mag out can be placed in positions that enable them to capitalize on advantages, that’s going to go a long way down the stretch.

RHI: At one point Rutgers was sitting in 2nd place at 8-4 in the Big Ten Conference and were 16-7 overall, but here we are heading into the last three games of the season and Rutgers is now 9-8 in 9th place, only a game ahead of Penn State and Wisconsin in league play. If Rutgers finished these last three games 1-2, would you feel this season would be a disappointment if this team finished 10-10 in the Big Ten Conference, possibly in the bottom tier of the standings?

JD: Not necessarily. Going into the year, I thought Rutgers’ ceiling was the NIT because the losses of Geo Baker and Ron Harper looked like too much to overcome on paper. I should have known better than to doubt Steve Pikiell, but that’s neither here nor there. If you can go 10-10 in a league like the Big Ten, that’s always an accomplishment unless you’re a Michigan State, Wisconsin, or some other program where deep runs through March are the expectation. Rutgers isn’t there yet, but will be soon if these trends continue. And if 10-10 is indeed the record, some of the 10 wins (at Purdue, Maryland, at Northwestern, Michigan State) certainly offset the 10 losses.

RHI: Do you think this current Rutgers team (without Mag) is STILL an NCAA Tournament team despite going 1-4 in their last five games?

JD: Yes. Rutgers’ metrics are still strong and some of the wins I mentioned in the last question are playing more into its favor than some other bubble teams who don’t have the standout victories that resonate this time of year. Brad Wachtel, a bracketologist who has been just as accurate as Joe Lunardi without the notoriety, even said the Purdue win moved the Scarlet Knights up a few seed lines. Northwestern is just as pivotal now with the Wildcats in the Top 25.

RHI: If Rutgers makes the NCAA Tournament, do you think this would be a successful season?

JD: Absolutely. Considering how most insiders looked at Rutgers going into the year, this was supposed to be the season where the Scarlet Knights retooled in a sense and built toward a more prosperous 2023-24 campaign. In that sense, you could say making the NCAA Tournament for a third straight season (would have been a fourth if not for COVID) is overachieving. But for this program, if it’s at a point where Rutgers is announced by Greg Gumbel on Selection Sunday and its name and logo appears on the bracket, you’ve done something right.

RHI: What do you think Rutgers needs to do in these last three games to ensure themselves a bid to the NCAA Tournament?

JD: Rutgers just has to take care of business. Penn State, Minnesota and Northwestern isn’t the most imposing finishing stretch a team could have, and even with those first two games on the road, it’s quite favorable. All Rutgers has to do is play smart, take each possession as it comes, try not to do too much, and the results will come.

RHI: It's been stated by many analysts and experts across college basketball that Steve Pikiell has consistently scheduled a weak non-conference schedule, and he relies mostly on winning in the Big Ten slate to improve his team's resume. However, to Pikiell's credit, he did try to schedule a game with Gonzaga this season but plans fell through when Gonzaga decided to play Michigan State on an aircraft carrier in San Diego instead. Rutgers has done a decent job this season in the non-conference slate by blowing out lesser competition which has helped boost their NET Ratings, but Rutgers still lost on a neutral floor to an average team in Temple and also lost on the road at Miami. Do you think Pikiell should make more of an effort to play a few more high mid-major programs in the non-conference slate? Should Rutgers try to play one to two very difficult opponents (Q1/2) in the non-conference slate? After Rutgers played Michigan State at The Garden and the fan turnout was incredible, other writers like Jerry Carino (of the Asbury Park Press) suggested Rutgers should try to schedule a neutral floor meeting at The Garden against a non-conference worthy opponent, do you agree? 

JD: Pikiell definitely should make a more concerted effort to beef up the non-conference schedule. That’s the difference between Rutgers being a 10 and 11 seed in the last two tournaments where even one more high-profile opponent could have put the Scarlet Knights on the 7, 8 or 9 lines. And if he doesn’t want to get into a MTE, schedule more home-and-home matchups.

As for the neutral sites, I would explore them within reason. Hubert Davis has been adamant about wanting to play more games at the Garden with North Carolina, so why not try to schedule UNC or maybe get into the Jimmy V Classic? Rutgers actually was going to play in the Jimmy V against Baylor two years ago, but when it was moved to the bubble in Orlando, it didn't line up with what Rutgers had already scheduled.

RHI: I think Rutgers should attempt to play a team like Fordham at Rose Hill Gym or Iona at Hynes. I know Pikiell loves to play at The RAC during the non-conference slate but what are the chances we see Rutgers possibly playing away at a mid-major program's building?

JD: I think those days have come and gone. At this point, it does more harm to Rutgers than good to play a mid-major on the road. That’s not a bad thing, but the profile of the program has been raised enough where Pikiell and the administration should be thinking bigger.

RHI: Jaden, like I said, there's three games left in the regular season, gives us your final thoughts on Rutgers and expectations going forward.

JD: All things considered, Rutgers is in a position this season that I think everybody would have signed for at the start of the year. This team being in position to once again make the NCAA Tournament is one of the better coaching jobs Steve Pikiell has done. From answering the questions about scoring and who would take the last shot to handling the rash of injuries and other adversity over the course of the year, he should be praised for managing it all and keeping the Scarlet Knights on the positive side of the bubble.

RHI: Jaden, once again, thanks so much for doing this Q&A with me today. It really was fun.

JD: My pleasure, Mark! Thank you for all you do.

Big Ten Weekly Power Rankings (thru games played February 27)


Sunday, February 26, 2023

Rutgers searches for renewed confidence as fans begin to panic

photo courtesy of Getty Images

The Rutgers fan base is starting to panic as this team has been lacking confidence as of late. What does this team need to do to get their confidence back?

Ever since the ACL tear to Rutgers starter Mawot Mag, often known as the team's "glue guy", the 2022-23 season has taken an abrupt turn in the wrong direction for the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers was off to a fantastic start at 16-7 overall and sitting in second place at 8-4 in the Big Ten standings. These Scarlet Knights were riding a tremendous wave of momentum and were playing like a team on a mission to keep pace with the Big Ten's best for a possible top four finish. This Rutgers was team was full of confidence.

Now, Rutgers is 17-11 overall and 9-8 in the Big Ten standings. The Scarlet Knights find themselves in near crisis mode and have fallen from second place to eighth place in the Big Ten standings. While many bracketologists still project Rutgers to make the field of 68, Rutgers fans still have their doubts. 

If history has ever taught us anything, it's that these Rutgers Scarlet Knights should not be counted out.

A History of Having Their Backs Against The Wall

Towards the end of the 2019-20 season, Rutgers was on the verge of collapse after suffering three straight losses. Fans and experts alike felt Rutgers had to win their last two games to make the NCAA Tournament. With their backs against the wall, Rutgers pulled out an upset over #9 Maryland and won a season defining victory at Purdue in OT. This would have been Rutgers' first NCAA Tournament bid since 1991 if the COVID-19 pandemic had not forced the NCAA to cancel its postseason tournament.

In the 2020-21 season, Rutgers had dropped three of their last four contests before their epic showdown at Minnesota. Rutgers had two choices: A) Win this game and earn a berth to the NCAA Tournament -or- B) Lose this game, miss out on the NCAA Tournament, and play in the NIT. With their backs against the wall, Rutgers pulled out a stunning overtime win over Minnesota to help them earn their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1991.

After a dreadful start to their non-conference portion of the 2021-22 season after suffering humiliating losses to Lafayette and Massachusetts, Rutgers was left for dead. Bart Torvik gave Rutgers less than 1% chance of making the NCAA Tournament. However, Rutgers pulled off four stunning wins over ranked opponents in February to help catapult their NET Ranking. Suddenly, the Scarlet Knights dropped three contests in a row. They were faced with another dilemma they had seen before. Win your last two games and earn a berth into the NCAA Tournament. With their backs against the wall again, Rutgers pulled off a stunning road victory over Indiana and held on for dear life for a one point victory over Penn State to earn themselves another trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Now, Rutgers finds themselves in almost a very similar situation. With the losses mounting towards the end of the season, Rutgers will have their backs against the wall once again to prove they belong in the NCAA Tournament. 

The Scarlet Knights have three contests remaining on their regular season schedule. They have to go to battle with red-hot Penn State on Sunday in State College PA, a place Rutgers has never really been successful; hit the road next Thursday and play a plummeting Minnesota team desperate for another win; and conclude the regular season at home against a hungry Northwestern team that has shockingly ascended to near the top of the Big Ten.

The Impact of Losing Mag and the Way Forward

photo courtesy of NJ Advance Media

This season things are a little different. Rutgers has done everything they've needed to do to keep themselves in the NCAA Tournament conversation. Rutgers has zero Q4 losses and have blown out all of their Q4 opponents by 30 or more points. The Scarlet Knights have three Q1 road wins all against teams projected to make the tournament. Rutgers also owns the nation's best road win of the season as the Scarlet Knights shocked #1 Purdue in West Lafayette. Rutgers is currently 8-8 against Q1/2 opponents combined.

With all of the positives Rutgers has going for themselves, somehow things have unexpectedly unraveled once the Scarlet Knights lost their second best defender for the season. Rutgers has looked more vulnerable, less physical, and at times disoriented as a team. Leadership has been lacking from their three core veterans. They look like they've lost their confidence.

Mawot Mag has become one of the Big Ten's most disruptive, agitating defenders. He could be relied on to guard any player on the floor. That's how versatile of a defender he is.

Mawot Mag was truly the "glue-guy" and a Swiss Army knife for this team. Anyone who has ever watched Mawot Mag play over the years could tell you that he has developed into one hell of a defender. Mag has become one of the Big Ten's most disruptive, agitating defenders. He could be relied on to guard any player on the floor. That's how versatile of a defender he is. 

If you needed him to play strong, physical defense in the interior, he could do it. If you needed him to defend the perimeter, he is athletic and springy enough to shut down any sharp shooter from deep. 

On offense, Mag was one of the best mid-range shooters on the team and his three-point game was vastly improving. After all, it was Mag's game saving three-pointer that propelled Rutgers to victory over Ohio State back in mid-January.

But Rutgers has lost all of that, and it's become difficult for Steve Pikiell and this team to figure out how to fill the void left by an injured Mag. Interior and perimeter defense has dropped off significantly as opponents are converting at a higher percentage in the last five games without Mag. Offensively, Rutgers has struggled converting from mid-range without Mag.

Steve Pikiell has been forced to reach deep into his bench, and to rely on guys that don't play a whole lot of minutes to step up and help win games. At times, it's worked but at other times it's been ugly. 

It's hard as a team when you lose a significant piece. It affects your game. It affects the way you plan and prepare for opponents. It affects you mentally. Although it's hard to just "move on" from losing a teammate for the season, Rutgers has to move on for now and get back to playing its style of basketball. Rutgers has to find its confidence.

There's an old saying, 'when the going gets tough, the tough get going'. This team is more than capable of figuring it out. They are a resilient bunch who have been through so much in their lives and careers.

This team knows there are only three games left in the regular season. They know what is on the line. And they know what they have to do to get to the NCAA Tournament. There's an old saying, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. This team is more than capable of figuring it out. They are a resilient bunch who have been through so much in their lives and careers. 

We've seen the brilliant performances by Cam Spencer earlier in the season and what he is capable of doing. We've seen Cliff Omoruyi battle in the trenches and nearly become unstoppable in the post. We've seen what Paul Mulcahy can do when he's aggressive offensively and imposes his will on defenders. We've seen Derek Simpson come off the bench time and time again to provide a jolt and reinvigorate this team's offense down the stretch. We've seen Aundre Hyatt sink deep shots in critical moments of the game. We've seen Caleb McConnell suffocate opponents defensively to the point they cannot score. But, we haven't seen any of this in the last five games. 

Rutgers needs to get back to doing what they do best, and that's playing like they did earlier in the season. They need to play with fire. Passion. Intensity. It's truly what got them to the top of the standings mid-way through the season and have the rest of the nation believe Rutgers belongs with the best of the Big Ten.

Rutgers is truly at their best when Paul Mulcahy is playing like a floor general and dictating the tempo of the game, driving the lane, and most importantly shooting the ball. Rutgers will not win games if Mulcahy is not actively shooting the ball. He has been quite timid on offense in the last five games. Mulcahy is the true leader of this team, and he needs to take charge. He must keep his team cool at times and not allow frustration to be visible to the opponent. 

If Rutgers is to have any success going forward, the Scarlet Knights need to find ways to get Cam Spencer to shoot the ball. During this past five game stretch, Cam Spencer has not shot the ball enough other than his 22 point performance against Wisconsin. The ball needs to find its way into his hands. Spencer is at his best when plays are designed for him to catch and shoot.

In their last five games, Rutgers has been playing extremely sloppy on the offensive end. The passing hasn't been as crisp as it was earlier in the season, and too many unnecessary turnovers have plagued them. They have to find a way to get connected once again. In the Michigan game last week, we saw this team clawing its way back into the game but they couldn't quite get over the hill because of forcing plays and passes.

Clifford Omoruyi needs to have better awareness. Earlier in the year, you could expect Omoruyi to receive a lob pass at the last second that would lead to an emphatic dunk because he had the awareness. Lately, in these last five games, his awareness has drifted and often any last second dish to the big guy would result in him fumbling the ball away for a turnover.

Free-throw shooting has been downright abysmal in these last several games, and if Rutgers is to have any chance, they must convert 70% or better from the charity stripe. Last week, was probably the worst free-throw shooting performance we have seen from this team in a long time. They shot just 31% from the line against Michigan. 

photo courtesy of NJ Advance Media

It's tough to ask a lot from your bench but we've seen what this bench is capable of doing. It's not the most deep bench but guys like Derek Simpson have been able to provide offensive sparks. Oskar Palmquist has been able to drain key 3-point shots. Aundre Hyatt has been defending at a high-level and has been attacking the basket. Antwone Woolfolk played solid defense against Michigan's best player Hunter Dickinson. If Rutgers can get valuable minutes out of its bench and guys can continue to step up, it will surely make life easier for this team.

Defensively, Rutgers will never be able to replicate what Mag brought to the team. However, this team hasn't played too bad on defense. They actually have had solid performances on defense other than worst defensive performance against Nebraska two weeks ago. But Rutgers needs to generate offense from their defense as this team has not been able to get the ball out in transition after a steal, turnover, or rebound.

They can find their confidence again even through the struggles but they must never give up and keep working relentlessly on the floor. Sometimes it takes only a few big plays in a game to turn a team's confidence around.

Rutgers Fans, Don't Give Up On Your Team

Famous New Jersey college hoops beat writer and Jersey Jumpshot Podcast regular Jerry Carino has repeatedly said, "It's a long season filled with many twists and turns." College basketball is a long season. All teams have their ups and downs. Unfortunately, Rutgers is going through a down time during their season. 

Lately, Rutgers fans have expressed their disgust and frustration vocally and on social media about this team. Many have let panic settle in. But here's the reality of it. Teams go through losing streaks. If you think Rutgers is going to be perfect, especially in a tough Big Ten, then you are blinding yourself from the truth. No team in the Big Ten has been perfect this season.

I'm not sure how this regular season is going to end. I want to believe Rutgers is going to reverse its course and get back to winning their remaining games of the regular season. I want to be able to tell you they will make the NCAA Tournament. But we have to let these guys duel it out on the court.

Even if this team loses more games and even if they fail and miss the NCAA Tournament, it doesn't mean the season as a whole has been a failure. It would be disappointing but you learn from your failures. 

Look at Northwestern, and what Chris Collins, Boo Buie, and Chase Audige have endured for the last several years. They've been though the gambit of it all. Bottom of the Big Ten finishes for the last three seasons. But these guys never gave up, and they've learned from their failures, and now Northwestern finds themselves locked in for an NCAA Tournament bid and a top four finish in the Big Ten.

You have to look at some of the successes that also occurred off the floor this season. After all, Steve Pikiell and his coaching staff were still able to secure some of the nation's best recruits for the '23 and '24 classes. Pikiell still has this program ascending and reaching new heights. Who would've thought Rutgers could bring in 4-star and 5-star talent considering how bad Rutgers has been over the last few decades?

There's a lot to look forward to and the future is bright for Rutgers basketball. 

But, one thing is certain, do not give up on this team. There are still three games left in the regular season. There's a lot of basketball to be played. If Rutgers somehow can pull out some wins in their last three games and find their confidence again, Rutgers fans will be ecstatic when they hear their team's name announced on Selection Sunday. 

Sunday, February 19, 2023

BRACKETOLOGY UPDATE 2.0: Where is Rutgers projected to land in the 2023 NCAA Tournament?

Where is Rutgers projected to land in the 2023 NCAA Tournament?

Let's Talk About the Resume

During the last update, Rutgers was in great standing and only a few games away from becoming a lock for this year's NCAA Tournament but since then the Scarlet Knights have gone 1-3. Rutgers dropped Q1 road decisions to Indiana and Illinois as well as an embarrassing Q3 home loss to Nebraska. 

However, Rutgers ended the three-game skid and picked up a big Q2 road win against Wisconsin. Rutgers is currently 17-10 overall, 9-7 in the Big Ten, and in 5th place in the conference standings. The Scarlet Knights are currently ranked 29 in the NET Rankings, a slight drop since the previous update.

Rutgers is now 8-8 against Q1/2 opponents combined. The most impressive Q1 wins for Rutgers on the season are road wins over Purdue and Northwestern as well as home wins over Indiana and Maryland. Michigan State is currently surging in the Big Ten, and as the Spartans continue to win their NET Ranking continues to rise. The Rutgers win over Michigan State at Madison Square Garden in early February could become another Q1 win for the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers only has one Q1 contest remaining on their schedule as they will travel to State College PA to battle Penn State on February 26.

The Scarlet Knights still remain a rock solid 5-2 against Q2 opponents as they own victories over Michigan State, Penn State, Ohio State, Wake Forest, and Wisconsin. It should be noted that of the five Q2 wins by Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights beat Penn State by 20 and Wake Forest by 24. Rutgers has two Q2 games remaining on their schedule, home games against Michigan (2/23) and Northwestern (3/5).

If there is anything that could drag Rutgers resume down and hurt their seeding is the Q3 losses to Nebraska and Temple. Although, Nebraska and Temple are ranked on the higher end of Q3 teams, having at least two Q3 losses on your resume will impact your seeding for the NCAA Tournament.

Rutgers remains a perfect 7-0 against Q4 teams this season. The Scarlet Knights have done a wonderful job handling their business against Q4 opponents as they are beating Q4 teams by 30 points or more in each contest, a metric that definitely boosts their NET Ranking. The only landmine that remains on Rutgers schedule is a March 2 road game against Minnesota.

The Metrics

The metrics are still trending in Rutgers favor as the Scarlet Knights are still playing defense at a very high level. Currently, Rutgers is rated the 4th best team in the land for defensive efficiency; however, Rutgers offensive efficiency has dipped in their last several games as they are rated 128th, according to KenPom.

Rutgers is now 9-0 in the Big Ten when holding opponents under 65 points, but they are a dreadful 0-7 in the conference when opponents score more than 65 points.

Here are the ratings for Rutgers according to several major college basketball metrics heavy web sites:

  • KenPom - 27
  • Sagarin - 24
  • Torvik - 27
  • Haslametrics - 36
  • ESPN BPI - 17

The Remaining Schedule

The remaining schedule for Rutgers includes one Q1 road game, two Q2 home games, and one Q4 road game. What was supposed to be lighter schedule Rutgers has turned into a difficult mountain to climb; however, the Scarlet Knights still remain determined to win. 

Dropping two road games to Indiana and Illinois was understandable, but the home loss to Nebraska was especially baffling. Rutgers made up for lost ground by stunning Wisconsin 58-57 on the road. The win was especially big for Rutgers because they had won the game without their 2022-23 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Caleb McConnell due to a back spasms injury.

With only four games remaining on the regular season, Rutgers needs to close out the season strong by finishing 3-1 or better to potentially earn a 6-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Bart Torvik projects Rutgers to finish 20-11 overall and 12-8 in the conference

If Rutgers finishes the season 2-2, they will go dancing but will probably end up as an 8/9-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Rutgers would finish the regular season at 19-12 overall and 11-9 in the Big Ten.

While finishing the season 1-3 is not ideal, Rutgers would likely still go dancing but would have to sweat it out to see if they will be playing in Dayton or earn a 10-seed, preventing them from playing in the First Four. Rutgers would finish the season 18-13 overall and 10-10 in the Big Ten.

One thing remains certain, the Scarlet Knights' road trip to Minnesota is a game they must win to avoid any potential negative impact to their resume and seeding for the NCAA Tournament. A loss to Minnesota could also be the difference in Rutgers ending up on the left or right side of the bubble. 

Rutgers is still not a lock for the NCAA Tournament just yet. Bart Torvik gives Rutgers a 91.5% chance of making it to the NCAA Tournament and earning a 7-seed.

What do the Bracketologists Think About Rutgers?

According to, Rutgers has appeared in 90 brackets and are averaging an 8-seed. Majority of the bracketologists have Rutgers seeded anywhere from a 7/8/9-seed but the highest seed they have been assigned is by Jerry Palm of CBS Sports who currently has them projected as a 10-seed.

  • Brad Wachtel of Facts and Bracks projects Rutgers to be a 9-seed in the NCAA Tournament. He has Rutgers potentially facing 8-seed Duke in Birmingham, AL in the South Region of the bracket. The winner would potentially face 1-seed Alabama or 16-seed UNC Asheville. Brad Wachtel is one the highest and most accurate bracketologists, according to
  • Jonathan Warriner of Making the Madness projects Rutgers to be a 9-seed in the NCAA Tournament. He has Rutgers matched up against 8-seed Nevada in Des Moines, IA in the Midwest Region of the bracket. The winner would potentially face 1-seed Kansas or 16-seed Samford. 
  • Mike Decourcy of FOX Sports projects Rutgers to be a 7-seed in the NCAA Tournament. He has Rutgers potentially facing 10-seed West Virginia in Sacramento, CA in the West Region of the bracket. The winner would potentially face 2-seed UCLA or 15-seed Eastern Washington. Mike Decourcy is the highest rated bracketologist of all the major sports networks and has been very accurate over the past several years, according to
  • ESPN's Joe Lunardi projects Rutgers to be an 8-seed in the NCAA Tournament. He has Rutgers potentially facing 9-seed Texas A&M in Birmingham, AL of the Midwest Region of the bracket. The winner would potentially face 1-seed Houston or 16-seed Texas A&M Corpus Christi. Joe Lunardi is one of the most popular bracketologists but is rated lower than other bracketologists, according to
    Other Bracketologists:
    • JBR Bracketology projects Rutgers to be a 9-seed.
    • NJ Bracketology projects Rutgers to be an 8-seed.
    • 801 Bracketology projects Rutgers to be an 8-seed.
    • Delphi Bracketology projects Rutgers to be an 8-seed.
    • Rocco Miller projects Rutgers to be a 9-seed.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Q&A with JBR Bracketology

Selection Sunday is only a month away, and only a few teams from the college basketball landscape have locked in their bids for the NCAA Tournament while others are fighting for their lives to get into the tournament.

The Big Ten Conference is one of the most competitive leagues from top to bottom and are projected to land as many as eight teams in the field, maybe even nine. However, there is certainly a lot of basketball left in the regular season for teams to make a run and cover lost ground. There is also enough basketball left for teams to have an utter catastrophic collapse at the end of the regular season.

Once the regular season is over, the conference tournaments begin, and bid stealers lurk in the shadows and the most unlikely upsets occur.

You can just feel the anxiety and nervousness amongst the fan bases. 

That's why I've decided to reach out to bracketology expert Jason R. of JBR Bracketology. Jason explains the hard work that goes into creating a bracket, and the specific data he analyzes when selecting teams. Jason also answers my questions about what Rutgers needs to do to ensure a bid into the NCAA Tournament and what possible seed they can achieve. I also asked a few questions about other teams in the Big Ten and where do they project to land in the field, as well as some of the perceived bubble teams in the Big Ten.

Please follow and support JBR Bracketology on Twitter @ JBRBracketology. Jason updates his brackets every few days during the week.


Rutgers Hoops Insider (RHI): Jason, thanks for taking some time out of your day today to do a Q&A with me. You’re a 2015 Maryland graduate and have been following college basketball for as long as you can remember. You told me Maryland’s national championship in 2002 fueled your passion for college hoops at a very young age. Over the last four years, you’ve taken up an interest in bracketology and call it JBR Bracketology. So, I think it would be appropriate as my first question to ask why did you take up an interest in doing your own bracketology?

Jason R. (JBR): Thanks for having me! I first started bracketology during the 2020 season. Maryland was a top 10 team most of the season and I just kept feeling like the Terps were being disrespected by bracketologists, as the Big Ten was the #1 conference that season per KenPom. So I was curious to see what they were seeing, what was holding the Terps back.

RHI: In last year’s NCAA Tournament, you selected 67 out of 68 teams correctly, and at least had 66 out of 68 teams seeded within +/-1 seed line for a total score of 357. Is there a magic formula you use when selecting teams? What rankings and metrics do you pay most attention to when it comes to selecting teams? What truly goes into building a bracket?

JBR: I had two real misses last year – one was including Texas A&M over Notre Dame, and the other was seeding Colgate as a 16 when the committee had them as a 14 seed. The Texas A&M snub served as a reminder how little the committee takes the final two days of conference tournaments into account. Colgate was a silly one to get wrong, but have tweaked my formula to better account for the mid to low major AQs and what the committee is looking for. I am proud of the fact that every single at large team I had seeded exactly correct or one seed line off. Following Selection Sunday, I spent several hours combing through the data to make changes for this year to be as accurate as I can be when matching what the committee is looking for!

In terms of a secret formula, I have always been very analytical. I love my spreadsheets, I love math, I love using numbers. In other words – yes, I do use a secret formula. When I first started back in 2020, I was obviously new and had a tough time figuring out how to adjust the weights for quad records, the NET, the resume metrics, the predictive metrics etc. to best match the committee. It’s a growing process and I make changes all the time. Most of them now are pretty minor, but being adaptable is key. The categories I look at are weighted record (different weights for wins by Quad), weighed win percentage, Quad 1A wins, wins over projected 1 or 2 seeds, NET, KPI, SOR, KenPom, Sagarin, BPI and Non-Conference SOS. They are all weighted differently, but at the end of the day, the most important thing is always going to be quality wins.

RHI: I’ve noticed you have had many constructive debates and conversations with many bracketologists, and sometimes you’ve been critical of some bracketologists. What do you think separates yourself from some of the other bracketologists, and why do you think your bracket this year will be more accurate than most other bracketologists?

JBR: Haha, yes, I do love some occasional friendly banter. One of the things I think I excel at in this field is eliminating bias. Because my seeding is almost entirely formulaic, it reduces the chances that I let my own personal bias influence where a team is seeded. Now obviously, my formula is dictated by my own mathematical inputs and various weights I put on each category, but me disliking Duke isn’t going to change where my formula has them. As an example, I am pretty sure my formula has been lower on Maryland than Bracket Matrix/ consensus for weeks now. But that’s ok. I’m not necessarily trying to make friends here, just trying to display what I honestly think committee would do.

RHI: I wanted to shift gears and turn our attention to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the Big Ten Conference. I’m going to get straight to the point and ask you, how many teams from the Big Ten are going to make the tournament this year? Which teams?

JBR: I will say Big Ten gets 8 bids. Northwestern all but secured their spot with a massive win over Purdue. I could see Wisconsin or Michigan earning the league's 9th bid, but I think the chances of that are low with each of them dropping key games this weekend.

RHI: You have the Purdue Boilermakers as the number 1 overall seed for the NCAA Tournament in your latest projections. Alabama has been playing incredible basketball all year, do you think the Crimson Tide could dethrone the Boilermakers? If not Alabama, is there anyone else that can grab the number 1 spot?

JBR: Well, I think that will be switched already with Purdue falling to Northwestern as I type this. Alabama will move to #1, while Purdue will drop to #2. In terms of other teams capable of earning the #1 overall seed, I would say the winner of the Big 12 – Kansas or Texas, just because they will have an insane number of Quad 1 (and Quad 1A) wins.

RHI: Rutgers (21 in NET) is coming off a very difficult week. They had a big win over Michigan State at The Garden just about over a week ago, but they lost their key defensive starter Mawot Mag to an ACL tear in the process. Then Rutgers followed the Michigan State victory with two road losses to two very good teams in Indiana (Q1) and Illinois (Q1). Where do you have Rutgers in the field in your next update?

JBR: My next update will come out Monday afternoon. There were a lot of teams around Rutgers that lost this weekend, but I would expect Rutgers to come in as a low end 7 seed, if not the top 8 seed. The loss of Mawot Mag hurts, and we have now seen Rutgers go 0-2 without him, albeit against high level competition on the road.

RHI: Rutgers only has six games left in the regular season. In your opinion, what does Rutgers have to do to get back on the 5/6-seed line? At a minimum, what does Rutgers have to do to earn a single digit seed in the tournament?

JBR: To earn a single digit seed, I think Rutgers just needs to finish 3-3. To get back to the 5/6 line where they were before the Indiana & Illinois losses, they probably need to go 5-1. Currently, just one of their final 6 games are Quad 1 (2/26 @ Penn State). If Rutgers finishes 4-2, they probably end up with a 7 seed. Of course, none of this happens in a vacuum. What the other teams around them do matters as well.

RHI: Wisconsin (73 in NET) and Penn State (62 in NET) are two teams that started off the season in great shape. Now, both teams are on the verge of collapse and are desperate to save their seasons. You had Wisconsin as one of your “First Four Out”, where are the Badgers now after their epic collapse against Nebraska on Saturday? Is Penn State still in the bubble conversation after losing their 4th in a row? What do both teams have to do to get back in the conversation?

JBR: As I stated previously, my next update will come out Monday afternoon. The bubble had a *rough* Saturday, my guess is Wisconsin roughly stays in the same spot, as a member of the first four out, but maybe a couple spots closer to the next four out. Penn State following their loss to Maryland is going to have a really tough time making the tournament at this point. Good news is Penn State still has five Quad 1 games remaining. Win at least 3 of those, and they will at least be close. Win four and they’re probably a lock to earn an at large bid. But that is much easier said than done.

RHI: Maryland has been surging lately but they have been gifted a lighter conference schedule than most other Big Ten teams. By season’s end they will have played the Big Ten’s bottom tier teams twice (Nebraska, Minnesota, Ohio State, and Wisconsin). Maryland is 3-8 against Q1 opponents and they have only one Big Ten road win all season, which was against Minnesota, yet the Terps have a NET Ranking of 28. You currently have Maryland in the field as a 9-seed. The Terps close out the season against Purdue (home), Nebraska (away), Minnesota (home), Northwestern (home), Ohio State (away), and Penn State (away). What does Maryland have to do down the stretch to improve its seed? What is the worst case for scenario?

JBR: Terps likely jump to an 8 seed with their win over Penn State. But Maryland is still lacking an elite win. They have three Quad 1 wins, which is pretty good, but none of them are Quad 1A. To get to the 5 or 6 line, Maryland will either need to knock off Purdue or win at least 2 of their remaining road games - @ Nebraska, @ Ohio State, @ Penn State. Most likely scenario for Maryland I think is a 7 or 8 seed. Worst case scenario would be dropping down to bubble/ last four in.

RHI: Michigan has been a strange team no one’s been able to figure out. They have a couple head scratching losses but they also have some very impressive wins. Michigan is currently 14-11 overall, and 8-6 in the Big Ten with a NET Ranking of 64. Is Michigan in the bubble conversation? Should we dismiss Michigan from any tournament chatter? What do you think Michigan has to do to get into the tournament?

JBR: I wouldn’t dismiss Michigan, they do still have talent and are always a tough out. But that loss to Indiana on Saturday really hurt their at large chances. Currently 14-11, the Wolverines likely need to finish 5-1 to be a lock. 4-2 would get them close. 3-3 or worse, and Michigan will need to win Big Ten Tournament to earn a bid.

RHI: Give us your final prediction on Rutgers in their next six games, and where do you think they will land in the field on Selection Sunday.

JBR: I will say Rutgers finished 21-10 (13-7) and earns a 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter - @JBRBracketology! Love talking college basketball with fellow Big Ten fans.

RHI: Jason, thanks again. It was a great conversation and hopefully we can do it again soon.

Friday, February 10, 2023

The East

top photo courtesy of USA Today; bottom photo courtesy of Getty Images

The East now belongs almost exclusively to UConn and Rutgers

by Richard Kent, Contributor

Rutgers Hoops Insider contributor Richard Kent examines the landscape and powershift of big time basketball in the East.

It seems like a long time ago when traditional powers from the East were in full control of the region, and were consistently making the NCAA Tournament with deep runs to the Final Four.

In 1985, three powerhouse teams from the Big East Conference made it to the Final Four. While Georgetown and St. John's were expected to make runs to the Final Four as top seeds, it was 8-seed Villanova who outlasted Georgetown to capture the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship.

In 1996, the 4-seed Syracuse Orange made an unprecedented run to the Final Four and lost in the title game to eventual champion Kentucky Wildcats. Seven years, Syracuse returned to the championship and won the title. The UConn Huskies captured titles in 1999, 2004, 2011, and 2014. Villanova captured two national championships in 2016 and 2018.

But fast forward to today, and you'll notice UConn sits lofty at 7 in the NET Rankings and Rutgers is 21. Take another look at the NET Rankings and you'll notice traditional staples Seton Hall are ranked 58, Villanova at 88, Syracuse at 93, St. John's at 93, and Georgetown at a staggering 230. Let's also forget not to mention, Georgetown has a dreadful record of 6-19 and are the owners of the worst 29 game Big East Conference losing streak, the longest in the conference's history.

Providence has played well in spurts over the years under Ed Cooley. Pittsburgh, a team once known for finishing at the top of its league, is finally on the trajectory to having its first winning season since the 2015-16. Boston College has disappeared from any degree of national visibility after joining the ACC and a few head scratching coaching hires. 

Once a proud program, St. John's will finish near the bottom of the Big East once again, and fade into irrelevancy. Fans are calling for the head of Mike Anderson after what was a promising start to the season. St. John's has only been the NCAA Tournament three times over the span of 20 years.

Georgetown is replicating another terrible season and no one is sure if the Hoyas will win another game this season. Last year, the Hoyas finished 6-25 and it's looking like they are about to match that again. Patrick Ewing will most certainly be fired after this dismal season.

Syracuse is not having the season Jim Boeheim and fans envisioned. Boeheim may only coach one more season.

Without Jay Wright patrolling the sidelines, Villanova has fallen further down the Big East standings and will endure its first losing season since in nearly 12 years under new coach Kyle Neptune.

Next year, Danny Hurley and the UConn Huskies are projected to have a top 5 recruiting class, while the Steve Pikiell and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights are projected to have the same in 2024, according to 247 Sports. Neither Syracuse, Villanova, or Seton Hall are projected to have Top 100 recruiting classes in 2023.

The East now belongs almost exclusively to UConn and Rutgers.

Two great coaching hires at UConn and Rutgers have changed the eastern dynamic.

Danny Hurley has turned around UConn's fortunes after the fallout from the Kevin Ollie era. In the last two seasons, Hurley has steadied UConn to two NCAA Tournament berths but this season Hurley may have his best team yet. By mid-December, UConn was ranked as high as number 2 in the AP Top 25 Poll. 

Danny Hurley has brought in top notch talent to UConn as he was able to secure a big commit from 4-star center Donovan Clingan in the 2022 recruiting class, but Hurley's 2020 and 2021 recruiting classes are paying the most dividends, especially with Adama Sanogo and Jordan Hawkins.

Steve Pikiell, a UConn graduate who learned more about the game under Jim Calhoun, has worked miracles at Rutgers, and is on the verge taking the Scarlet Knights to their 3rd consecutive NCAA Tournament bid, and better yet possibly earning a single-digit seed as well. Rutgers is currently ranked 24 in the AP Top 25 Poll and are projected to earn a 6-seed, according to KenPom. Pikiell is also the current favorite for Big Ten Coach of the Year.

The Rutgers program turnaround is largely attributable to Pikiell and his staff, which features former Pittsburgh star Brandin Knight, former UConn great Karl Hobbs, and former George Washington standout TJ Thompson (who previously played for Hobbs) as his assistants. Together, the entire collective have scoured the country and have found "diamonds in the rough" like Caleb McConnell, Geo Baker, and Derek Simpson, who they have coached up with their blue collar, defense-first coach mentality. That was a page directly out of the legendary Jim Calhoun's coaching book.

Michigan State's Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo constantly sings praises of Pikiell any chance he gets, and he means it.

Will UConn win its 5th National Championship this year? Will Rutgers possibly see its first in the foreseeable future? Only time will tell, but Hurley and Pikiell are on the hunt and they can both certainly take each program to the big stage. Pikiell has a shelf reserved in his office for a National Championship ball, and don't be surprised if that space is occupied in the next five years. Both coaches have done a tremendous job with their respective programs, and they have risen above the traditional schools of the East.

For Rutgers fans, the many years of losing in Piscataway has come to an end but it doesn't stop there because Pikiell is ready to take Rutgers the distance. With stud recruits like Gavin Griffiths and Ace Bailey headed to Piscataway to take this program to the next level (and prized recruit Dylan Harper possibly on his way), the sky is the limit for long suffering Rutgers faithful.