Jersey Hoops

Rutgers, Seton Hall trending in opposite directions ahead of Garden State Hardwood Classic

Rutgers is finally healthy, playing good basketball and led by a nucleus of upperclassmen that have been with the program for multiple years. Conversely, Seton Hall is not healthy, going through a particularly ugly stretch of play, reliant on a lot of newcomers and far from a cohesive unit.

Let’s start with Seton Hall.

Last two results: (12/1) Loss 91-65 @ Kansas, (12/7) Win 82-55 vs Lincoln University (PA)

If you know any Pirates fans with blood pressure issues, you might want to reach out and do a wellness check. Sitting through the first half vs Division 2 (!!!) Lincoln University Wednesday night and the start of the second half at Kansas last Thursday was enough to give any fan chest pains. Turnovers, poor defense and worse shooting continue to haunt this Seton Hall squad against top-tier… er, ALL levels of competition—and no one, players and coaches alike, is immune from blame.

Is it time for Pirates fans to hit the panic button? After three consecutive ugly losses—and a lackluster victory over Lincoln—it’s not an unreasonable question to ask. While recent results would indicate that the Hall is headed for a long, painful year, it’s still too early to give up on this team for a few reasons: 

1) They’re still not healthy. Dre Davis has missed the last three games with a knee, Kadary Richmond (illness) and Tray Jackson (ankle) were both held out of the Lincoln contest, and Alexis Yetna has yet to suit up this year. 

2) At times this team looks like a collection of relative strangers on the court; that’s because they kind of are. This Pirates roster has eight new additions (two of which may not dress this season) and, due to the aforementioned injury problems that have lingered since pre-season, have had very limited time to practice/play together or internalize Coach Shaheen Holloway’s system. Add in the fact that three of the eight new players are freshmen trying to adjust to the college game and you understand that expecting this team to be a cohesive, well-disciplined unit is wildly impractical. 

3) Not one player has realized their potential yet. We’ve seen good individual efforts on one end of the floor but never a complete performance, and not even close to a good all-around game from a team perspective. 

4) Of the biggest on-court issues plaguing Seton Hall, two of them: turnovers and defense, have little to do with talent but almost everything to do with effort, focus and familiarity—all of which can/should improve with time. 

5) As far as poor shooting is concerned: over the last three games (against Division 1 opponents), the Hall’s effective FG%, 3PT% and FT% is 43.4, 24.4 and 63.4, respectively… yikes. Offensive philosophy and shot selection have a lot to do with the FG%, but some guys are just uncharacteristically ice cold right now. We have faith that this will be turned around, though, because the odds of maintaining these heinous percentages over the course of a season are low.

General observations: Seton Hall plays offense like a group that doesn’t have multiple guys who can spot up and knock down open threes with regularity. When the game plan is to continuously drive below-average free-throw shooters into the teeth of the defense for contested, off-balance layups instead of kicking out to wide open shooters on the perimeter, something is wrong. Layups may be high percentage shots but that percentage goes down drastically when a player is double or triple-teamed and shooting from a bad angle or through contact. We can understand wanting to play a physical, attacking style of basketball, but far too often the Pirates are settling for one made free-throw (sometimes not even that) in lieu of a possible three points.

When healthy, Seton Hall has four guards/wings who have the ability to shoot the ball better than 35% from 3PT and two forwards (listed at 6’10”) who wouldn’t surprise you if they averaged 35% as well—a luxury that a lot of teams would love to have. The Pirates must start finding shooters (and we mean shooters, not just anyone who’s open on the three-point line) in transition as well as in the half court in drive-and-kick situations.

“Seton hall doesn’t shoot the 3 well,” you say? How would we really know? They’re averaging less than 14 attempts per game over the last three contests against D-1 opponents, which ranks in the bottom 10 of all D-1 teams. Not-so-fun fact: Cliff Omoruyi, Rutgers’ vaunted big man and a 20% 3PT shooter (less than 20 attempts in his college career), has attempted more threes this season than Kadary Richmond, Tyrese Samuel and Tray Jackson—all of whom shoot better than 30% from beyond the arc (each with over 80 career attempts). 

For whatever reason, this squad does not value the basketball a whole lot and it’s maddening. Down 11 at the start of the second half in Kansas, Seton Hall was by no means out of the game. The Pirates then proceeded to turn the ball over seven times in 10 minutes (and missed four layups), which allowed the Jayhawks to go on a 27-13 run and put the game well out of reach. Did we expect the Hall to upset a primed Kansas squad at Phog Allen? No, but the game didn’t need to devolve into a beatdown. Turning the ball over 16 times vs the Jayhawks was bad, but following that up with 19 turnovers—12 in the first half—against D-2 Lincoln at home (Walsh Gymnasium) was demoralizing, regardless of who was sidelined with injury/illness.  

Worth noting: As costly as Kadary Richmond’s turnovers might have been vs Kansas, he finally displayed the abilities that make him such a highly regarded player. No one else on the team can get to the hole and finish quite like he can; he also has the best vision of all Seton Hall guards. The Pirates had been waiting for a guy to emerge—he is that guy, and the ball needs to be in his hands. Complement his skill-set/production with Al-Amir Dawes and Tyrese Samuel as consistent scoring threats and Seton Hall may yet be dangerous… if they can figure things out on the defensive end.

Last two results: (11/30) Loss 68-61 @ Miami, (12/3) Win 63-48 vs Indiana 

Versus Miami: The Scarlet Knights rebounded in tremendous fashion vs the Hoosiers after letting one slip away late on the road in Miami. We don’t want to dwell on the Miami loss because, with the return of Paul Mulcahy, a fully healthy Rutgers looked like a completely different squad in the matchup with Indiana. 

Two things that are worth noting: 1) after limited production/minutes in the Central Connecticut contest, Caleb McConnell looked back to his old self vs the Hurricanes—the senior guard posted 16 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 block and 2 steals in 35 minutes of action. 2) The Miami game marked the beginning of a skid in production for Cam Spencer. The senior guard, who averages double-figures in scoring, was held to just 3 points vs the Hurricanes and Hoosiers.

Versus Indiana: Death, taxes and Rutgers beating Indiana. Do you think Hoosier fans write “L” next to Rutgers on the schedule when they make their preseason predictions? They ought to, this latest victory makes six in a row for the Scarlet Knights over the Hoosiers.

The Good: Against by far the toughest competition Rutgers has faced this season, Derek Simpson turned in what was arguably his best performance in a Scarlet Knights uniform. The freshman was electric: hitting timely threes, playing with great energy/intensity on the defensive end, showing off elite athleticism and exhibiting the poise of an upperclassmen. He was among three Scarlet Knights who scored in double figures and his 14 points was the second-highest total behind only Caleb McConnell who had 16.

The Bad: Apart from the aforementioned surprising lack of production from Spencer, and the fact that Cliff Omoruyi’s minutes were limited due to foul trouble (one could make the argument that the win was even more impressive in his absence), it’s hard to find negatives when you whip one of the best teams in the conference by 15. Rutgers led for the majority of this contest and were well on their way to victory as early as midway through the second half. 

The Numbers: 30.4 FG%, 24.0 3PT%, 57.1 FT% – Indiana’s shooting numbers. Needless to say, a dominant defensive performance by the Scarlet Knights. We only included the FT% as a nod to Rutgers fans who, once again, packed Jersey Mike’s Arena and continued to make that place a house of horrors for the opposition. Well done.

12/8, @ Ohio State: Riding high following their first Big Ten win of the season, this matchup with Ohio State is a great opportunity for Rutgers to silence doubters who continue to point to the Scarlet Knights unimpressive road record under Steve Pikiell. The second game in a row against an AP ranked team for Rutgers, Ohio State is a high quality opponent and favored (-6.5) to win this contest.

Well-coached and balanced on both sides of the ball, the Buckeyes rank in the top 100 in every relevant statistical category—for those of you who don’t pay attention to stats, that’s fairly impressive. OSU does not, however, force teams into a lot of turnovers or block a lot of shots. 

The Buckeyes don’t shoot a ton of 3’s but they have multiple players averaging over 40% from distance, including freshmen Bruce Thornton and Brice Sensabaugh—averaging 50% and 47%, respectively. Rutgers has defended the three at an elite level as of late so we don’t expect Ohio State to get loose on the perimeter and light it up from deep. 

The matchup underneath between Cliff Omoruyi and Zed Key will be one to watch. Rutgers would seemingly have an edge here as big Cliff has the height, reach and athletic advantage; yet, Key is super efficient around the basket and never seems to have trouble getting his shot off or guarding bigger players. It’s imperative that Omoruyi stay out of foul trouble.

Though Rutgers is healthy and coming off a big win at home, we still think Ohio State wins a close one in Columbus. We’d love nothing more than to be wrong here, and a statement victory on the road over a ranked opponent would send expectations through the roof for Steve Pikiell’s squad.

12/11, vs Seton Hall

These two teams couldn’t be in more different circumstances: Rutgers is finally healthy, playing good basketball and led by a nucleus of upperclassmen that have been with the program for multiple years. Conversely, Seton Hall is not healthy, going through a particularly ugly stretch of play, reliant on a lot of newcomers and far from a cohesive unit. Add in the fact that this contest is being played at Jersey Mike’s Arena and we’d be shocked if Rutgers doesn’t win by double digits. 

That being said, we’ve lived through so many wild/bizarre iterations of this bitter rivalry and know better than to believe the outcome is a foregone conclusion. The Pirates’ roster is full of guys with a ton of grit and talent, they’ve just not been able to come together as a unit—Rutgers would do well to avoid this game being the first time that they do so.