Rutgers basketball has played 6 games to open their 2021-22 campaign and they currently have a record of 3-3. Before the season, most people would’ve thought Rutgers would be 6-0 at this point, but the Knights have been quite disappointing thus far. They were trailing at halftime in each of their wins, as well as their loss against DePaul. However, in their past two games they blew halftime leads, including a 12 point advantage against UMass. Clearly, Rutgers still has a lot to figure out before conference play in order to make it to the NCAA tournament this year.
First, Rutgers needs to be able to make shots fall, especially from beyond the arc. Rutgers is currently shooting 24% from three, which places them 348th out of 350 in the nation. The Knights’ next opponent, Clemson, is 2nd in the nation in 3 point percentage. Clearly, Rutgers has to start getting these shots to fall, or else they will be severely outmatched on Tuesday.
Rutgers has also been plagued by some questionable foul calls throughout the season. For instance, Lafayette guard Leo O’Boyle appeared to have flopped on multiple shots behind the 3 point line resulting in 9 free throws, 8 of which were made. Secondly, in the DePaul game, various shooting fouls were called against Rutgers when there appeared to be no contact, resulting in 33 free throws for DePaul. The Rutgers struggles have not been caused by the referees by any means, but it is much harder to defend when fouls are being called despite no contact.
With the way Rutgers has played, they may be 3-6 very soon. Clemson comes to town on Tuesday for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Clemson is currently 5-2 and are very good at shooting the ball from the field. They are 2nd in the nation in 3 point percentage, and 14th in field goal percentage. This Clemson team will put on a high scoring display if Rutgers gives them too much room to shoot, especially from three.
After Clemson, Rutgers will travel to Illinois to take on the Fighting Illini on Thursday 12/2. Illinois is battling multiple injuries and is currently unranked despite a preseason ranking of 11. The Illini currently sit at 4-2 with losses to Marquette and Cincinnati. Since Kofi Cockburn returned from a 3 game suspension, he has averaged over 26 points per game. Rutgers will have to figure out a way to contain Cockburn when they travel to Illinois. The way things have looked lately, this may be too tall of a task for the Knights.
Finally, Rutgers comes back home for a meeting with the #2 Purdue Boilermakers on Thursday 12/9. Purdue is currently 6-0 including victories over #18 North Carolina and #5 Villanova. This will be the first Big Ten game in front of Rutgers home fans in 1012 days. The last time Rutgers played Big Ten game in front of their fans they defeated #9 Maryland. Hopefully, the Knights can put together another upset victory and the fans will once again storm the court.
Rutgers has a lot of changes to make in order to get back on track this season. This next week and a half will be very telling for Rutgers fans. This slow start may have been nothing more than just a fluke, and the Knights will have it figured out going forward, or maybe the expectation was too high for this team, and the tournament hopes will quickly be seen as less of a reality and more of a dream. Rutgers has three very tough opponents so a loss or two is not entirely unexpected over this stretch, but considering they are 3-3, it is of the utmost importance that Rutgers wins at least one of these three games.
Tune into ESPN2 on Tuesday 11/30 to watch the Rutgers Scarlet Knights take on the Clemson Tigers at Jersey Mike’s Arena in Piscataway, NJ.