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How Bad Were The Rutgers Scarlet Knights In 2014-15?

A look back at the 2014-15 season for the Scarlet Knights through a 10 point analysis designed to reveal what went right, what went wrong, and whether the team met expectations for the season.

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

The 2015 BTPowerhouse Recapitulation Series will look back at the season of each Big Ten team through a 10 point analysis designed to reveal what went right, what went wrong, and whether the team met expectations in 2014-15.  The series will be released during late April and early May in reverse order of conference standings, meaning the last place team will be reviewed first and the Big Ten champions will be reviewed last.

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The 2014-15 season was a disaster for the Rutgers program.  Despite hopes of newfound success in a new conference, the Scarlet Knights met a buzzsaw in their first season of the Big Ten.  Rutgers was able to put together segments of decent play throughout the year and pulled off some upsets, but ultimately, the 2014-15 season was one that fans would like to forget going forward.

So let's re-live it in its entirety.

1. Preseason Expectations

Before the season began, I not only had Rutgers slated as the last place team in my Big Ten preview, but I actually divided them off as their own tier separated from any other Big Ten team.  In my view, they were clearly the weakest team in the Big Ten and it would be an uphill battle for the team to be competitive.

Here was my preseason storyline for Rutgers:

There are several storylines to follow for Rutgers in the upcoming season, but the biggest center around coach Eddie Jordan and his efforts to rebuild the program.  Last season, the Scarlet Knights were one of the weaker teams in the AAC and they are now moving to the nation's most challenging basketball conference.  If Rutgers wants to win games and be competitive, they are going to have to improve from last season.  There are certainly signs of improvement and Jordan has brought in several intriguing options, but this is a thin team that is going to rely on its two stars (Jack & Mack) to do much of the work.  There are signs of hope for the future, but can the Scarlet Knights exceed expectations and make an impact this season?

I was not alone in my thoughts on Rutgers either.  The Big Ten writers picked them as #14 in the conference by a wiiiide margin and KenPom had them as the lowest rated team in the Big Ten at #103 overall.  There were certainly some reasons to think Rutgers could be a decent team in 2014-15 before the season - primarily that Kadeem Jack and Myles Mack were on the roster - but on paper, it was tough to argue that the Scarlet Knights would finish anywhere outside of the bottom few teams in the conference.

2. Non-Conference Play

Expectations were certainly not high for Rutgers coming into the season, but most viewed their non-conference slate as manageable and gave the Scarlet Knights at least a decent chance to enter conference play with 10 wins.  Granted, they would have to upset at least one team to get there, but the only really tough game on paper was a neutral court matchup with Vanderbilt and a potential matchup with Virginia if they beat the Commodores.  Even with a loss there, Rutgers had a solid shot in every other game.  Here is how things ended up playing out.

Rutgers 2014-15 Non-Conference:
  • Loss (0-1): George Washington, 70-53
  • Win (1-1): Fairleigh, Dickinson, 61-44
  • Win (2-1): St. Francis NY, 76-73
  • Loss (2-2) Saint Peter's, 68-50
  • Win (3-2): Vanderbilt, 68-65
  • Loss (3-3): Virginia, 45-26
  • Win (4-3): Clemson, 69-64
  • Loss (4-4): Seton Hall, 81-54
  • Win (5-4): New Hampshire, 60-56
  • Win (6-4): Manhattan, 63-55
  • Loss (6-5): St. Francis PA, 73-68
  • Win (7-5): Sacred Heart, 79-54
  • Win (8-5): Monmouth, 59-58
If someone had said Rutgers would beat Vanderbilt coming into the season, but still failed to win 10 games in their non-conference slate, I'm not sure I would have believed them, but that's exactly what happened.  Rutgers failed to live up to expectations and not because they couldn't beat the tough teams or win 50-50 games, but because they lost to teams like St. Francis PA and St. Peter's.

If the Scarlet Knights had simply avoided being upset by two teams that finished #186 or worse on KenPom at home, it would have made a world of difference for the team's non-conference slate.  Sure, they got stomped by Virginia and were not as competitive against George Washington and Seton Hall as fans might have hoped, but entering conference play at 10-3 with no terrible losses is certainly a lot better than 8-3 with two demoralizing defeats at home.  It would not have changed the outcome of the season, but simply taking care of business can go a lot further for a team that many consider and that appeared to be the case for Rutgers in non-conference play.

3. Conference Play

After an underachieving performance for a Rutgers team that was already perceived to be the weakest team in the Big Ten, expectations were not exactly high for Big Ten play.  The conference had taken its lumps in December thanks to a string of upsets to teams like Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue, but overall, the Big Ten was still perceived to be solid with plenty of top teams to boot.  The Scarlet Knights would have the challenge of a grueling 18 game schedule including facing national title contenders like Wisconsin.  Here is how they performed.

Rutgers 2014-15 Big Ten Play:
  • Loss (0-1): Northwestern, 51-47
  • Win (1-1): Penn State, 50-46
  • Loss (1-2): Nebraska, 65-49
  • Win (2-2): Wisconsin, 67-62
  • Loss (2-3): Maryland, 73-65
  • Loss (2-4): Minnesota, 89-80
  • Loss (2-5): Michigan, 54-50
  • Loss (2-6): Penn State, 79-51
  • Loss (2-7): Michigan State, 71-51
  • Loss (2-8): Indiana, 72-64
  • Loss (2-9): Illinois, 66-54
  • Loss (2-10): Ohio State, 79-60
  • Loss (2-11): Purdue, 61-52
  • Loss (2-12): Iowa, 81-47
  • Loss (2-13): Indiana, 84-54
  • Loss (2-14): Purdue, 92-85
  • Loss (2-15): Maryland, 60-50
  • Loss (2-16): Michigan, 79-69
Talk about a letdown.  As bolded on the list above, Rutgers won two games in the Big Ten and both came in the first four games of conference play.  The only thing that makes people hesitate from calling this a complete disaster is because one of those wins came against eventual National Runner-Up Wisconsin.

Well, I'm here to reject that notion.

Beating Wisconsin was great for Rutgers and is arguably one of the better wins in the program's history, but there's three things that need to be noted about that win when evaluating its impact.  First, Frank Kaminsky, i.e. Wisconsin's best player by a wide margin, was out for the game.  It's not rocket science to realize a team without their best player is not as good without them.

The value of an upset also has to be adjusted for the fact that it's an upset.  If Rutgers had been a really good team coming in, the win is not nearly perceived to be as big.  Maryland also beat Wisconsin this season and though it was a great win, it might not even have been the highlight of the season for the Terps.  For Rutgers, the win ended up defining the season so much because they struggled so profoundly, which implies it didn't mean all that mcuh.  The win was so shocking because Rutgers was considered to be so bad, which has to limit its impact.

The final reason to avoid looking too deeply into Rutgers' win over Wisconsin is simply because of what followed.  The Scarlet Knights failed to win a single game following their upset against the Badgers.  They failed to win in the months of February and March and certainly were not playing in April.  Having a highlight win is nice, but you build a program by becoming competitive on a consistent basis, improving talent, and taking steps forward.  Rutgers needed to be competitive down the stretch and upset a few teams at home to make progress in 2014-15 and they completely collapsed despite having one bright spot.

Expectations were certainly not high for Rutgers in the Big Ten, but the underwhelming play down the stretch and lack of competitiveness were major red flags for a program trying to move forward.

4. Postseason Play

Following the Scarlet Knights' 2-16 performance in Big Ten play, Rutgers was locked out of an at-large NCAA Tournament bid and virtually out of an NIT bid as well.  The only real chance that Rutgers had of seeing a postseason outside of accepting a CBI bid - that would still probably take a few wins to get - was to win the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago.  Unfortunately, things would be an uphill battle as their conference record made them the #14 seed and thus, would require them to put together four straight wins to grab the Big Ten Tournament title.  Things did not go as Rutgers fans hoped in the Windy City.

Rutgers 2014-15 Postseason Play:
  • Loss, Minnesota 80-68

It certainly was not a surprise to see Rutgers go down in the 1st Round of the Big Ten Tournament, but it was a bit shocking to realize that with the loss, the Scarlet Knights ended the season on a 15 game losing streak and failed to win a single game after the team's January 11th win over Wisconsin.  It was certainly not the first season that fans had hoped for when joining the Big Ten.

The unfortunate thing about Rutgers' 10-22 overall record was that it really wasn't out of line with what had happened for the program the last few years.  The team had 12 wins during the 2012-13 season and has failed to have more than 15 wins or go beyond a conference tournament since the 2005-06 season.  Rutgers may have been in a new conference, but there really was no substantial changes in their gameplay.

If Rutgers truly is going to turn the page as a program and start to become relevant in the Big Ten and for the postseason, building off the few positives in 2013-14 has to be seen as a first step.  If the Scarlet Knights can do so, perhaps they can at least get out of 14th in the Big Ten and break these unfortunate streaks.

5. Strengths

Admittedly, it's not easy to find a ton of strengths for a team that went 10-22.  However, despite the struggles for Rutgers last season, they did do some things positively.

The big area where Rutgers was strongest as a team was on the defensive end.  In terms of defensive efficiency, Rutgers came in at #112 overall.  Although that number is not anything to write home about, it was the strong side of the floor for Rutgers last season.  This was largely driven by a few solid shot blockers inside, a decent rebounding game, and keeping their free throws to field goal margin down.  They did benefit from some underwhelming opponent shooting at the line and outside the arc, but considering that the team faced the #28 toughest schedule in terms of opponent offenses, their defense held up pretty well.  They did get burned twice by Indiana and a Kaminsky-less Wisconsin helps these numbers, but it's an area where the team can hope to progress next season.

6. Weaknesses

The defense may have had a few nice spots in the lineup, but the offense was a complete disaster for the Scarlet Knights last season.  No team can be good without being at least decent on both sides of the ball, but Rutgers completely lacked any legitimate offensive consistency.  Just look at their rankings.

Rutgers In 2014-15 Big Ten:

  • #14 in offensive efficiency
  • #13 in scoring
  • #14 in effective field goal percentage
  • #14 in field goal percentage
  • #13 in turnover rate
  • #13 in 2PT percentage
  • #13 in 3PT percentage
  • #13 in free throw percentage
There's no way to analyze those numbers other than to say Rutgers' offense last season was awful.  These are all teams that finished with better offensive efficiency numbers than Rutgers last season: Mount St. Mary's, Prairie View A&M, SIU Edwardsville, and Southern Illinois.

This is a team that couldn't score inside, couldn't score outside, and turned over the ball.  Look, there were teams with worse offenses than Rutgers had this season, but let this sink in.  This season, Rutgers had a statistically weaker offense than they did during 2012-13.  In fact, 2013-14 Rutgers was 142 spots lower than it was a year prior, when the team ended its season with a 92-31 blowout loss to Louisville (yes, that is a real score).

Even with large offseason departures, it really is hard to see Rutgers being this bad on offense next season.  For a team that did make progress on the defensive side, the offensive inefficiency and regression from last year's team doomed any chance of being competitive down the stretch.

7. Top Player

Though Rutgers struggled significantly as a team in 2014-15, they did have a few key contributors that played really well over the course of the season.  Coming into the season, the two key contributors appeared to be Kadeem Jack and Myles Mack and for much of the season, this was true.  Jack was the big player upfront, and Mack was the guy who led the team in the backcourt.

However, when you look at some of the key stats, Rutgers may not have been the two horse team many thought.

Rutgers 2014-15 Stat Leaders

  • Minutes - Myles Mack
  • Field Goal Attempts - Myles Mack
  • Points - Myles Mack
  • Rebounds - Junior Etou
  • Assists - Myles Mack
  • Blocks - Greg Lewis
  • Steals - Myles Mack

Mack also compares really well to Rutgers' team in the advanced stats as well.

ru advanced

Of course, advanced numbers may not necessarily be a perfect reflection compared to how a player performs in big games and whether he can push them over the top.  To help assist in this, KenPom does an analysis of an MVP in each game and awards it to the best player on the winning team.  Here is how Rutgers stacked up.

ru mvpss

Pretty much no matter how you break things down, Myles Mack comes out on top for Rutgers.  He shows up really well in the traditional stats, in the advanced stats, and did really well in the team's wins as well.  The Scarlet Knights were far from a perfect team in 2014-15, but Mack did a lot of really good things for them and finding an adequate replacement is going to be a major offseason challenge.

8. Sixth Man

Outside of general offensive production, the bench was another area where Rutgers struggled.  By the end of the season, the team finished at #213 in bench minutes and again, that was during a season when the team finished 14th in the Big Ten standings and #287 in offensive efficiency.  This was a weak team that did not get a ton of production from its starters and its bench contributors really did not see much of the floor either.

For all intents and purposes, Rutgers most started lineup was Myles Mack, Bishop Daniels, Junior Etou, Greg Lewis, and Kadeem Jack.  That leaves your biggest bench contributors pretty clear as Shaquille Doorson, DJ Foreman, Malick Kone, and Mike Williams.  Here is how they broke down in traditional stats.

Rutgers 2014-15 Bench Leaders

  • Minutes - Mike Williams
  • Field Goal Attempts - Mike Williams
  • Points - Mike Williams
  • Rebounds - DJ Foreman
  • Assists - Mike Williams
  • Steals - Mike Williams

Williams also did really well in the advanced stats comparison.

ru bench

Along with these two numbers, Williams was also the only bench player on the team that earned a KenPom game MVP this season.  Granted, if losses also factored into that stat, the outcome could be different, but during wins, Williams probably had the best bench game for any Rutgers player this season.

Williams entered the program as a freshman for the 2014-15 season and really became a valuable piece in the rotation.  He ended up playing in only 50.2% of the team's minutes, but considering that he often struggled with foul trouble and was limited by injury during the season, that number is pretty significant.  Williams also saw his minutes limited by the emergence of Junior Etou, who became one of the team's more consistent players.

Despite coming off the bench last season, Mike Williams provided significant contributions on the wing and with Junior Etou's offseason departure due to transfer, Williams could be a stabilizing force that Rutgers needs next year.

9. Top Storylines

The single biggest storyline for Rutgers during the 2014-15 season was their entrance into the Big Ten.  Many questioned whether the Scarlet Knights would be a good fit for the conference and whether they would be able to compete on a consistent basis and 2014-15 gave early indications for both of those questions.

The 2014-15 season did not have high expectations for Rutgers, but it was still an underwhelming season where the team failed to live up to fans' hopes.  There were bright moments like the team's home upset of Wisconsin, but overall, it was a struggle that led to loss after loss and easily the worst close to a season in this year's Big Ten.

The thing about last season for Rutgers was that the team could have very reasonably made the year much, much better without pulling off any significant upsets.  It was the fact that the team suffered upsets against Saint Peter's and St. Francis PA and then went 1-7 against teams that finished 9th or worse in the Big Ten.  Really, it was those 10 games that decided Rutgers season and when you add in that 6 of those games were at home or on a neutral court, it's easy to see how many opportunities Rutgers let get away.

Rutgers was not a great team last season.  In fact, they were pretty easily the worst team in the Big Ten, but their inability to perform in winnable games was ultimately what doomed them in 2014-15.

mack

10. Final Verdict

There is no way to judge the 2014-15 season for Rutgers other than as a failure.  The team did have a few key players like Myles Mack and Mike Williams put together nice years and did upset Wisconsin at home, but a 10-22 record accompanied by a 2-16 Big Ten record is not exactly grounds to get a fanbase excited.

To add in even further, although the team did show some signs of progress on the defensive end, their complete offensive ineptitude kept them out of games and limited them from having any shot to take care of business against the weaker teams they faced this season.  If Rutgers simply wins more than 1 of the 10 games against weaker opponents this year, perhaps they are perceived much differently.

Season Grade: F