Rutgers is bad at basketball. The Scarlet Knights are 0-15 in Big Ten play, and just 6-22 overall. Tuesday night they played 1-13 Minnesota in a battle to be kings of the Big Ten's cellar. Minnesota picked Rutgers up, locked them in a safe, carried the safe out of the cellar and hurled it down an elevator shaft to hell in an 83-61 Golden Gophers victory. Minnesota is now the clear second-worst team in the Big Ten, and they are capable of embarrassing Rutgers.
It is not breaking news for Rutgers to be bad at basketball. They haven't reached the NCAA Tournament since 1991, and this will be the 10th anniversary of their last NIT bid. But even for the people who know Rutgers basketball best, this team is alarmingly awful. Here is what Steve Politi of NJ.com wrote after a 107-57 loss to Purdue in a story entitled "Rutgers basketball is hopeless under Eddie Jordan."
[Rutgers] hasn't had much more than a prayer in a long time. I have covered sports in this state for 17 years now, and I honestly can't remember a more hopeless situation than the current state of this Rutgers basketball program.
Here is what Dave White of SB Nation's Rutgers site On The Banks wrote in a post called "The sublime torture of being a Rutgers basketball fan."
Yes, I know that Rutgers basketball is a bad team. Adjective not strong enough? Awful. Horrible. Terrible. Atrocious.
I am not breaking news by telling everybody Rutgers is bad. However, I would like to take a moment to discuss just how bad Rutgers basketball is. They genuinely may be the worst team ever to play in a major conference.
Right now, the Scarlet Knights are ranked 302nd in Ken Pomeroy's ratings, which are generally the best at predicting college basketball games. That puts them directly behind Longwood and Charleston Southern, two teams currently locked in a battle for ninth place in the Big South conference.
Let's take a peek at the worst major conference team every year since Pomeroy started tracking in 2002.
|2011||Wake Forest (271)|
|2008||Oregon State (264)|
|2004||Penn State (218)|
|2003||Penn State (212)|
|2002||Washington State (217)|
Of the 1,067 seasons by teams in major conferences since 2002, only 35, or 3.28 percent, have clocked in below 200 in the Pomeroy ratings. Only seven, or .65 percent, dipped below 250. Nobody has ever broken the 300 barrier. Only Utah in 2012 came close. That Utah team was in their first year in the Pac-12 after losing their best players from a sub-.500 Mountain West team.
Rutgers is worse. They've finally cracked the 300 barrier. Quite frankly, it's impressive.
Major conference teams have gone winless in the past, like TCU in 2014, DePaul in 2009 and Oregon State in 2008. There's even another major conference team on the verge of going winless right now -- Boston College is at 0-15 right now as well. But Pomeroy's ratings finds all these teams have been markedly better than Rutgers for a few reasons.
So how bad is Rutgers? Let's dive into it!
Rutgers loses a lot, by a lot
That DePaul team lost six of their games by single digits. TCU lost five. OK, they still lost most of their games by double-digits, but hey, they came close sometimes, right?
Let's see how much Rutgers has been losing by:
|Margin of defeat||Losses|
So the Scarlet Knights are more likely to lose by 30 (or more!) than they are to keep it within single-digits, and more than half of their losses are by 20 or more. (By the way, the one loss in the 40-plus category was by 50 points.)
They have literally no good wins
When TCU went 0-18, they beat Tulsa, who made the NCAA Tournament, twice in non-conference play. That DePaul team beat Cincinnati in the Big East tournament. Here's who Rutgers has beaten:
-- Rutgers-Newark, a Division-III team
-- Howard, which is below .500 in the nation's worst conference
-- Central Arkansas, which lost to Howard
-- Central Connecticut, which is ranked dead last at 351 in Pomeroy's ratings
-- UMass-Lowell, which still isn't eligible to make the NCAA Tournament as it transitions up from Division II
-- Fairleigh Dickinson, the crown jewel of Rutgers' résumé. They sit at 288 in Pomeroy's rankings, the fifth-best team in college basketball's 30th-best conference.
The NCAA Tournament considers top-50 wins and top-100 wins as they inspect teams' résumés. Rutgers doesn't have any top-275 wins. They're 0-22 against teams better than that.
Boston College has FIVE wins better than Rutgers' best win. Rutgers only has six wins!
That's genuinely hard to do! Chicago State ranks last in Division I with just one win against a Division I opponent. But at least that win came against Western Illinois, which is all the way up at 255 in the Pomeroy ratings.
Rutgers isn't even competitive against the Big Ten's worst teams
Oregon State and TCU both went 0-18 against conferences with zero teams ranked below 100 on KenPom. Sure, they were awful, and that's why they lost every game, but things might've been different if they didn't play in very strong conferences.
The Big Ten is pretty good this year -- Michigan State seems like a real national title contender, Iowa and Maryland have Final Four hopes and we're probably looking at seven Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament. And some more teams will probably be in the NIT.
But after that there are some squads you can describe as "not good." We already talked about Minnesota, but it's not just them. Penn State won comfortably at Rutgers. Nebraska is a top-100 team, but just barely, and they've trucked Rutgers by 34 and 24 points. Illinois is the only team that's really struggled with Rutgers -- they went to triple OT! -- but still, a pair of wins.
How does this happen?
In Rutgers' defense, they've had a run of bad luck.
Deshawn Freeman, a JUCO transfer who was the team's leading scorer in November, has been out since Thanksgiving with a knee injury and has since been suspended from the team while still injured. Freshman Corey Sanders, who filled Freeman's shoes and became the team's leading scorer, is currently suspended. The team lost its two tallest players to foot injuries: Shaquille Doorson hasn't played all year, and Ibrahima Diallo suffered a season-ending fracture just 10 games in. So the team's two best scorers have been out for long stretches of time, and two key frontcourt players have season-ending injuries. Not a lot of teams have the depth to recover from that!
But Rutgers was already going to struggle.
They went 2-16 last year and lost Kadeem Jack, Myles Mack and Junior Etou, the three top players on the team in terms of minutes.
The team has a lot of issues. They're awful at defense and worse at offense. They don't pass the ball well. They're terrible at rebounding on both ends of the floor. Even with dismal big men depth, they seem intent on forcing the ball inside. Starting center Greg Lewis shoots 36.5 percent from the field. 36.5 percent! The center!
But perhaps the biggest problem is that in a game more and more dependent on long-distance shooting, Eddie Jordan either doesn't think three-point shooting is important or hasn't been able to find any players capable of shooting three-pointers. Last year the team shot 29.5 percent from deep, 334th in college basketball. This year, the team is up to 31.5 percent -- still awful -- and they've attempted threes on just 26.6 percent of their shots, 336th in college basketball. The player with the most attempts this year is Mike Williams, who shoots 29.2 percent. That's very bad!
It doesn't seem likely to get better any soon.
Of the three recruits Jordan has brought in for next year's team, none of them has received a single offer from another major conference school, according to 247 Sports. (Senegalese forward Issa Thiam is listed as having drawn interest from St. John's and Seton Hall, 3-star wing Maishe Dailey is listed as having a slew of mid-major offers, but only interest from Wisconsin, and 2-star guard Jahlil Tripp had offers from MAAC schools, UNC-Wilmington, and that's it.)
* * *
There's a possibility this is a temporary problem. Jordan seems like a rather bad coach. He's struggled with basketball, he's struggled with disciplinary issues, he's struggled with recruiting and his postgame quotes range from simply uninspiring to legitimately head-scratching. (The Politi story quoted above features Jordan saying the team's defense was fine after allowing 107 points.) It seems likely another coach could improve things.
And besides, this seems to be a recurring problem for schools called up into bigger leagues in their early years, especially from non-major conferences. We've already discussed Utah's horrific first year in the Pac-12 after getting the call-up from the Mountain West, and just a few years later they're a consistent contender under Larry Krystkowiak. TCU also bumped up from the Mountain West to the basketball-heavy Big 12. While the Horned Frogs are still the Big 12's worst team, they're a bit more competitive now.
There's also a chance this is just how Rutgers is.
It's not really fair to consider Rutgers as a tiny school hoisted from obscurity. Before its single season in the American conference, the Scarlet Knights spent 18 years in the original Big East, which was indisputably a major conference. And there, the Scarlet Knights struggled in hoops.
The addition of Rutgers to the Big Ten was almost certainly not about sports, as the team's proximity to NYC gave TV-concerned commissioner Jim Delany an entry way to the screens of America's biggest media market. I'm sure there's been financial payoff to Rutgers' addition, but from a non-monetary perspective, it seems hollow. I don't really encounter the Big Ten as a part of my daily life in NYC, and there hasn't been any notable uptick now that this is hypothetically a Big Ten town. I certainly don't get any sense that average sports fans in this city care at all about Rutgers sports.
Those who worried the Scarlet Knights would be non-competitive on the Big Ten's fields have been completely right. In football, they've gone 4-12, with a comical scandal that contributed to Kyle Flood's firing. (To be fair, there does seem to be reason to be excited about new coach Chris Ash.) Ohio State blog Land-Grant Holy Land tabulates that across all sports, Rutgers is 76-199 since joining the Big Ten -- that's a 27.6 percent winning percentage.
Rutgers has been outmatched in virtually every Big Ten sport, and even compared with those teams, the Rutgers basketball team is outmatched.
Firing Jordan would be a start. But there's also a possibility Rutgers is just going to lose a ton of Big Ten basketball games forever. I would know -- after all, I've been watching Northwestern for almost a decade.
February Madness: Minnesota's huge upset against Maryland