Rutgers basketball's elite defense faces test vs. Miami

At the moment, Rutgers sports one of the best statistical defenses in all of college basketball. After six games, the Scarlet Knights (5-1) rank first in 3-point defense, with opponents shooting just 18 percent from beyond the arc. They rank fifth in steals (11.8 per game), seventh in field-goal percentage defense (.341) and eighth in scoring defense, allowing just 52.8 points per game.

“This group’s been more energized, been more into that end of the floor,” coach Steve Pikiell said, in comparison to last year.

There are two caveats here: First, Rutgers has done most of this without its best defensive player, Caleb McConnell, who just returned from a knee injury. Second, the competition has been second-tier to this point.

That changes Wednesday, when the Scarlet Knights visit Miami (6-1) in the final go-round of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, which is expiring after 23 years. The Hurricanes average 74 points per game and have the 27th-best offense in the country according to the analytics website They’re led by Piscataway-born guard Isaiah Wong (13.4 ppg, 3.4 apg), who was raised in South Brunswick and attended Notre Dame high school in Mercer County for two years before moving to Philadelphia.

Rider Broncs guard Dwight Murray Jr. (55) drives to the basket as Rutgers Scarlet Knights guard Derek Simpson (0) and guard Cam Spencer (10) and forward Dean Reiber (21) defend

“He can really create his own, can really score,” Pikiell said.

He could be an ideal assignment for McConnell, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. But other Scarlet Knights have impressed Pikiell at that end. Junior forward Mawot Mag leads the team in deflections and has graded out as its top defender thus far.

“Mawot brings a size and athleticism and an energy that we didn’t have, and I can put him anywhere on defense,” Pikiell said. “Ron (Harper) was a really good player but didn’t play with that kind of (defensive) energy, same with Geo (Baker) sometimes.”

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