Rutgers announced yesterday that their first game of the 2015-2016 men's basketball season will be at home on November 13th against Rutgers-Newark. We are officially less than three months to the opening tip-off and with that here are some things to ponder.
Three things that excite me for next season
Incoming Recruiting Class:
There is a lot of hype regarding 4-star guard Corey Sanders, and rightfully so. He has a chance to be one of the best freshman in the country and the heir apparent to Myles Mack. However, the rest of this class has a chance to be very good as well. Deshawn Freeman averaged 19 points and 9 rebounds a game last season for JUCO powerhouse Hutchinson CC. He has the versatility to play both forward spots and shot 55% from the field last season. Jonathan Laurent is a 3-star wing from Florida and will also have the opportunity to make an impact from day one. He is the only natural wing on the roster and his athleticism is much needed for this team. Justin Goode is a 3-star guard who can flat out shoot. This class is ranked 49th in the country by 247sports.com and could be the best recruiting class Rutgers has had in years. All four players could change the outlook for this team depending on how quickly they acclimate to Eddie Jordan's system and the college game.
Second Year Players Development:
DJ Foreman averaged 4 points and 3 rebounds in 15 minutes a game last season. He played in the Victory Sports Pro-Am summer league and was mentioned as a standout in this article. Mike Williams started some, showed flashes and played 22 minutes a game. I think it's probable he will improve on his 32% shooting from the field and 24% from 3-point range from last season. Shaq Doorson played 10 minutes a game and while raw had a presence at times down low. Special assistant Mike O'Koren has been working him hard for sure. Bishop Daniels played 25 minutes a game and averaged 8 points a game. This is a big season for the Miami Hurricanes transfer, as he could potentially lead the team in scoring. The development of all four of them will be a major factor in determining the ceiling of this team. If they all show improvement and are more consistent, the depth of this team would be markedly better than last year.
Eddie Jordan's Team:
With the four incoming freshman, the four second year players developing and graduate transfer Omari Ray Grier, Eddie finally has a roster of his guys. Senior captain Greg Lewis is the only Mike Rice holdover, but he will be a valuable piece of the puzzle. Regardless, Eddie finally has his type of players to play his system. It's the most athletic team Rutgers has had in years. It will be a very young team, and as Dave White wrote recently, this is the season we find out how good of a coach Eddie Jordan really is. As I have written before, I think Jordan is the right man for this job and has shown an ability to learn and grow in this position. That's what makes this season exciting, we will finally be seeing his plan being executed with his players.
Three things that worry me for next season
The Plan B to Corey Sanders:
Watching Corey Sanders lead this team is an exciting prospect. Realizing he can't play 40 minutes a game and wondering who will run the point in his absence scares me. Mike Williams and Bishop Daniels make sense to fill in and they should be serviceable. However, there is no natural point guard on the roster other than Sanders. If he goes down for any extended period of time this season, it could get ugly faster than Shoes Vetrone could, you know tie his shoes. Whatever faith you observe, make sure you put in a word for the health of Corey Sanders.
Shooting the basketball:
Last season, Rutgers as a team shot 39.2% from the field, tied for 332nd out 351 Division I teams. They shot 43.3% on 2-point field goals, tied for 322nd. It gets worse, as the team shot 29.5% from 3-point range, tied for 337th. From the free throw line, the team shot 65.3%, tied for 306th. Did I mention there are only 351 teams in Division I basketball? It has to get better this season, but how much better? Omari Ray Grier, the graduate transfer from Bradley, is a career 34% shooter from 3-point range and shoots 82% from the free throw line for his career. He will help but it's not enough. For such a young team, it will be important for them to find a rhythm early in games to get off to a good start. Scoring issues were the main problem last season, improvement is needed in a major way.
Big Ten Schedule:
The B1G schedule was released a couple months ago, although dates are not set. Rutgers will play Illinois, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Ohio State twice each in a home & away series. They will host Indiana, Iowa, TTFP and Purdue at the RAC. Away dates include Maryland, Michigan, Northwestern and Wisconsin.
A lot can change personnel wise before the start of the season. However, first glance and no surprise, we have a tough schedule. Playing Michigan State and Ohio State twice will not be fun. Minnesota, Nebraska and Illinois are potentially winnable games at home and we might have a fighting chance on the road against them. At Maryland, Michigan and Wisconsin will be very tough. TTFP at home is a MUST win while Purdue, Indiana and Iowa are tough as well. So how many conference wins should we hope for? Improving on the two from last year is important but can we get to six? Beat TTFP and Minnesota at home, knock off Northwestern on the road and sweep Nebraska gets us to five wins. Throw in an upset somewhere and we get to six.
Rutgers released their non-conference schedule this afternoon. There are no heavyweights or ranked teams. St. John's is rebuilding, Creighton is beatable, Wake Forest at home is possible and against Seton Hall, anything can happen. Can we avoid the annual crushing loss to a team we have no business losing to, like Monmouth, UMass-Lowell or Fairleigh Dickinson? If so, then ten non-conference wins is not a crazy thought and...wait...ten plus six...can we finish the regular season at 16-15??? Am I crazy?? It's a dream for now. Let's hope the coming months will prove it to be reality.