Less than three weeks away from the start of the 2016-2017 basketball season, Rutgers took a trip to West Long Branch, New Jersey yesterday to scrimmage against Monmouth. The two programs are not playing each other this season and scheduling a scrimmage against King Rice and the Hawks was a smart move, as it provided a strong test for the team in the preseason.
Usually scrimmages are a combination of situational plays and regular game play, so it’s doubtful any type of score was kept. However, that doesn’t mean impressions of how the teams fared against other weren’t made. Josh Newman of the Asbury Park Press and beat writer for Monmouth, tweeted out a couple of positive updates this morning regarding yesterday’s scrimmage.
Hearing this morning that Rutgers got the better of Monmouth when the two scrimmaged yesterday, but that it was closely contested— Josh Newman (@Joshua_Newman) October 23, 2016
This is fantastic news. Now I’m not trying to blow this out of proportion because it was just a scrimmage in late October. However, for a team that went 7-25 a season ago, this type of report indicates progress is being made. It was the first real action this team has had against an opponent under new head coach Steve Pikiell, so this is great to hear about. Monmouth went 28-8 during last season’s NIT run and return almost the entire roster this year, so they are a legitimately good mid-major team. To hear Rutgers even held their own, let alone played slightly better than Monmouth, is super positive.
One takeaway from what I heard out of Rutgers-Monmouth: Reason for optimism at RU as Pikiell has that group in line and doing what he wants.— Josh Newman (@Joshua_Newman) October 23, 2016
This tweet from Newman is even better though. Bear in mind this type of feedback is coming from the Monmouth side, not Rutgers. Getting players to buy in under a new coaching staff is always the biggest key to a smooth transition when a program under goes a major change. All signs pointed that this was in fact happening and Corey Sanders said as much on Big Ten Media Day. However, for outsiders to say the same is significant and another reason to be hopeful that this team will be much improved this season.
The fact is Monmouth would easily be the third or fourth hardest opponent on Rutgers non-conference schedule this season, so this certainly gives reason to be optimistic. Their first six opponents include Division II Molloy, Drexel, DePaul, Niagara, North Texas, and Hartford. Only the DePaul game is away from the RAC, so Rutgers has a tremendous opportunity to start strong before taking on Miami on the road as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
That doesn’t mean Rutgers won’t struggle in the early portion of their schedule. Half of the roster is brand new and it will take time for this team to learn to play together. Growing pains should be expected, as the team is also learning how to play under Pikiell and the staff. However, the program wisely scheduled the non-conference portion in a very manageable way.
After being universally picked to finish last in the Big Ten, Pikiell is using that as motivation for the team heading into next season. So far so good, after hearing about yesterday’s scrimmage. It’s important the players take this season one day at a time, as well as fans. Let’s just hope to watch a team that plays hard, is improved defensively, and plays together as a team. If positive results come sooner than expected, consider it a much welcomed bonus. As Dave White has written, we all just need to have something to be hopeful about with Rutgers basketball this season. After yesterday, Corey Sanders seemed excited himself, which speaks volumes for how the preseason has gone so far. 19 days until the new season tips off.
For more updates on Rutgers Basketball, click here for the latest RAC n Roll report.