With just a little more than two weeks until the Rutgers men’s basketball team tips off the Steve Pikiell era, it’s time to take a hard look at what to expect from each player this season. We reviewed the KenPom preseason ranking and season projection for Rutgers here, which also included how the rest of the Big Ten and non-conference opponents were ranked as well.
Today, Dave White and I break down each player on the roster and how they can contribute this season. There are twelve scholarship players and two walk-ons for coach Pikiell and the staff to work with. There is more depth and talent this season compared to last, but there is a lot of progress to be made for Rutgers to be competitive this season. Let’s dive in and get to know this year’s team.
Candido Sa - 6’9” Junior
Dave: Sa is an interesting candidate. That Steve Pikiell beat Texas and Pittsburgh out for his talents has me high on the potential here, but you never know until you see these guys on the court. Having a shot blocker who also—apparently—can shoot it is a nice piece. If he can contend against Big Ten talent we are in good shape. Sa has potential—much like a lot of the Rutgers interior—but until we see it on the court, it will be a question.
Aaron: The biggest strength of Sa is his ability to block shots and defend the rim. He could be the best player Rutgers has had in this area since fellow Senegal native and former Big East Defensive Player of the Year, Hamady N’Diaye. His skill set is a major need for this team and he can help forge a new identity with the renewed emphasis from the coaching staff on defense. It’s been said he has a solid mid-range stroke as well, but to be honest, anything he brings on the offensive end would be a bonus. If he can become a consistent presence in the paint, both with his defense and rebounding, he will be a major addition to this year’s team. His age and international pedigree brings some much needed experience to the program as well. I have high hopes for Sa this season and think numbers around 4-6 points, 6-8 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game is possible.
Ibrahima Diallo - 6’10” Redshirt Sophomore
Dave: Diallo didn’t play enough last year to truly start to develop, so it’ll be interesting to see what Pikiell does with him. I remember Diallo being foul prone and that’s something to watch out for. Eddie Jordan always talked Diallo up, and maybe the potential is there, but he’s going to need to shake the rust off.
Aaron: I don’t have a lot of expectations for Diallo this season. That’s not to say he doesn’t have potential or can be a solid contributor, but like Dave said, I think he still needs to develop his game. At a minimum, he brings size and five fouls into every game, which can still be useful. I think he starts the season at the bottom of the frontcourt depth chart and will need to play well in the chances he does get in non-conference play to earn more time come Big Ten play.
Shaq Doorson - 7’0” Redshirt Sophomore
Dave: I love Doorson. I thought his freshman year, he had the best feet and hands of a big man I’ve seen in a long time at good ol’ RU. That dunk against Wisconsin that rattled the rim and the RAC was something to behold—a great instinctive move. Now that he’s lost the weight and gotten in better shape, he’s another one Pikiell’s staff can mold. People forget Doorson was a four star coming out of high school. There’s NBA potential with his size, but it needs to be formed with lots of practice.
Aaron: Pikiell has raved and raved about Doorson’s buy-in to their strength and conditioning program since the new staff’s arrival. He has lost over 50 pounds and seems to be fully recovered from the leg injury that kept him from playing at all last season. His size and work ethic will be a great addition to this team. Hopefully he can form a solid rotation between himself, Sa and CJ Gettys at the center position. It’s possible two of them play together on the court at the same time as well. The more he develops, the more versatility and depth Pikiell has to play with this season. He could be a big X factor for this team.
Deshawn Freeman - 6’7” Redshirt Junior
Dave: Freeman is going to be a key player this season. First, he has to stay healthy, but this team needs scoring and Freeman showed he was able to put the ball in the basket early last year. If he can do that, he’s going to play and he’ll play a lot. His athleticism and craftiness around the rim will be helpful. If he can grab the ball on the rebound and defend some guys who are a bit taller than him? Big time.
Aaron: He is the best frontcourt scorer by far and has the potential to be a double-double man for this team. He is supremely important, but it will be key for the coaching staff to manage his minutes in the early going, as he is just regaining full health after missing most of last season with a knee injury. His ability to score in multiple ways will be an asset and can lead the team on any given night. He will be difficult for opposing players to guard and he has size around him that can only help his game. If Freeman can average 12-15 points and 7-10 boards per game, it will be a major reason why Rutgers is better this season. I think he can do it, but staying healthy and out of foul trouble are obviously key to any progress he makes this year.
C.J. Gettys - 7’0” Redshirt Senior
Dave: I don’t know what to expect from Gettys. He’s huge, obviously. And he has NCAA experience... against Duke! He has a Big Ten body and reports say he has a nice touch. But is he willing to bang inside against the Big Ten and still stay out of foul trouble? He’s a potential starter or he’s a potential role player... I don’t know the answer.
Aaron: He was a great last minute pickup and is the only senior on the team. Gettys has played in meaningful games before, but like Dave said, it is a significant step up in competition for him now playing in the Big Ten. He has had issues his entire career staying out of foul trouble, so if he can improve in that area, he will have plenty of opportunities to be a main contributor. I think he is a low risk, high gain player that hopefully can bring some leadership to this team, in addition to his upside on the court.
Eugene Omoruyi - 6’6” Freshman
Dave: By all accounts, Omoruyi is a steal. Our own Griffin Whitmer tweeted that Pikiell said the kid could play on any team in the country. And, in interviews, Pikiell singled him out as having a Big Ten body and a great handle. Omoruyi is going to see time at wing for sure and probably play major minutes. Can he score? Can he shoot? These are key questions. But the team is going to need defense and heady play too.
Aaron: Omoruyi flew under the recruiting radar, in part because he played high school ball in Canada. We may look back at this being Pikiell’s best pickup of the 2016 class. He should bring some skill and physicality on the wing that Rutgers desperately needs. His favorite player is Draymond Green, so if he can emulate his game even partly, that would be a welcomed development. His potential to help give this team a defensive identity is most intriguing to me. No real expectations on the freshman, but he is an exciting prospect to watch out for this season and beyond.
Jonathan Laurent - 6’6” Sophomore
Dave: I love Laurent. Last year, playing out of position, he was fearless. He had the athleticism to get to the rim and throw down some dunks. Now, at wing, he’s going to have the chance to shine. If he’s put on some weight and learns defense, he’s going to see a lot of time.
Aaron: Is Laurent the most underrated player on the team? I think so, and it is partly due to the fact that he wasn’t playing his natural position most of last season. He was still able to showcase his ability to score in bunches, but he also disappeared at times. That happens with freshman and now that he will be playing wing full time, I expect his production to rise and be more consistent. I think his ceiling is very high and if he can average in double figures in scoring, it will be a major boost to the offense.
Issa Thiam - 6’9” Freshman
Dave: What are we learning here? That wing is Rutgers’ deepest position. Plenty of reporters have been calling Thiam the best shooter on the squad. He’s tall, he’s long and he can certainly get into passing lanes. At 6’9”, he’s going to be able to shoot over most wings in the Big Ten as well. He is going to fill a lot of needs for Rutgers, but how quickly will he develop from role player to star?
Aaron: Rutgers desperately needs shooters and Issa might end up being the best one on the roster this season. He is wiry thin for his tall frame, which isn’t ideal for Big Ten play, but he is a skilled perimeter player that can have a big impact this season. His ability to shoot behind the arc will be key in opening up space in the paint for the guards to slash to the rim and dish inside to the big men.
Khalil Batie - 5’10” Senior
Dave: Batie was forced to play some last year when the team was beat up. He has the speed, but not the size and not the shot. Look for him to give Sanders and Johnson a breather in out of conference play.
Aaron: Pikiell spoke about Batie’s defense at Big Ten media day and his ability to spell other guards for small stretches. We could see him at the end of first half in a lot of games, especially if any of the guards are in foul trouble. He is a solid walk-on player to have on the bench.
Jake Dadika - 6’0” Junior
Dave: Dadika is the son of a Rutgers legend and he’s tall for a guard. Another guy who could see some time during non-conference.
Aaron: The action that Dadika saw last season proved he was competent in small stretches. I actually thought he should have gotten a little more time and was more reliable than Justin Goode last season. He is a valuable practice player who will hopefully get a lot of minutes at the end of multiple Rutgers wins in non-conference play.
Matt Bullock - 6’4” Freshman
Dave: Bullock is going to be a player to watch during the first four years of the Pikiell era. I don’t expect Bullock to be an instant superstar, but he’s Pikes’ first recruit and a Jersey kid at that. How Pikiell develops him over the course of the season and his career will say a lot about the Steve Pikiell era.
Aaron: I agree with Dave that Bullock is a key recruit for Pikiell and that he can ultimately be a showcase type, if he can develop into a major contributor during his career. As for this season, I think he may be the last scholarship player off the bench, at least at the beginning of the season. He looks like he has lost a ton of weight like Doorson and has worked hard. I just think he will need time to develop his game in order to succeed at this level. He should get some minutes in non-conference play to gain experience and prove whether he will be ready for Big Ten play.
Mike Williams - 6’2” Junior
Dave: Can Williams improve his shooting? Mike is one of my favorite players on the team. He plays hard, he plays with grit and he defends the hell out of you. But he came to Rutgers billed as a great shooter, and he hasn’t exactly been consistent yet. The kid is going to play and he’s going to hustle. If he can turn himself into a knockdown dead eye guy from 3, watch out.
Aaron: He is a career 28.7% shooter from three-point range, which is not good. Add in the fact that he has led the team in attempts during his two seasons on the banks and it’s a major reason Rutgers has been so inefficient on offense. Despite that subpar mark, Williams did double his scoring production in his sophomore year (6.3 to 12.3 points per game) and improved his shooting percentage from both two-point range and from behind the arc last season. If he can continue trending up this season and shoot around 35% from three, while continuing to contribute with all the intangibles he has before, Williams will take a big step forward this season.
Nigel Johnson - 6’1” Redshirt Junior
Dave: Johnson is going to be a fun player to watch. Blessed with similar athleticism as his backcourt mate, Nigel will be able to get up and down the floor in the fast break. And he has the reputation of a good defender. When he and Corey can run, they’re going to be fun, but it will be interesting to see what Johnson can do in the half court. Can he shoot the ball or get to the rim? One of the few players on this team with big conference experience (along with some of the other Eddie players), Johnson is going to step right in to help lead.
Aaron: I think having Nigel will not only be a great addition based on his own abilities, but I think he will help both Mike Williams and Corey Sanders be more effective as well. He will take some pressure off them, as well as give opposing defenses another athletic, slashing guard to contend with. I think he is the most important newcomer and it’s due to the positive impact he should have on the entire backcourt.
Corey Sanders - 6’2” Sophomore
Dave: Sanders was awesome last year. Sanders was maddening last year. From his highlight reel game against Illinois to his four game suspension, Sanders gave Rutgers fans reason to believe and reason to see the same old. But now, after seeing what the NBA is looking for—plus being developed by a great guard heavy staff, I expect Sanders to make a big time step forward this year. He is another player who needs to improve his shooting, but that won’t matter when he throws down a rim rattling dunk. Sanders swaggers and grins and if he’s good, he’s the kind of player who can drive the opposition mad. The team will feed on his energy, but can he keep it up all year without wearing down?
Aaron: He is the best player on the team and has the highest ceiling of anyone on the roster. That’s no secret. However, Sanders needs to run this team and lead on the court now that he has more competent pieces around him. He was forced to do a lot on his own last season and his shooting suffered because of it. Despite finishing 8th in the conference with 4.3 assists per game during his freshman campaign, I think it’s important that he increases that number to 6+ per game this season. He needs to get other players involved early on and let scoring chances come to him as the game progresses. Far too often last season, he would start off hot, but the rest of the team wasn’t involved and once opposing defenses adjusted, it was much harder for Corey to be effective, causing the team to fall into long scoring droughts. He has more weapons at his disposal with his new teammates this season and it’s on him to utilize them effectively. If he can do that, the numbers will still be there for him and the team will be much better overall. I think he understands that and has seemed to have embraced the new team and new coaching staff. As he told me at Big Ten Media Day, if the wins come, the accolades will follow.