The Steve Pikiell era is finally officially beginning with the tip-off to the 2016-2017 season beginning tonight. Rutgers takes on Division II Molloy at the RAC, which starts a stretch of three games in the next seven days. Let’s jump in!
How To Watch, Stream & Listen
Molloy at Rutgers
Tip-off: 7:00 p.m.
TV/Stream: BTN Plus
Radio: WCTC 1450 AM; WRSU 88.7 FM
It’s the radio debut of play-by-play announcer Jerry Recco, who replaced the longtime voice of Rutgers basketball, Chris Carlin. With the game not on TV, it’s a good time to listen to Recco and former assistant Joe Boylan, who is back for his second season as the color analyst.
The Lions went 9-19 last season in the East Coast Conference within Division II play. They have a veteran backcourt, led by senior guards Charlie Marquardt and Jaylen Morris. Marquardt, who is the head coach’s son by the same name, averaged 16.9 points per game last year and set a program season record for three-pointers made with 88. Morris also averaged 16.9 points per game, as well as shot 48.3% from the field. He is a strong rebounder as well, averaging 8.3 boards per game and registered 11 double-doubles last season. Both guards are already 1,000 point scorers with one season left in their careers.
They are extremely inexperienced in the frontcourt, with their top veterans being Derrick Okunpolor and Shandy Casimir, despite having modest statistics. Their top newcomers appears to be Michael Guzzardi who transferred from Dowling College and freshman Justin Caldwell, who starred for Baldwin in Long Island, where he was named an All-County player.
Molloy was picked to finish in 7th place of their conference in the preseason poll. St. Thomas Aquinas and LIU Post were picked at the top of the league. To be blunt, Rutgers should win by a very wide margin in this game.
Season Captain Announced
Coach Pikiell has praised Deshawn Freeman throughout the preseason and naming him captain makes perfect sense. He is one of the older and more experienced players, is the best rebounder on the team, may lead the team in scoring, and according to Pikiell, he has bought into the changes within the program more than any other player. It’s quite a turnaround for Freeman, after missing most of last season due to injury and being suspended by former head coach Eddie Jordan. I always thought he had major upside and to know that he is fully committed this season is an exciting prospect for Rutgers fans.
What To Watch For
We know the starting lineup tonight with be Corey Sanders, Issa Thiam, Jonathan Laurent, Deshawn Freeman, and CJ Gettys, per Pikiell’s declaration on Wednesday. I’m much more interested in how many minutes every player gets and when they get them. I expect Nigel Johnson and Candido Sa to come off the bench first, followed by a combination of Shaq Doorson, Eugene Omoruyi and Mike Williams. Hopefully, Rutgers can jump on Molloy from the start and really smother them on the defensive end.
Coach Pikiell talked at length on Rutgers media day about wanting to run, but how much they do will be determined by the players. He talked about the first ten seconds of the shot clock belonging to the players, after that he wants them to run the offense his way. Rutgers will have a major size advantage in the paint and Molloy will be unable to keep up with the athleticism of Sanders, Johnson, Laurent, etc. on the perimeter. I expect Rutgers to look to push as much as possible and run Molloy off the court early.
Rutgers was terrible in this area last season and while they do not appear to be a strong shooting team entering this year, I’m interested in seeing the shots they take tonight. They will surely emphasis getting the ball to the bigs in the paint, specifically Freeman, Gettys, and Sa. However, will the guards look to slash to the rim or settle for long jump shots? Pikiell talked at media day about “are you a bad shooter or are you a good shooter taking bad shots?” Every player last season was guilty of forcing things and taking bad shots at times. Let’s hope we see improvement right away in this area, especially with Sanders and Williams on the perimeter.
Rutgers will probably stick to straight man to man tonight. How they rotate as a unit in the halfcourt will be something to watch for, as they worked on this a lot in the practice I watched. This was a big issue last season and the defense allowed for loads of space in the paint for opponents to practically walk to the rim unobstructed. Intensity and ball pressure is also something to watch for.
Jumping Ahead Early
With a game on Sunday against Drexel, it will benefit Rutgers to put this well out of reach early. If that’s the case and they are up big in the second half, it will provide good developmental time for a player like Matt Bullock, as well as an opportunity to get the walk-on’s in the mix. Remember in last season’s opener, Rutgers was tied at the half against Division III Rutgers-Newark and only won by 13 points. Remember, the goal is progress this season. If Rutgers can start strong and win big, leading comfortably throughout, it will be achieved through the first game.
In The Bonus
Let’s hope for a solid turnout by the Rutgers faithful tonight. It’s Veteran’s Day and schools are closed for the teacher’s convention, so hopefully that helps some. I won’t be surprised if only half of capacity is reached, but anything more would be encouraging and a sign fans are excited for a new beginning under Pikiell.
For a full season preview, click here.