We are more than a quarter into this Rutgers men’s basketball season and there is plenty of news to update you on off the court. Here is another installment of the RAC n Roll report.
This season Rutgers has played a lot of low level teams early in the non-conference schedule. That made perfect sense after last season’s 7-25 campaign, along new head coach Steve Pikiell taking over the program. However, many of you and myself included, have wanted Rutgers to start scheduling more local programs moving forward. According to Jerry Carino of the Asbury Park Press, that process has started with adding a solid opponent for next season.
I've been told Rutgers-NJIT is on the docket for next season. Good Jersey matchup. Like Princeton, NJIT has trouble finding opponents.— Jerry Carino (@NJHoopsHaven) December 3, 2016
NJIT is coming off back to back 20 win seasons and have beaten programs like Yale, Michigan, St. John’s and South Florida during that time. This season, they are off to a 5-5 start, but only lost to Purdue and Minnesota on the road by a combined 17 points. They will be a challenging opponent, but it’s a great decision to add them to the schedule next season.
I admit I’ve been a bit slow to report any recruiting news lately, so let’s get caught up now. Rutgers hosted three notable recruits back in late November for the Hartford game that turned into a thriller. They were class of 2018 point guard Anthony Nelson from South Kent School in Connecticut, ‘18 shooting guard Luther Muhammad from Hudson Catholic in Jersey City, and Al-Amir Dawes, a combo guard from The Patrick School in Newark who is in the class of 2019.
According to 247 Sports, Rutgers offered Nelson back in October and he also has picked up recent offers from Manhattan, VCU, and DePaul. He also previously held offers from St. John’s and Hofstra. Adam Zagoria of SNY spoke with Nelson about his recruitment and his interest in Rutgers.
Whether Rutgers ultimately lands Nelson or not, South Kent is a great basketball prep school and one worth the staff’s time in building relationships there.
As for Muhammad, the 4-star recruit is part of the “Fab Five” of Sports U that Rutgers has been recruiting hard since the summer. Muhammad visited campus in October with that entire group of players for the Michigan football game, which was a weekend the program hosted close to 50 recruits. He is a dynamic player who would be a major win on the recruiting trail for Rutgers, based on his potential and the high major interest he is receiving. It’s great to see coach Pikiell and the staff getting the talented guard back on campus for a game. Hopefully, he will return for Big Ten action later this season.
Dawes is entering his sophomore season and starting to garner high major interest. According to 247 Sports, he holds offers from DePaul, Minnesota and Rutgers. His progress and development on the court this season under former Rutgers coach Mike Rice at the Patrick School will be something to watch for.
Earlier this week, the New England Recruiting Report tweeted than an offer has been made by Rutgers to a top guard in their region.
Duke is rated the 4th best prospect in Massachusetts and 7th best in New England by the NERR for the class of 2018. He performed well last weekend in leading his school, Cushing, to two wins, including one over Nelson and South Kent. You can read more about the dynamic wing’s performance here, which includes a note that Duke also played soccer at Cushing this past fall. That is rare for a top prospect to play multiple sports, but Duke is said to be ultra-athletic. He is certainly an intriguing prospect for Rutgers to be in the mix on.
Last night, class of 2018 wing Isaiah Mucius tweeted that he received an offer from Rutgers.
Mucius plays for the PSA Cardinals on the AAU circuit, one of the best programs in the country. He plays for the St. James School in Maryland for high school ball and is rated the 56th best prospect in his class by ESPN. The 4-star recruit reportedly holds offers from Oregon, Penn State, Xavier, Virginia Tech, Seton Hall, St. Johns and others as well, according to 247 Sports. He is certainly a player worth tracking this season and the spring with the PSA Cardinals, a program Rutgers is working to build relationships with after recruiting forward Hasahn French unsuccessfully this past summer.
Adam Zagoria just tweeted an update on coach Pikiell visiting Roselle Catholic 5-star center Naz Reid yesterday.
He would be a program changer, both on the court and with the perception of Rutgers in the recruiting world. There is no doubt Pikiell is doing everything possible to bring Reid on the banks and join his former teammate, freshman guard Matt Bullock. I spoke with Bullock about Rutgers recruiting top local players, including Reid, here. I’ve written about Pikiell’s recruitment of Reid and his visits to campus here and here.
Rutgers currently has one commit in the class of 2017 with New Hampshire Guard Geo Baker, who pledged his allegiance to Pikiell soon after the July live recruiting period. Baker made his senior debut yesterday and dominated the game.
The combo guard is an intriguing addition to the program and has a sterling reputation as being extremely coachable, as well as a hard worker. He could be a real sleeper in this class and someone that develops well under the coaching staff at Rutgers. With Baker’s commitment, the program has one available scholarship remaining for the class of 2017 as of now. It’s been relatively quiet lately, in terms of who Rutgers is recruiting in this current cycle, but I will keep everyone updated as any new reports surface.
Rutgers On The Court
Kevin Lorincz is the Senior Associate Athletic Director for Communications for Rutgers and tweeted this gem yesterday. This stat highlights how much progress the program really has made so far this season.
In terms of KenPom rankings, Rutgers is currently at #142 after beginning the season ranked #191. It is important to note that Rutgers strength of schedule is currently ranked #351 out of 351 Division I teams. Even so, the move up the RPI and KenPom rankings has been nothing short of impressive. A win is a win is a win and how Rutgers finishes their non-conference schedule will be key ahead of their first Big Ten game on December 27th at Wisconsin. Hopefully, they can finish strong and meet or exceed 10 wins ahead of their game against the highly ranked Badgers.
A couple notes from Rutgers best performance of the season against CCSU on Tuesday, they shot the best single game mark for the program in 26 seasons. Regardless of the competition, it was great to see Rutgers dominate on the offensive end from start to finish.
The program continues to do a tremendous job on social media and provided these highlight reels from Tuesday’s game. And yes, if you haven’t seen yet this season, they’ve added smoke machines for the team introductions.
The RAC has started to show signs of glory days of the past early on this season, which will be key for this team once conference play begins. Here is a fun feature by the Daily Targum Sports Editor Brian Fonseca on a student who is livening up the student section.
I missed this from last week’s game against the Hurricanes, but Rutgers legend Quincy Douby, who has a home in Miami, met with Pikiell and came out to watch his old team. Pikiell has made a point to reach out to past players and I will have more on that in the near future. It was great to see the two connect here. I love how Pikiell is embracing the past and creating a family environment within the program.
Corey Sanders has a new video out with Home Team Hoops, who have done a series with the Rutgers guard over a couple of years now. Here is the latest.
I will end with this, it’s December 8th and the Rutgers men’s basketball team currently has an 8-1 record. Think about that. There are no more cupcakes on the schedule, but I think that is a great thing for the development of this team. They took care of business against weaker opponents, something that hasn’t happened consistently with this program in a long time. That’s progress. It’s time for the competition to ramp up and I’m excited to see what they can do.
It won’t be easy sledding and expectations should be kept in check, especially once Big Ten play begins. However it’s important to note that we are right in the middle of the holiday season and positive vibes still exist with this team. That hasn’t happened in a few years. To quote Andy Dufresne, “hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies”. When is the last time hope was real with Rutgers basketball? Stay positive and enjoy this team. Regardless of their final record, it’s obvious Pikiell has already led this program a few steps forward in a short amount of time. They return to the court this Saturday night against Stony Brook and I’ll have plenty on Pikiell’s return to the program he built from scratch ahead of the game.
Another sign that Steve Pikiell is getting his message across: Rutgers is currently leading the country in offensive rebounds. All effort.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) December 6, 2016