This past weekend, Florida transfer and former 4-star recruit Brandone Francis visited Rutgers. Although Francis will need to sit out next season due to transfer rules, the talented guard would have been a solid addition so early in the tenure of head coach Steve Pikiell. Unfortunately, it didn't happen.
Florida transfer Brandone Francis has committed to Texas Tech, per his twitter page. Good get for Chris Beard and the Red Raiders.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) June 14, 2016
With three open scholarships remaining, Rutgers is in a precarious position with the summer now jumping into full swing. As of now, there are no scheduled visits that have been reported for any potential transfer candidates. There is also the reality that the top transfer candidates are off the market. Here are three thoughts on the current state of the program.
Losing Recruiting Battles.....For Now
Pikiell has done everything right in the first couple of months on the job. He hired a top notch staff. He has made recruiting New Jersey players and building relationships with top local high schools and AAU programs a priority. He scooped up the best non-committed player in the state, Matt Bullock, from Roselle Catholic. Issa Thiam re-committed to the new coaching staff. Pikiell beat out Texas for Candido Sa. Still, it hasn't been easy for the staff to rebuild the rest of the roster, losing transfer battles to St. Bonaventure, Nevada, and now Texas Tech.
The rebuild of the Rutgers men's basketball program is one of the toughest in the country, if not the toughest. It's going to take time for the staff to start landing big time recruits. The important part is they are laying the proper groundwork to do so in the long term. Missing out on Francis and the Martin brothers, all highly recruited players out of high school with power five conference experience, proves the point that it will take time. Landing an impact graduate transfer is next to impossible for a program that is trying to rebound from one of, if not the worst, seasons ever by a power five conference team. Pikiell is going to need to show progress on the court this season to build credibility with recruits and show that the program is on its way up. Facility upgrades are important too, but winning changes perception over anything else.
10 Scholarship Players To Start The Season
The concern now is as each day passes, the likelihood of Rutgers entering the 2016-2017 season with just 10 scholarship players becomes stronger. There is a legitimate core of talent on this team, led by Corey Sanders, Deshawn Freeman, Jonathan Laurent, and Nigel Johnson. However, the roster includes Bullock and Thiam, two freshman that have potential, but they will be needed to contribute from day one. Bullock's best offer was Rutgers and there is doubt in recruiting circles that he can succeed in a power five conference. Thiam is an exciting player, but he needs to seriously bulk up for the rough and tumble Big Ten.
In addition, this team will be two injuries away from potential disaster. We saw what happened last season when the frontcourt suffered three season ending injuries, a significant reason why the team fell apart. While Pikiell has four players of 6'9" or taller on the roster, he can't afford any of them to miss any significant chunks of time. The depth in the backcourt is scary thin, as only Sanders, Johnson, and Mike Williams are established players. Lose any one of them and it will cause a serious problem. Lose Sanders and there is no natural point guard on the roster to replace him.
The good news is Pikiell puts a priority on strength and conditioning and brought David Van Dyke with him from Stony Brook. Athletic Director Pat Hobbs was so impressed with Van Dyke that he hired him to run the strength and conditioning program for every sport except for football. There should be no doubt that the players will be better prepared in this area heading into the season, which hopefully results in less injuries.
Give credit to the staff for not just grabbing a player to add to the roster that could maybe help as a body in the short term, but might not be the right fit for the long term. Despite the negative impact of having three open scholarships for next season, it does give the staff an opportunity to make a real impact with the 2017 class. Successfully selling those recruits on the big picture plan will be a major challenge, until the coaching staff can show results on the court.
Coaches Mettle Will Be Tested
The potential positive here is if Rutgers can overachieve next season and show legitimate progress on the court, Pikiell and staff will prove they have serious coaching chops. That will resonate with local coaches and recruits and be as effective of a recruiting pitch as there is. Of course, the flip side is this team may be so thin that it's impossible to show any real progress in the win column. However, there is reason to be confident in several things next season. This team will be better conditioned, they will play better on the defensive end, and they will be better strategically prepared for each opponent. With Freeman healthy, Sanders back, and the additions of Johnson in the backcourt and Sa as a defensive presence in the frontcourt, this team is definitely better on paper than last season. Or course, depth is the biggest concern.
It's important to judge Pikiell in year one based on where the program was when he took over and how he moves that needle in terms of progress. The most important part of Pikiell's job is building the groundwork for future success within the program. Remember, Hobbs loved Pikiell because he is a proven program builder. All signs early on confirm he knows exactly what to do in revamping things on the banks. Time and patience are needed. If no scholarship player is added for next season, some luck and fortune will be needed as well to avoid serious roster attrition due to injuries. The biggest takeaway so far though is Pikiell is playing the long game in his approach and he and his staff's coaching acumen should benefit the short term, however limited the roster may be.