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Rutgers Basketball: Steve Pikiell Brings Optimism to an Undermanned Team

According to Jon Rothstein, there are 63 days until the beginning of the college basketball season. And it’s very likely that Rutgers, under the tutelage of new head coach Steve Pikiell, will still be picked to land at the bottom of the Big Ten standings.

And, quite frankly, they probably should be coming off a 7 win season that got Eddie Jordan fired.

Rutgers will likely not be a great team next year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be optimistic. Things are looking brighter each day for both the basketball and the football team, despite facing what might be tough seasons.

Pikiell and company landed their first commitment the other day in guard Geo Baker. Baker represents hope for the future, a shooter who can also run the offense. But Baker is still a year off, and casual Rutgers fans may wonder what this year’s squad has to offer.

Well, when you break it down, there’s actually a decent amount of talent on the squad. Corey Sanders returns, a highlight reel of a point guard, who—after testing the NBA Draft waters—is back to build on a spectacular freshman season. He will have Kansas State transfer Nigel Johnson at his side. Jonathan Laurent will finally play wing exclusively and look to build on a solid freshman season. And it appears the big men are finally healthy, Ibrahim Diallo, Shaquille Doorson and key cog DeShawn Freeman.

Plus Mike Williams, a guard coming off the bench to hopefully shoot some threes. Newcomers Issa Thiam, Candido Sa, and Matt Bullock will hopefully add some scoring punch as well. Pikiell recently said that all three can shoot it, which would be an improvement over the previous season.

The problems this team has are twofold. One: They have to learn a totally new coaching staff, which will probably lead to a learning curve. The NCAA adding workouts in the summer certainly helps, but until the team starts playing together completely, who knows what their weaknesses with how Pikiell wants to play? Look for a team to be better in February than in November.

Two: This is the bigger problem—depth There is only one back-up scholarship guard if Bullock is to play back-up wing with Thiam. And, Corey Sanders is the only true point guard on the team. Nigel Johnson will likely swing over there to give Corey a breather, but if anyone gets hurt back there, Rutgers will be in trouble. But if Thiam, Bullock, Williams and Sa can shoot then this team can be dangerous. Defense keeps rebuilding teams in games, and that can lead to upsets. Big time.

So, after a 7 win year, what constitutes a successful season?

Personally, in my humble opinion, I want fun. I want to pass the eye test and see a team that defends, rebounds, and plays their heart out. Be in games. Upset someone. Be over .500 in the Out of Conference portion of the schedule and win more than one Big Ten game.

An upset would be nice.

Aaron recently compared this squad to Mike Rice’s first season. A year like that would exceed expectations. But it’s possible.

As much as I believe in Chris Ash, I believe in Pikiell. I also think Pikiell has the harder job. Rutgers hoops has been down a lot longer than football. But as Aaron said today, patience is needed... in both sports.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t be optimistic. There’s nothing like a RAC that’s rocking. And that means the team is playing hard.

There’s some talent here, and talent can surprise. Look for Pikiell to show signs of improvement on day one, even if the team takes a little while to catch up.

Look for things to change on the hardwood.