There are many areas that the Rutgers men’s basketball team needs to improve on next season, but none is more important than on the defensive end. The holes in the Rutgers defense last season were the equivalent of a dartboard with a bullseye the size of the RAC. The 80.3 points per game allowed last season was ranked 333rd out of 351 Division I teams. Opponents scored 90+ points in eight contests, exactly 25% of games played last season.
Defending the paint, the three-point line, and rebounding the basketball were all major issues last season. But there is a new sheriff in town who should make immediate improvements in those areas. One major reason new Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell turned Stony Brook into a mid-major power was due to their defense. There should be little doubt that Rutgers will defend and rebound the basketball better this season. The only question is how much better.
One player that Pikiell has brought to the banks who will have a major impact on the defensive end is JUCO transfer Candido Sa. Besides having a tremendous name, the 6’9” big man comes with a reputation as an elite shot blocker. He averaged 3.8 blocks per game at San Jacinto in Texas last season, good for 2nd in the country in JUCO play. Although he needs to continue to develop his game, shot blocking has been his strength for a long time. Sa averaged 2.4 blocks per game in the 2012 U20 European Championships for his native Portugal.
Last season, Rutgers had a block percentage of 7.9%, which ranked 223rd out of 351 Division I teams, per KenPom. In the Big Ten, they ranked 10th with just 3.53 blocks per game. With Sa averaging more than that by himself last season in JUCO play, there is hope he will become a feared rim enforcer in the Big Ten.
The last time Rutgers had a premiere shot blocker on the roster was Hamady N’Diaye, who averaged 4.5 blocks per game his senior year during the 2009-2010 season, which was the most in the Big East and 3rd in the country. It resulted in N’Diaye being named the Big East Defensive Player of the Year and he was drafted in the 2nd round of the NBA Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves. N’Diaye finished his career at Rutgers as the all-time program leader in blocked shots and sixth all-time in Big East conference history. Dave White and I also included N’Diaye on our all-decade team for Rutgers in the 2000’s.
Those would be some big shoes to fill for Sa. The good news is he doesn’t need to come close to N’Diaye’s career and he would still be a major addition for Rutgers the next two seasons. The coaching staff knows his potential and surely have high hopes for Sa. He joins a frontcourt that is full of uncertainty, with Deshawn Freeman, Shaq Doorson, and Ibrahima Diallo all returning from season ending injuries. He will have a great opportunity to make an immediate impact this season.
The program continues reshaping itself on social media this summer and released this funny and clever video a few days ago. While backcourt mates Corey Sanders and Nigel Johnson are included, the star of the video is Candido Sa. This video is reminiscent of some classic ESPN commercials and is very well done. Let’s hope that Sa does indeed host a “Block Party” this season, which is something that not only would make Rutgers fans happy, but help the team make progress on the court too.