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Rutgers Basketball’s Frontcourt Is Biggest In Big Ten

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Kentucky vs Stony Brook Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, graduate transfer C.J. Gettys committed to Rutgers while on a visit to the program. It was a big deal in more ways than one. After having just ten scholarship players for next season at the beginning of August, Rutgers has now added crucial depth to the roster in quick order and very late in the process.

Adding Canadian wing Eugene Omoruyi three weeks ago was a great, late pickup from the class of 2016. Omoruyi is strong bodied, an intense defender, and offers versatility for head coach Steve Pikiell. Coupled with the even later addition of Gettys, an eventual starter on NCAA tournament team UNC-Wilmington last season, Rutgers got much deeper ahead of the 2016-2017 season. Even more so, they have now assembled the biggest roster that the program has seen in quite some time.

Coach Pikiell now has five frontcourt scholarship players at his disposal who stand at 6’9” or taller. Shaq Doorson and C.J. Gettys are 7’0” tall, Ibrahima Diallo is 6’10” and newcomers Candido Sa and Issa Thiam are 6’9”. When was the last time Rutgers had five frontcourt players 6’9” or taller you ask? It has been just over a decade, as the last winning season Rutgers has had was with the 2005-2006 team, when six players stood at 6’9” or taller. Before that, going as far back as has heights listed for rosters, no other Rutgers team dating back through 1993-1994 ever had more than four players that tall, with most having less than that many.

I’m not saying having such a vertically gifted roster guarantees success. However, in just a matter of months, Pikiell and his staff have assembled what now looks like a legitimate Big Ten roster on paper. The only program currently listing five players on their roster at 6’9” or taller in addition to Rutgers is Michigan. The only other teams that come close are Minnesota and Maryland, who have four players standing that tall. Every other Big Ten school has three or less players standing at 6’9” or taller. Rutgers is also the only school in the conference currently boasting two seven footers on the roster, now that Gettys has come aboard.

This is significant, especially considering Rutgers actually has one open scholarship spot for next season. While Pikiell inherited Doorson and Diallo, only the latter saw court time last season. With Doorson hurt the entire season, Diallo ultimately missed more than half the season as well due to injury. Having both back healthy is a positive development, and they are now joined by three more frontcourt players that can matchup with their stature. Candido Sa is a shot blocking force and is likely to be the program’s fiercest rim enforcer since former Big East Defensive Player of the Year Hamady N’Diaye roamed the RAC. Issa Thiam is more of a wing player than a post up, play in the paint forward. However, his length and wingspan. along with his shot making and defensive ability, could provide valuable versatility for Pikiell off the bench.

And now there is Gettys, the 7-footer who is a natural center and played meaningful minutes for an NCAA Tournament team last season. He averaged 5.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks in over 15 minutes per game, while shooting 50% from the field and 74% from the free throw line. He struggles with foul trouble, but at a minimum, he will provide depth in the frontcourt. While starting the past two seasons out of shape, UNCW’s beat writer Eric Detweiler wrote that Gettys was an important player in the team’s CAA championship run. I can imagine strength and conditioning guru David Van Dyke has plans for the big fella, in order to maximize his potential during his one and only season on the banks. Although, chugging milk may continue as part of his diet.

When Pikiell became head coach in April, Rutgers welcomed him with a frontcourt comprised of three players returning from significant injuries in Doorson, Diallo, and undersized power forward Deshawn Freeman. Rising sophomore and multi-talented forward Jonathan Laurent was inherited as well, but he played mostly on the wing last season and rarely plays with his back to the basket. As many issues as Rutgers had last season, their lack of size and versatility in the frontcourt was near the top of the list.

That has changed in a hurry. Freeman and Laurent have the ability to provide scoring punch on a consistent basis. Adding Sa and Gettys on the blocks, with Thiam and Omoruyi on the wing, and all of a sudden this roster is looking a lot more like a Big Ten program. Add this to one of many reasons why the program’s future looks dramatically brighter under new head coach Steve Pikiell. There is a lot of work to be done on the court this season, and the health of the big men will be a key component to the potential progress this team makes. However, adding Gettys is so important in adding depth and a natural center who can be sound insurance at a minimum for Rutgers if Doorson or Diallo fall injured. Best case scenario, Pikiell has a bruising, veteran big man at his disposal, allowing him to mix and match multiple lineups and create mismatches on both ends of the floor. Most importantly, last season’s interior defense that resembled an open field, will now look more like a forest full of trees.

Either way, this team got a hell of a lot more interesting this past month. Rutgers will still be universally picked last in the Big Ten for this season. However, the savvy moves this staff has made over the summer have put this team in a far better position entering this season versus last. I compared Pikiell’s first roster before the August moves with Mike Rice’s first roster, when he led an overachieving team to a 15-17 record. While Rice had an advantage with three seniors, amazingly he had zero players who stood at 6’9” or taller. Pikiell can counter the lack of seniors with as talented and experienced coaching staff the program has had, perhaps ever. And now, thanks to diligent recruiting and resourcefulness, Rutgers has the tallest team in years and the biggest in the Big Ten next season. That alone is progress, a good three months before the first tip-off of the season.