We are officially less than a week away from the Rutgers men’s basketball season tipping off. However, we are being treated with a special bonus, as Rutgers and St. John’s are squaring off at the RAC at 1 p.m. this Sunday to raise money for the American Red Cross. Let’s start with the details for this charity exhibition, and then we can talk hoops.
How To Watch: BTN2GO with Lou Brogno and Joe Boylan (subscription needed)
How To Listen: WRSU (88.7 FM)
What To Watch For
Unlike secret scrimmages, when coaches usually experiment with different lineups and situational type things, I expect Steve Pikiell to coach this exhibition like a real game. This matchup is a great opportunity to get a real barometer as to where his team is less than a week from the season beginning. Expect the core of Corey Sanders, Deshawn Freeman, and Mike Williams to play big minutes. As for the rest of the roster, it will be interesting to see how many minutes other players will be on the court. This exhibition is a first look at Eugene Omoruyi and Issa Thiam after both had a strong offseason, as well as the newcomers, which we’ll get to in a minute. Players raved about improved team chemistry at media day this week, so keep an eye on how that translates on the court in this exhibition. Will this team look more unified and play more unselfishly on offense? Tomorrow is the first chance to observe all of the above.
Another benefit of this exhibition game is that newcomers Geo Baker, Mamadou Doucoure, Myles Johnson, and Souf Mensah can get their feet wet in a game-like setting before the regular season begins. I expect Baker and Doucoure to see significant action in this exhibition, while Johnson and Mensah will get some time as well. It will be a great learning experience for all of them.
Pace of Play
This could be an up and down game, with both teams looking to push it. That could lead to sloppy play, as this is the toughest test for either side as the preseason nears an end. However, Pikiell has spoken about how this year’s roster is better equipped to run in transition and push the pace. It will be interesting to see how much faster Rutgers plays and how effective they are in transition, as well as in limiting turnovers.
Pikiell told me at Big Ten media day that he thought Rutgers was “very average most of the year” on defense last season. With new additions to the roster, improved strength and conditioning, and a continued focus on the defensive end, it will be interesting to see how Rutgers defends against St. John’s. Chris Mullin’s team has a lot of talented offensive players in Shamorie Ponds, Bashir Ahmed, and Marcus LoVett. They will be a major challenge for Rutgers, but also a great test ahead of Big Ten play.
St. John’s has just three players who are at least 6’9” and only one who is taller in 6’11” Tariq Owens, who led the Big East in blocked shots last season. Rutgers has six players at 6’9” or taller and will rotate Shaq Doorson (7’0”), Myles Johnson (6’10”), Candido Sa (6’9”), and Mamadou Doucoure (6’9”) in the frontcourt. The other two players are walk-on Luke Nathan and wing Issa Thiam, both listed at 6’10”. Rutgers was the best offensive rebounding team in the Big Ten last season, but struggled on the boards on the defensive end. They’ll have an opportunity to assert themselves on the glass in this exhibition and if they can hold the upper hand in rebounding, that would be an encouraging sign.
I love that Rutgers and St. John’s are playing each other, even if it’s only an exhibition. There is great history between these two teams, which I went into detail on here. The Johnnies were picked to finish in the middle of the pack of the Big East in sixth place, while Rutgers was picked to finish in last in the Big Ten. This is a great test for Rutgers and an opportunity to show they’ve improved even before the season opener. Both coaches will care what the final score is in this exhibition, so expect this to be a very competitive contest. My dream is for Rutgers to play suffocating defense and dominate the boards and while the score gets out of reach, Chris Mullin plays the role of Apollo Creed’s trainer in Rocky IV, screaming from the sidelines. Cue the tape:
Sarcasm aside, it’s going to be a positive learning experience for Rutgers, regardless of the outcome. Hopefully, the Scarlet Knights come out ready to play and give the home faithful an entertaining and encouraging performance. And it’s for a good cause to boot. If St. John’s wins, then it’s a great motivating tool for Pikiell to use, as this team continues to develop. Either way, it’s a great event to have on the first Sunday in November, making the wait for the official start of the season next Friday more bearable.