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OTB Round Table: Rutgers Men’s Basketball Season Expectations & Predictions

Our staff give their thoughts before the 2017-2018 campaign tips off!

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The second season of the “Pikiell Era” tips off on Friday night at the RAC against CCNY. There is a lot of excitement and optimism entering this season and our staff came together to answer a few questions, discuss expectations and make some predictions on how we see things playing out. Let’s tip things off here.

Expectations For This Team

Pete Winter: My expectations for this season go beyond the final record. I expect to see a team that competes in every single game. Last year, Rutgers was much improved in this department, but they still had nights like the Iowa game at the RAC, which was a total no-show.

I’m also expecting the Scarlet Knights to continue to get better on the defensive end, since I think the players are much more comfortable with the system and their responsibilities now.

David Anderson: The team will maintain a similar level of defense, adding a little more offense to the mix though not setting the world on fire. The team should never slow down in transition even though there should be some improvement in the halfcourt. What excites me more than even what appears to be a brilliant coaching staff is that there’s at least eight players who could blow expectations away.

Sanders (more moves), Freeman (a baseline J), and Williams (dynamic passing) have an area or two they could get better, but everyone else is still so raw. The biggest stretch of the “raw eight” is Matt Bullock but would it be that surprising if a year was needed for the First Team-All Stater to adjust to the bigger players in division 1 then show off some Zach Randolph type skills? The other seven have a realistic path to being a solid Big Ten starter, so converting half of those gives the team 6 or 7 legit B1G starter-types which hasn’t happened since when, 1979? This should be the best RU team since 2005-06 (even respecting ‘10-’11 team’s end of season run), could be since 2003-04.

Bob Cancro: If the ball isn’t a spheroid and it isn’t competed on a mat, you’re putting me at a significant disadvantage. The culture change by Pikiell is significant. It seems that over the last several decades years leading to Pike’s arrival, basketball drifted from one coach and philosophy to the next. And no one seemed to focus on the fundamentals, on team play. We brought in some exciting players, but they were either alone in their abilities or allowed to free lance with no structure. I see a more disciplined approach under Pikiell. I see talent being developed, not simply allowed to “play”. I see this team being just that - a team, and playing like one. I don’t see it giving up its identity or its focus if things get tough, and they will. Forty minutes of hard-nosed, tough, smart basketball...every game.

Patrick Mella: It’s about time this program puts together a winning season and I think this year it’s a real possibility. It’s realistic to expect Rutgers to be 11-4 when they wake up New Year’s Day. I have them losing to FSU, Minnesota, Michigan State and Seton Hall to start the season. The Stony Brook game worries me but it’s a game they need to find a way to win. Of the remaining sixteen games (not including the post season), I defined eight of them as “winnable” games. These games include two games each versus Ohio State, Nebraska and Illinois. All teams they were able to beat last season. They also have one game each versus Northwestern (home) and Penn State (away). They lost twice last season to Northwestern but the second game they had in their pocket before blowing a lead late. Rutgers will also return to the Bryce Jordan Center, where they were able to pull out a 70-68 victory against Penn State a year ago. If Rutgers goes .500 against those teams (4-4) that would get them to fifteen wins. If I had to pick an upset, I’d look at the game versus Iowa at home. They have plenty of talent even with the loss of Peter Jok but Rutgers played them tough the first game last season. If Rutgers can get one more win in the Big Ten Tournament that would get them to 17 wins and their first winning season since 2006.

Dave White: A fun season. Seriously, that’s what I expect. This year will be similar to this year. Rutgers runs roughshod through (most) of the easy part of the OOC (but don’t be surprised if there’s a slip-up, because my DMs always need a little Zach Braziller in its life), and then Rutgers plays tight, close games with most of the Big Ten. Will there be blow-outs? Of course, even Duke loses by 20 once in a while. But I expect Rutgers to pull a RAC upset this year and the optimism for the Steve Pikiell era to continue.

Jim Hoffman: I think they will surprise a lot of people this season. I fully expect a winning season (more on that further in the article), and I expect them to end in the middle of the pack of the Big Ten. I think that the pieces that Steve Pikiell has gotten for this year will give him more room to change up based upon the opposition, and as a result, a couple of upsets. I think it’s going to be the most exciting team we’ve had here in the last 10 years.

Aaron Breitman: Be more competitive, improve in all phases of the game, and hopefully, produce the first winning season in 12 years for the program. I went into detail with ten things I hope for this season here.

Most Exciting Development

Pete Winter: To me, the most exciting development is the positive energy surrounding the team, which Rutgers Basketball hasn’t had in a long time. Steve Pikiell is the real deal and has been working non-stop to build the program. I think he added some really important pieces for this season (Mamadou Doucoure, Geo Baker) and I can’t wait to see these guys on the court.

David Anderson: Improved quick, halfcourt passing. With all the improvement we saw last year overall, the team still struggled at times to make simple entry passes against man to man. Against zone they were completely lost at times, though as the season went on it seemed the interior passing was starting to come along at least. This improvement was crucial to the Big Ten wins down the stretch so my hope is that this year we see that extend a little farther from the hoop and more quality “hockey assists”, the pass that sets up the pass, make for easier scoring chances. Then if there is some more consistency in shooting from Thiam, Omoruyi, and Freeman on simple baseline 10 footers, that will open the floor completely for better looks from deep AND lobs to centers. This coupled with the second yera in the same offense pushes Rutgers to be a middle of the pack B1G offense.

Patrick Mella: I was originally going to go with Doucoure being eligible this season but I’m going to go in a different direction. I love the addition of the St. Johns game. Yes, it’s an exhibition but unlike professional sports there is no preseason in college. This allows Rutgers to do several things. For one, they get to formally play against another team in front of a home crowd unlike their two scrimmages. They’re also playing a local opponent and one that is seen as considerably better than Rutgers. This could really set the tone for Rutgers going into the season. Plus, the fans also get an early look at the team and while contributing to a great cause. It really is a win-win for everyone involved.

Dave White: I can’t wait to see what Geo Baker brings to this team. He has the potential to be a great shooter and a ton of length to really be a problem on defense. Plus, adding his and Mamadou Doucoure athleticism is going to allow this team to press and allow fans to see new wrinkles on defense. I’m excited to see those developments in action.

Jim Hoffman: The sense of optimism by players, staff, and fans. I think this will be a great time to watch the team develop this season. I really think their excitement will bring fans, and most importantly, students back to “Pack the RAC” again. The RAC is a fantastic home court advantage when it is filled, and the success of this team will bring people back to see those games.

Aaron Breitman: Retaining the coaching and support staff is hugely important entering year two of this rebuild. It’s an aspect that often gets overlooked. Pikiell touched on it here during Big Ten media day. The job that assistant coach Jay Young does with the defense and frontcourt, as well as Brandin Knight with the guards, are vital to the development of this team. Associate head coach Karl Hobbs was courted by Georgetown in the offseason and has strong family ties to the area, but ultimately stayed at Rutgers. Strength and Conditioning Director David Van Dyke has had a major impact as well. Having support staff like Greg “Shoes” Vetrone, Bryan Dougher, and Ben Asher provide stability for the players, on and off the court. There is no way to specifically quantify the value, but players knowing and understanding the staff, as well as their standards and expectations going into this season is a major plus. It’s also, top to bottom, one of, if not the best, complete staff’s the program has ever had together at one time.

Biggest Concern

Pete Winter: I guess I could say shooting in general, but I’ll narrow it down to the Free Throw shooting. Last year, the Knights ranked 343rd out of 347 in this department, which almost seems unreal. If the Team FT% moves from 62.3% (like it was last season) to somewhere closer to 68%, Rutgers could pull out a few tight games that went the other way last season.

David Anderson: Bench scoring. Last year Nigel Johnson saved the team several times as a microwave off the bench including the Big Ten tournament win. He’s gone. Doorson is good for plenty of offensive rebounds, but can he convert more of them? Thiam and Sa rarely delivered a boost but the potential is there. Smart coaches have someone to be that guy to lead a second unit against the other team’s reserves, but will it have to be Williams? Williams came off the bench early in the ‘16-’17 season to deliver big performances that were just enough for victories, but the senior leader probably deserves to start.

Aaron and Dave probably can look into the crystal ball as to who will start, but my guess (Sanders/Williams/Omoruyi/Freeman/Doorson) would mean Mensah, Baker, Thiam, Doucoure, and Sa as the second group. Can they put the biscuit in the basket? If a newcomer emerges or Thiam takes a leap, maybe Freeman comes off the bench but then again he’s a senior leader like Williams. If someone really becomes a star, he will end up starting and not help the bench either. I do trust Pikiell probably more than any Rutgers coach in any sport right now to solve this type of problem eventually, but for now there is plenty of uncertainty.

Bob Cancro: I’m going to play off David’s thought. How deep are we? I think we have talent and I think we can do things. But can we withstand the long grind and stay healthy and go ten deep regularly without a major drop off in performance?

Patrick Mella: This is a tough one. Interior defense is definitely a concern and it’s no secret their struggles at the free throw line. But I just think that ball movement and shooting in general was really lacking. Rutgers finished 2017 last in the Big Ten in total points, points per game, field goal, free throw and three point percentages. It may be an overly simplified way of looking at things but their lack of scoring whether it’s at the line or just a needing a shot to drop in the last two minutes, cost them games last year. The good news is that Coach Pikiell has brought in players that can have an immediate impact especially in the backcourt. JUCO transfer Souf Mensah should be the primary ball handler allowing Corey Sanders and Mike Williams to better work off the ball. True freshman Geo Baker might be the best pure shooter on the team and is almost a hybrid of Sanders and Mensah. Also, at 6’5’’ he brings some much needed size to the backcourt. Now I’m just rambling. Ball movement and shooting are my biggest concerns going into the season but I do believe they will be improved.

Dave White: This is still a rebuilding team. There are going to be losses and losing streaks. Last year, when everything under Pikiell was new, the team always got up off the mat. Have a bad game? The next game Rutgers would beat Penn State on the road. But now that the team is used to Pikiell, do they react the same way? There’s the possibility that Rutgers can not react as well to losses. But with senior leadership from Mike Williams, Candido Sa, and Deshawn Freeman, they should keep the rest of the team in line.

Jim Hoffman: Shooting and scoring points is my biggest concern. Last season they saved several games due to strong defense, but I was hoping that the additions would increase the shooting percentages. The exhibition against St. John’s did nothing to calm those concerns, so that’s my biggest worry as we get underway this year.

Aaron Breitman: Rutgers has a brutal start to Big Ten play and I’m concerned about how it will affect the psyche of the team. When Wisconsin at home is the most winnable of the first five games in conference play (At Minnesota, Michigan State, At Purdue, At Michigan State, Wisconsin), you know the schedule is downright scary. The Badgers are in rebuilding mode, but are still expected to finish no worse than middle of the pack in the conference. If this team can survive that stretch, they’ll have an opportunity to win more Big Ten games than any Rutgers team before them. Playing Illinois, Ohio State, and Nebraska twice each is a big reason why. Hopefully, this season they can knock off a top half of the league team or two as well.

I am also concerned that the attitude of certain fans will be unfairly negativity towards this group after that difficult stretch in early January. If Rutgers starts 0-5 in the Big Ten, will the national media jump to conclusions and say same old Rutgers? Expectations need to be kept in check, as this is a long term rebuild, but there is no denying things are moving in the right direction. At the end of the day, all that matters is that this team sticks together and believes in themselves, something that Pikiell and the staff will likely be on top of to ensure that is the case.

Most Exciting Newcomer

Pete Winter: I’m looking forward to watching all of the newcomers because I think they all fill a need, which is a testament to Pikiell’s recruiting. But I’ll go with Mamadou Doucoure. This is a guy that had several high major offers, but bought in to Rutgers very early on. On the court, he adds much-needed rebounding and shot-blocking, but he’ll need to learn how to stay away from silly fouls (he picked up 4 fouls in 6 minutes during the St. John’s exhibition). If he can do that, he’ll be in the starting lineup (and playing major minutes) by Thanksgiving at the latest.

David Anderson: Hmmm ... Mamadou Doucoure could be Gregory Echenique 2.0 (8.4 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2.4 bpg) which would be enough to put this team over the top. That said, rarely do big guys explode onto the scene unless they are Anthony Davis types. Locally I remember St. John’s Zendon Hamilton being a freshman “superstar”, as former Scarlet Knights coach Dick Vitale calls a “diaper dandy” and still only averaging 11.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg. The other biggest impact post guys at RU as true freshmen in recent memory were Rashod Kent (9 and 5), and Ollie Bailey (9.7 and 4). If Doucoure struggles, the staff has proven commodities in Doorson, Sa, and Freeman. I welcome debate in the comments section.

So as a result it has to be one of the guards. Geo Baker is the best kept secret in America I hope, but what used to drive me nuts in the Big East was when Villanova seemed to have a rookie (often big-bodied) guard that seemed to be impossible to take the ball from and then played seemingly a dozen years there. I hope Junior transfer PG Souf Mensah is that poor man’s Khalid El-Amin which will allow for Corey Sanders to play off the ball some. That should keep Sanders more rested and put less pressure on Baker, Thiam, and Omoruyi to develop because the team can use Mike Williams at the 3 for stretches if needed. Last year, Nigel Johnson was never able to really play the point alongside Sanders so the team ended up using walk on Jake Dadika in that role at times. The reliable Dadika is back again and has a good pedigree, but doesn’t have the upside we want to see from other players. When Sanders was fresh late in games, Rutgers offense could dictate a double team every play leaving a man open outside as Sanders could take it to the right block at will for a floater.

Patrick Mella: I’m all in on four star recruit Mamadou Doucoure. He is the most hyped incoming player and has the physical assets to make an immediate impact around the glass. This week during media day he went as far as to say his goal was to be the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. I absolutely love hearing that from a freshman. Why not have lofty goals? It’s always tricky to know how freshman will perform until they’re on the court but the combination of Doucoure at center and veteran Deshawn Freeman at forward is downright scary. You may not see him to contribute much early as far as scoring wise but he doesn’t need to. There are plenty of other scoring options on the roster allowing Doucoure to concentrate on playing defense and being physical around the boards. The sky is the limit for the Duke!!

Dave White: See my other post, but I am so excited for Geo Baker. This team hasn’t had a knockdown shooter at the guard spot since Myles Mack. If Baker can be that, they will be able to upset a ton of teams. Baker’s ability to knock down threes will help Corey Sanders get to the rim, and open up more shooting for Issa Thiam as well. He adds a dimension this team didn’t have last year.

Jim Hoffman: Getting Mamadou Doucoure on the court and comfortable with Big Ten level opponents will season him. I think he has a huge ceiling, and I can’t wait to see him going up against the heart of the Big Ten schedule. His athleticism and skills will match up well with our opponents, and I can’t wait to see him do some damage to some elite teams. I truly think he will be talked about nationally very soon.

Aaron Breitman: Geo Baker is the real deal and will be a four year starter. He has poise and maturity beyond his years, is very skilled and a versatile talent. Hopefully, you’ll get sick of my “Geo Baker, the three-point maker” comments in my game recaps this season (or not). I think the staff hit a home run in finding him and in speaking with Baker at Rutgers media day, he seems to understand the importance and opportunity he and his classmates have in turning around the program. He will make mistakes as a freshman, but I expect him to become a fan favorite pretty early on and only get better as the season progresses.

Team MVP Prediction

Pete Winter: I was so impressed by Mike Williams last year. First, he stuck in there when he could have easily transferred out after the coaching change. Then, he worked to improve both on and off the court. To the point where the staff named him a co-captain midway through the season.

I was legitimately concerned when Mike went down during the St. John’s exhibition game, but apparently the injury wasn’t as bad as it appeared, which was great news. That would have been a massive loss.

As a senior this season, I think he will fully embrace the leadership role. His teammates will rally around his energy and work ethic, and he will significantly improve his own 3PT FG%.

David Anderson: The natural answer here is Corey Sanders (though the St. John’s “scrimmage” may say Freeman). As much talent as he has, Sanders really only had two go to moves to score the basketball last year, 1. shoot threes and 2. drive to the right hand for a floater (unstoppable without a double team). His passing and rebounding last year were completely underrated so if anyone else (nevermind two guys) can consistently be a second option he could appear incredible. If he has just a few other basic moves on top of that, All Big-Ten. So for that reason, if someone else outdoes his own expectations (Freeman, Issa, a newcomer, Doorson, Sa, Williams), Sanders will reap the benefits and appear on another level himself.

Patrick Mella: It’d be easy to pick someone like Corey Sanders or Mike Williams as they usually serve as the primary scoring options each night. But to me, when I think MVP I’m looking for the one guy on the team that is irreplaceable and to me that guy is Deshawn Freeman. The amount of hustle and energy he plays with on both ends of the court has made him into an integral piece of this team. There’s no reason he can’t be a double-double guy in the Big Ten this year. He’s not a polished scorer but he is a relentless attacker of the rim and someone this team will rely on heavily this season not just for stats but also leadership. There are plenty of guys on the roster that are important to the success of the team but to me no more than Deshawn Freeman.

Dave White: If Rutgers does well, Corey Sanders will be the MVP. He’s the most talented player on the court and has NBA aspirations. I think that if he is All Big Ten, Rutgers will outperform expectations. He and Deshawn Freeman make a good inside-outside pair. So, assuming Corey is serious about the NBA (and I think he is), he will be the team MVP. But he also has to play as a teammate. He has to be willing to set up teammates in good spots, he has to make better decisions of when to drive and when to pass. And he has to make his free throws.

Jim Hoffman: I’m going to follow Patrick’s comment and take the easy one here, because that’s what I really believe. I think this will be Corey Sanders’ last year at Rutgers. The additional pieces that Coach Pickiell has put in place will give him more room to work, and as a result, he will demonstrate his abilities better than he was able to do in his first two years here. I feel with so much on his shoulders to carry the team, he was limited in what he could do on the court. That won’t be the case this year. As a result, Corey will be the hands-down MVP of the team this season.

Aaron Breitman: As great as Corey Sanders can be and as valuable as Deshawn Freeman is in the post, Mike Williams personifies the heart and soul of this program right now. In becoming the best rebounding guard in the Big Ten last season, Williams is helping Pikiell create the culture he wants on the court. He is the only four year senior on the roster and he had the highest offensive efficiency rating on the team last season at 107.6, a respectable number. With Nigel Johnson no longer in the backcourt, I expect Williams to get more opportunities on the perimeter. Pikiell has praised his work ethic and leadership this offseason. Don’t underestimate the impact he will have on Geo Baker, who told me Mike has taken him under his wing. If Sunday’s exhibition was any indication, Williams looks primed for the best season of his career. With word that his injury suffered against St. John’s is minor, fans should cherish Mike’s last campaign, because he will go down as a very important figure as Steve Pikiell’s legacy builds at Rutgers in the future.

Regular Season Record Predictions

Pete Winter: Back in the spring, I had the 2017-18 season penciled in as a transition year before the all-important class of 2018 arrives. Since then, Rutgers filled some holes, adding Myles Johnson and Souf Mensah and getting Mamadou Doucoure to reclassify. I now think we’re ready to take another step up the Big Ten ladder. We’re not heading to the NCAA Tournament yet, but 18-13, 7-11 Big Ten (with one jaw-dropping upset) wouldn’t surprise me.

David Anderson: Let me first gloat in my prediction of the Knights B1G record AND a win in the Big Ten tournament a season ago. With so much progress a year ago, people may be optimistic. 16-15, 6-12 Big Ten is my best guess on the regular season because they may not be as lucky late in independent games, though could get more B1G bounces. The Knights will be the non top-25 team no one wants to play in the Big Ten tournament because of their grit.

Bob Cancro: Start with non-con schedule. No more than three losses - really going with confidence. They could be 10-3. There are some B1G games at the start of the season that break up the OOC and they will be tough (MSU, Minny). Conference? Much improved but still needing a few steps to compete against the big guns. Be bold, though: 20-11, 10-8 B1G

Patrick Mella: One of the things I always struggle with on these round tables is thinking with my heart and/or my head. Serious progress was made last season but I also think that’s a product of how bad (oh, very bad) that final season under Eddie Jordan was. I’ve heard fans saying “NIT or bust” this year but the non-conference schedule is too weak to allow for that unless Rutgers does something truly magical this year. It’s not insane but I think a more realistic goal should be for Rutgers to produce its first winning season in twelve years. You can read my expectations above to see exactly how exactly I get Rutgers to sixteen wins but I’ll stick with 16-15, 5-13 B1G.

Dave White: Bob just scared the hell out of me. 20 wins overall and 10 in the Big Ten? That’s crazy. I mean, God, I hope he’s right, but I just don’t think we’re there yet. The OOC is set up for success like it was last year. Rutgers really needs to clean up there. The key is going to be making a jump in the conference season. Rutgers needs to double its Big Ten wins from last year and finish over .500. I think they’ll get there. 17-14, 6-12 B1G.

Jim Hoffman: Last season, with a team not as strong as this one, Coach Pickiell led the team to a 14-17 regular season record. He will have more arrows in his quiver this year, and as a result, I think the minimum I would see from this team is a .500 season. I think they will do better than that, I really think that they will win 11 of the 13 OOC games, and they will win seven of their conference games, with two of them being surprise upsets. So I am going with 18-13, 7-11 Big Ten.

Aaron Breitman: Anything worse than 11 wins in non-conference play would be disappointing, but a slip up against a lesser opponent wouldn’t surprise me. The important thing with any loss in the early going is that Rutgers learns from it and that it helps them later in the season. As for conference play, like I mentioned above, the first five games will be a major challenge. However, it could benefit this team in the long run and make them very dangerous down the stretch. I think a signature win over one of the better teams in the conference is important for this group’s confidence, as well as feeding the perception that real progress is occurring. At the end of the day, a winning season is the real marker that needs to be achieved and I think it will happen. 17-14, 6-12 Big Ten.

Final Thoughts

Pete Winter: We’re only entering Steve Pikiell’s second year as coach, and in my opinion, the program has already gone through a dramatic change. From recruiting philosophy to on-court strategy, he’s showing that knows how to get it done. I think this year’s roster is much more suited to Pikiell’s style, and Rutgers will play faster to try to steal a few easy points.

The program is moving in the right direction, and the enthusiasm is slowly but surely returning to the fan base. That’s all you can ask.

David Anderson: The last time Rutgers went to the NCAA tournament, I was too young to remember. A successful season last year was simply winning nonconference games even against very low Division 1 competition. That and reducing embarrassing conference losses demonstrated progress in the year one of a new coaching staff.

Expectations may be too high in season two of this regime, but college basketball is very tough to predict. One player bursting on the scene or a guy improving out of nowhere can bring a team where no one outside of their building expected, which itself makes this NCAA drought even more unfathomable. On the other hand if Corey Sanders were to be injured, the team could struggle to win a Big Ten game. So regardless of record, we need to see the team capitalize on its circumstances. Like last year, expectations will shift over the course of the year. If key players are hurt, can the rest of the squad battle for a few unexpected wins? If everyone is healthy, another star emerges, there’s universal improvement, the schedule ends up breaking favorably, Rutgers simply has to surpass .500 for the year and reach some sort of postseason tournament.

Bob Cancro: I’m going to say about Pikiell what I said about Schiano when he came on board, but with even more confidence: If this guy can’t make us a perennial winner, no one will. He’s building this program, not simply plugging in pieces on a team. I don’t think an NIT berth is out of the question this year. And after that, the sky’s the limit.

Patrick Mella: I’ll be getting my BTN-Plus subscription this week so I can be sure to watch as many games as possible, but it’s also important to try and get down to the RAC (no I don’t work for the ticket office!). I know it can be tough, we all have stuff going on in our lives but even if it’s one game, it really does matter. You can click here to read a little more about Coach Pikiell talking about packing the RAC. I know I was at games last season where the RAC was far from full but was surprisingly loud and felt alive. This could be a really fun season to check out and one in which we could witness our first winning season in twelve years.

Dave White: They key in year two is to keep the seeds of what the coaching staff has laid rolling in year 2. Rutgers defense and rebounding needs to take a step forward. Losing Nigel Johnson and CJ Gettys and replacing them with (talented) freshmen might be a step back at first and Rutgers fans need to be ready for that. Expectations need to be kept in check. This team is not ready for an NCAA Tournament appearance yet, I don’t think. There are going to be some eye-crossing losses, but I also think there’ll be some out-of-the-blue mindblowing upsets. The key is to expect the unexpected and make sure the team is getting better both statiscally and via the eye test.

Jim Hoffman: While not getting to that magic number for an NCAA bid, I think an NIT invite is a realistic expectation for this season. I’m also counting on the OOC games to give the new players enough experience that they will be somewhat seasoned by the time the conference play gets underway in earnest. I think there will be a couple of surprising upsets, and a couple of head-scratching losses as well. They are a younger team primarily, with only three seniors on the squad, so mistakes will occur. However, I am all in on the coaching staff that Steve Pikiell has put in place, and I think this team will play over their heads. I’m really excited about watching them on the court. It’s going to be fun again at the RAC.

Aaron Breitman: One intangible quality I am hoping to see this team achieve is to assume more and more of the personality of their head coach this season. Steve Pikiell brought passion, intensity, work ethic, preparation and a focus to this program that started to transfer to his team towards the end of last season. After a strong offseason that brought true stability to the program for the first time in awhile, as well as how the players spoke and looked at practice last week, I think this team will end up being molded more closely in the same ilk of their head coach compared to last year.

Team chemistry appears to be strong and the buy-in from the entire roster is at an all-time high during Pikiell’s tenure so far. These are the type of things that can elevate a team that isn’t the most talented, but has a true desire to play and win together. I want Rutgers to truly become the team no one wants to play in the Big Ten. While everyone, including me, hopes this team is improved offensively, I think the key and more realistic hope is continued progress with defense and rebounding. If this group can be in the top half of the league on defense, as well as on the defensive glass, they will beat teams they aren’t expected to. The program needs to solidify its identity under Pikiell this season and take on the traits of their head coach. If they can do that, all the other things will take care of themselves.

For our entire season preview storystream, click here.