With the recent commitment of Myles Johnson and the official return of Corey Sanders, the Rutgers men’s basketball team’s roster for next season is starting to take shape. It’s time to review what the depth chart currently looks like, current needs in filling the remaining open scholarship, areas for each player to improve on this offseason, and a scholarship overview for the next few seasons. Let’s tip it off.
Next Season’s Roster
Any player that held a consensus 3-star recruiting ranking or above prior to their arrival at Rutgers is indicated.
Deshawn Freeman (3*), Candido Sa, Shaq Doorson (3*), Eugene Omoruyi, Myles Johnson (3*)
Issa Thiam (3*), Matt Bullock
Corey Sanders (4*), Mike Williams (3*), Geo Baker (3*), Souf Mensah
Sit-out Transfer: Peter Kiss
1 scholarship remains
NEEDS: 1) Wing/Shooter 2) Low Post Scorer/Rebounder
The reason I have incoming point guard Souf Mensah in italics is because he has still not been officially announced as a member of the program. Richie Schnyderite of Rivals spoke with Mensah this week, who stated that he is moving to campus this weekend. It seems Mensah could be formally announced any day now.
UPDATE: Souf Mensah has officially joined the program.
How Rutgers chooses to fill the remaining scholarship for next season remains to be seen. In terms of priority, finding a wing shooter is easily at the top of the list. However, if the best option available to the coaching staff is a frontcourt player, you have to take him. The reality is that the program needs to upgrade the roster at every position during the early stages of this rebuild. Whoever does fill the last open spot, it’s likely it will be a grad transfer, with hundreds still available.
As for the possibility of taking a second sit-out transfer, in addition to Peter Kiss, former UConn player Vance Jackson visited last month and has yet to make a decision. He visited Washington after Rutgers and is reportedly planning to visit Baylor in June. While adding the talented wing would be great for the future, it would leave a void with next season’s roster. However, the bottom line is when a program is undergoing a massive rebuild such as this, you take talent any way you can.
With that being said, I think the most likely scenario is Rutgers landing a grad transfer for next season. The program has had a good track record of late, as former coach Eddie Jordan brought in Omari Grier two years ago and Steve Pikiell found CJ Gettys last August. Both players averaged close to 8 points per game and between 20-22 minutes per game. If Rutgers can find another productive grad transfer for the upcoming season, it would be a big boost for the current roster.
Roster Strengths & Weaknesses
The co-captain made strides last season and averaged around 11 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 1 block in 27 minutes of action. He is a hard worker in the paint and the best rebounder on the team. Deshawn did struggle scoring near the rim against top competition, which was a problem because he was far and away the best low post scoring option on the team. If Freeman can develop one legitimate go to, low post move, like a 5-7 foot fadeaway, a baby hook, or a baseline jumper, on top of finishing more efficiently near the rim, he will be a more consistent scorer that Rutgers desperately needs next season. Expect him to push his teammates and give it all he has in his last go around.
Sa had some positive moments last season, but he was less of a factor down the stretch. He needs to improve his consistency and defensive intensity on a night in, night out basis. I still think Sa can become an elite shot blocker in the Big Ten. Overall, if he can be more aggressive on both sides of the court and finish shots close to the rim, he should lock down the starting center spot next season.
Shaq has battled injuries ever since he arrived at Rutgers and it has slowed his overall development on the court. He started slow last season but his 6 point, 6 rebound game at Ohio State and his 4 point, 4 rebound effort in the win over Illinois were exactly the type of production Rutgers needs from him more often. He needs to develop a killer instinct, which is harder than it sounds for someone that is by all accounts a very nice guy. Hopefully, working with strength and conditioning coach David Van Dyke for a second offseason will get him healthy and in great shape for next season. If Shaq can’t become a more consistent contributor next year, it will hurt the team’s depth, now that CJ Gettys and Ibrahima Diallo are gone.
Omoruyi brings instant toughness as soon as he steps on the floor, but as a freshman he struggled at times adjusting to the pace of the action. He had trouble playing under control and was limited offensively. We aren’t really going to know his full potential and what type of player he is going to be until we see him in action this season. Pikiell has praised his work ethic and improved body this offseason so far. One takeaway for him last season is that he can develop into an above average defender. If Omoruyi can become more consistent on the offensive end, it will be a huge boost for the team next season. His 10 point, 5 rebound performance in a close loss at Northwestern showed how much better the team was when he was an effective scorer.
You can’t teach size or touch and Johnson has both. If the incoming freshman can provide steady rebounding and defense off the bench next season, he could become a reliable player off the bench. He has been praised for having great hands and being a deft passer, which could make him an effective weapon at the top of the key when opposing defenses play a 2-3 zone against Rutgers. He is also known as a solid finisher near the rim, but how he adjusts to the physicality of the Big Ten remains to be seen.
No one player has a bigger upside on the current roster than Issa Thiam. He obviously need to bulk up his wiry thin frame to be able to hold up physically during the season. He got sick in late December last season and hit the proverbial freshman wall hard thereafter. However, he kept battling and developed into one of the more reliable defenders on the team and looked much improved at the Big Ten Tournament in March, where he averaged 8.5 points in the two games and combined to shoot 5 of 10 from three-point range. If Issa can improve in creating his own shot off dribble, look to knock down more 10-12 foot jumpers and become more consistent from behind the arc, he could blossom into a valuable weapon for this team.
After redshirting last season, questions remain about whether the former Roselle Catholic star will become a factor at Rutgers. It’s no secret his weight and conditioning must improve if he ever wants to make an impact at this level. While I think he has the potential to become a true defensive stopper, I don’t expect him to contribute much next season. Bullock is really a 2-3 year project with the hope that the following season his hard work and development will result in him becoming a role player off the bench.
It’s obviously a huge relief that Sanders decided to come back to Rutgers for his junior season, as he is easily the best scorer on the roster. However, he needs to become a more dynamic scorer & less one dimensional, which allowed Big Ten defenses to take him out of games at times last season. His affinity for driving to the basket with his right and attacking the teeth of the defense produced many sensational plays, but also led to struggles as well. If he can develop a mid-range jumper that allows him to pull up in traffic at times, as well as develop the ability to drive more with his left, it will make it harder for opposing defenses to key on him.
In terms of shooting, Sanders saw his three-point percentage slip from 32% as a freshman to 27% as a sophomore, while experiencing a dramatic drop from the free throw line, falling from 71% as a freshman to 61% last season. After feeling like he improved a lot in the past couple of months in California while training for the draft, Sanders can now make even more strides back at the RAC with the coaching staff. Corey has the potential to put it all together and have his finest season on the banks in his career.
While Sanders is the best player on the team, the true leader of the program is Mike Williams. He might have been the best rebounding guard in the Big Ten last season and was strong defensively as well. He needs to keep working on shot, but his numbers slightly improved from his sophomore to junior season from two-point and three-point range. He did have his worst season from the free throw line, but still shot 73% from the charity stripe. As co-captain along with Freeman, they have led offseason workouts this spring. There should be no doubt that Mike is working as hard as possible to make his senior season his best at Rutgers.
The bouncy guard from New Hampshire is an intriguing add for the program. He had a great senior season on the New England prep circuit and will have an opportunity to play right away behind Sanders and Williams. He needs to bulk up his thin frame and adjust to the faster pace at the next level, as any freshman typically needs to do. However, if he can prove to be a steady ballhandler and passer, while making shots off the dribble, something that is a strength for him, he will help fill a void that the team suffered through last season.
He is the only true point guard on the roster. He will need to learn the system, but can become most valuable if he can provide opportunity for Sanders to play more off the ball on offense. If Souf can run the offense and get others the ball in their hands where they can be effective scorers, the offense will be improved. He also needs to be able to hold his own matching up on defense, and if so, he could be a steady contributor off bench next season.
Future Scholarship Outlook
2017 - 2018
Frontcourt: Deshawn Freeman; Candido Sa; Shaq Doorson; Eugene Omoruyi; Myles Johnson
Wings: Issa Thiam; Matt Bullock
Backcourt: Corey Sanders; Mike Williams; Geo Baker; Souf Mensah
Sit-Out Transfer: Peter Kiss
1 scholarship open
2018 - 2019
Frontcourt: Shaq Doorson; Eugene Omoruyi; Myles Johnson
Wings: Issa Thiam; Matt Bullock
Backcourt: Corey Sanders; Geo Baker; Souf Mensah; Peter Kiss
4 scholarships open
2019 - 2020
Frontcourt: Eugene Omoruyi; Myles Johnson
Wings: Issa Thiam; Matt Bullock
Backcourt: Geo Baker; Peter Kiss
4 scholarships from 2018 class + 3 scholarships from 2019 class