Don’t look now, but with the summer officially underway, the beginning of the 2017-2018 college basketball season is just under five months away. The Rutgers men’s basketball team is looking to improve on their 15-18 record in head coach Steve Pikiell’s debut season on the banks. While there is still one open scholarship remaining, the roster has come into focus and a minimum of three newcomers will be in the mix for minutes next season. Let’s review the departures from last season, the new additions and what they can potentially bring to the roster.
CJ Gettys - graduation
Nigel Johnson - transferred to Virginia
Jonathan Laurent - transferred to UMass
Ibrahima Diallo - transferred, destination undetermined
The Quinnipiac transfer will have to sit out this coming season, before having three years of eligibility remaining. Despite having to wait a year to see Kiss in game action, there is no doubt he will be a valuable practice player this season. I previously went into detail here about the impact I think Kiss can have long term for the program. Having a year off to get stronger and fine tune his game under the direction of the coaching staff makes Kiss an exciting addition for the 2018-2019 season.
The 3-star combo guard from the New England prep circuit is an intriguing addition to the roster. He had a strong senior season and the 6’5” Baker has a lot of bounce in his game. He is versatile on the offensive end, as he can drive, dish, or shoot the deep ball. He needs to bulk up his thin frame and be able to adjust to a more physical style of play at the next level. I think expectations should be tempered for his freshman season, but overall I love his upside and think he could develop into an impact starter in his career. As for next season, if Baker can prove to be a steady ball handler and passer, while occasionally making shots off the dribble, plus hold his own on defense, he will be a valuable contributor. The hope should be that he can provide a steady 10-15 minutes a game off the bench, setting him up for a larger role the following season.
The JUCO transfer with two years of eligibility remaining will have a chance to have an immediate impact next season. He averaged 10.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.0 assists in 24 games for Marshalltown last season. While that is a solid stat line, there are some concerns. He did shoot 45.1% from the field, but he is not a threat from three-point range and shot poorly from the free throw line, making just 50 of 88 attempts for a subpar clip of 56.8%. Mensah also committed 77 turnovers, which is an average of 3.2 giveaways per game and means he had a 1.2 assist to turnover ratio. That’s nowhere near elite for a point guard. His full stats are listed here. However, Mensah does give Rutgers something they needed, as he is the only true point guard on the roster. His ability to run the offense and keep the ball moving in the halfcourt will be essential to his worth next season.
The 3-star recruit and 6’9” incoming freshman from California was a solid pickup for the program this late in the recruiting cycle. Rutgers desperately needed a big man to fill the shoes of last season’s starting center, CJ Gettys. However, it’s unfair to expect Johnson to be able to match the production of Gettys, who averaged a steady 7.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Johnson is known for having great hands and a nice touch around the rim, but it will take time for him to develop an offensive game at this level. If he can come in and be effective on the defensive end and be a factor on the glass, Johnson will have an important role next season. No other big man aside from Gettys averaged close to 4 points and 4 rebounds per game last season. Johnson could be a nice compliment to Deshawn Freeman in the paint and see most of his scoring come from putbacks on the offensive glass. Johnson needs to get stronger to be able to hold up against the trees of the Big Ten and there will certainly be an adjustment period for him. However, he played for traditional power Long Beach Poly and shouldn’t be fazed much by the bigger stage.
Who Will Have The Greatest Impact Next Season?
It’s certainly a difficult question and the reality is that any of the three could end up being the biggest contributor for the program.
It typically takes big men a bit longer to develop, so Johnson may start slow. However, the opportunity for minutes will be there and if he can show steady progress throughout the season, it will be a huge positive. The staff have to find a way to replace some of the production lost by the departure of Gettys and Johnson could be at least part of the answer.
Baker has the best chance to be an immediate factor, but how Pikiell sees him fitting into the rotation will be key in how much impact he has. He is the most polished offensively of the three newcomers and his ability to matchup defensively with Big Ten guards is very important.
As for Mensah, the Frenchman is older and more physically developed than Johnson and Baker. He is already participating in summer workouts with the team. He also has the potential to change the dynamic of the offense, based on his ability to distribute the basketball as a pass first point guard. If he can prove reliable and limit turnovers, it will allow Corey Sanders to play more off the ball next season, which should help his efficiency on offense. The reality is Sanders has had to carry too large of a load the past two seasons and if Mensah can allow him to move more without the ball, it could really ignite his production. It’s also possible Baker could develop into a primary ballhandler as well and he should be more of a threat on the offensive end than Mensah. One of Baker’s strengths is shooting off the dribble and creating his own shot, but he’s also been described as an unselfish player as well.
I think Baker will have the greatest impact in terms of a statistical perspective and pure offensive firepower, but I think Mensah could make the Rutgers offense less one dimensional than last season. It will be harder for opponents to key in on Sanders if he isn’t bringing up the ball every trip up the floor. Also, too many times last season the ball wasn’t rotated enough on the perimeter in the halfcourt, allowing opposing defenses to work less.
Either way, the hope should be for Baker and Mensah to be legitimate contributors in the backcourt and useful pieces to add to the backcourt along with Sanders and Mike Williams. The positive news is that all three newcomers could have significant roles next season. I can’t wait to see them in action!
For a full review of the current roster, click here.