In head coach Steve Pikiell’s debut at Rutgers last season, the team improved in multiple areas on the court. While the defense exceeded expectations, it was hard not to expect some improvement there after such a dismal performance on that end of the floor the season before. Their adjusted defensive efficiency wildly improved, finishing 69th in the country, 166 spots better than the previous season. However, the area they improved in the most was rebounding.
Rutgers finished 13th out of 351 Division I teams last season in rebounds per game, averaging 40 per contest. They were 37th in rebounding margin at +4.9 more than their opponents. They were 3rd in the country in offensive rebounds per game at 14.55 and 1st in the Big Ten with a 35.6% offensive rebounding rate. Rebounding rate is the estimate of the percentage of missed shots that are rebounded by a specific player/team.
One area Rutgers was just average on the glass was on the defensive end, where they were ranked 154th in the country in defensive rebounds per game and were 12th in conference with a 32.4% defensive rebounding rate. Considering how poor of a rebounding team Rutgers was the season before, being average on the defensive end of the glass was still a major improvement.
In looking ahead to the 2017-2018 campaign, the Scarlet Knights are losing roughly 30% of their rebounding production from last season. CJ Gettys was second on the team with 5.2 boards per game, while Nigel Johnson was fourth with 3.3 per game. Transfers Jonathan Laurent and Ibrahima Diallo combined for a little over 4 rebounds per game. How the current roster can fill that gap and perhaps even improve as a team on the boards this season will be a big factor in how successful they are in Pikiell’s second year as head coach.
The coaching staff expects every player on the roster to rebound, so let’s review each one in regards to their ability to help on the glass next season.
Deshawn Freeman - He is a very good rebounder for his size, as the 6’7” forward averaged 7.8 boards per game last season, making him the best glass cleaner on the team. What is more telling are his rebounding percentages, as his offensive rebounding rate was 11%, ranking 158th in the country, and his defensive rebounding rate of 20.2% was 215th in all of Division I. While we will address other players who need to step up to fill the void left by Gettys on the glass, if Freeman can improve with his own rates, it would be a major help. He does need to improve his consistency against better competition, as he had several games in Big Ten play and versus Seton Hall in which he had little impact on the glass.
Candido Sa - The 6’9” senior is certainly one of the biggest question marks entering next season, in terms of what he will be able to bring production wise in all areas to this team. In his debut season a year ago, Sa had his moments, but was inconsistent and saw less minutes down the stretch. I think Sa can be a key contributor next season and his biggest impact should be on the boards and defending the rim. If he could average close to 5 rebounds per game, he would replace Gettys lost production from last season.
Shaq Doorson - I think it’s best not to count on any sizable production from Doorson, based on his injury troubles. However, it’s fair to note that he held the second best offensive rebounding rate on the team last season at 10.7%, albeit in limited action. If Doorson could provide a steady presence on the boards off the bench, it would certainly help a lot.
Eugene Omoruyi - I think the player with the biggest potential to improve statistically as a rebounder is Omoruyi. Pikiell has praised his work ethic and physical development this offseason. It’s fair to expect a jump in production in all areas of his game, as Omoruyi is now a sophomore. I do expect his biggest impact to come defensively and on the boards next season. The 6’6” forward is one of the strongest players on the team and if he can exhibit better anticipation and body control, he could be one of the best rebounders on the team.
Myles Johnson - The 6’9” 3-star recruit has the size, but will he be aggressive and strong enough to make an impact as a freshman? We don’t know that yet, but he is known for having great hands, which could make him a real weapon on the offensive glass. Don’t expect much initially, but I think Johnson has great upside and likely his biggest contribution early on will be with rebounding.
Corey Sanders - The 6’2” star has averaged just over 3 rebounds per game in both of his seasons. While he doesn’t crash the boards the way Mike Williams does, Sanders is capable enough of a rebounder for a guard. The real hope is for Corey to become a more complete player in all facets of his game next season.
Mike Williams - The co-captain averaged 5.1 rebounds per game last season, which was third best on the team. The fact that Williams is just 6’2” illustrates how much heart and effort he brings with his game. No player in the Big Ten under 6’6” averaged more rebounds per game than Williams, except for Ohio State forward Jae’Sean Tate, who grabbed 6.4 boards per contest, but played 6 minutes more per contest, while having 2 inches and 30 pounds on Mike. 6’4” Nebraska guard Tai Webster equaled the per game total of Williams, but he averaged 8.5 more minutes per contest. Williams had eight games with 8 or more rebounds, which comprised a quarter of the season. While Williams needs to continue to improve his shooting ahead of his final campaign, his relentless will to rebound the basketball makes him exactly the type of leader this team needs.
Geo Baker - The 6’5” Baker needs to bulk up for the rigors of Big Ten play, but he is a quick and bouncy player who will try to contribute in any way possible next season. While he is known for his shooting and scoring, expect Baker to fully buy-in to the coaching staff’s insistence of crashing to the rim for rebounds.
Issa Thiam - Don’t expect Issa to get too physical near the rim, at least this early in his career. Even at 6’9”, his game lies on the perimeter and he needs to add considerable weight to be able to bang with the Big Ten uglies in the paint. He only averaged 1.7 boards his freshman season, but did start to become a more complete player down the stretch. He grabbed 3+ rebounds in five of his last 10 games of the season. A slight increase in his rebounding production is fair to expect this season.
Souf Mensah - The JUCO transfer could help make up for the 3+ boards per game that former Rutgers guard Nigel Johnson averaged last season. The 6’2” Mensah grabbed 5.2 rebounds per game last season for Marshalltown CC in Iowa. He is solid physically and seems willing to mix it up in the paint. Aside from the need for him to distribute the ball on offense, Mensah could be beneficial for the backcourt on the glass as well.
Matt Bullock - I have zero expectations for Bullock this season across the board. He could be a pleasant surprise, but still has a lot of development to make and must improve his conditioning from last year. However, he does have a wide frame and at 6’4”, Bullock could become a solid rebounding guard in time.
Mystery Player - With one scholarship remaining for next season, it’s possible a key piece to the rebounding puzzle could still be added. While Rutgers has many needs in regards to upgrading the roster, adding a big man who can defend and rebound would be a welcomed addition. The reality is the program will take the best player available, regardless of position.
Will Rutgers Be A Better Rebounding Team Next Season?
Overall, I think Rutgers has the potential to continue to be a very good rebounding team in 2017-2018. The coaching staff’s philosophy of every player on the court having a responsibility to rebound is important in making it a priority. While there should be some hope that the team will shoot better next season, with the addition of Geo Baker and the expected improvement of Issa Thiam, the reality is this team will still need to generate a significant amount of points from offensive rebounding. If Rutgers can improve in rebounding on the defensive end and limiting their opponents second chance opportunities, it will only lead to better results on the court. The program returns their best rebounder in Freeman and arguably the best rebounding guard in the Big Ten in Williams. If players like Omoruyi and Sa can step up, coupled with contributions from newcomers like Johnson and Mensah, Rutgers should be even better on the glass this coming season.