As part of our Rutgers men’s basketball season preview, we are doing profiles on every player on this season’s roster. Today let’s review freshman guard Caleb McConnell. Let’s look at his potential impact, both this season and beyond.
McConnell is a 6’6” former 3-star recruit who will be the backup point guard to Geo Baker this season. He is athletic and versatile, someone who can play and defend multiple positions. He is a strong ball handler and has three-point range, although it’s too early to tell how effective or active he will be in this area this season. Pikiell has praised all the freshmen for their willingness to be coached and their gym rat approach by putting in extra work. McConnell averaged 15.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.0 steals per game in his senior high school season. He appears to be mature for his age and has acclimated well into the program relatively quickly. From what I’ve seen of him in practice and heard, he goes about his business in a quiet manner, but possesses a toughness that this team certainly needs.
McConnell is listed at just 190 pounds and looks wiry thin, so he certainly needs to bulk up his 6’6” frame over time to survive the rigors of the Big Ten. Fellow backcourt mate Geo Baker has spoken about the challenges of staying fresh and healthy as a freshman, so McConnell can hopefully benefit from his experience. He’ll be challenged in his debut season to hold up in Big Ten play and not wear down later in the season, something that is common for most freshman. For McConnell to ultimately excel in the offense as a playmaker, he will need to be effective in attacking the rim off the dribble with penetration. If he can demonstrate an ability to navigate in traffic and create space/open shots for his teammates, that would be a big asset for this team. The biggest thing McConnell needs though is experience and he will certainly have the opportunity to get plenty of it this season.
McConnell has a clearly defined role for this season: deliver about 10 minutes of mistake free basketball in running the offense and providing solid ball handling, passing and defense. If he can knock down the occasional open three to help stretch the opposing defense, that would be huge too. Anything more than all of that and you can happily pass the gravy bowl across the table. With no true point guard on the roster, whether McConnell can consistently be effective in spelling Baker and provide stability off of the bench is a key question for Rutgers this season.
Long term, McConnell has a lot of upside and should have a chip on his shoulder after not receiving much high major interest in his recruitment. If he add muscle his frame over time, develop consistency in his jump shot, become a reliable on the ball defender while guarding multiple positions, all while limiting turnovers and creating opportunities for his teammates with his ball handling and passing, he would become a solid core player for the program over the course of his career. His versatility is an asset and he seems to be perfect player for the style that head coach Steve Pikiell ultimately wants to play. Tough, willing to work, and the ability to play all over the floor and cause matchup problems for the opposition.
Here is footage of Caleb McConnell winning a one on one battle against Geo Baker on the first day of practice. Love the dive on the floor. I have a preview on what to hope for from the true freshman this season shortly. #RHoops pic.twitter.com/k0BjJvLrLH— Aaron Breitman (@aaron_breitman) October 25, 2018