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Steve Pikiell and Rutgers Basketball will have to replace four key players in 2018-19

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As Pikiell builds the program, this could be his most challenging year yet as so many people have graduated and there are a ton of new faces to replace them.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Purdue vs Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Four players, including three of the best, are gone from Rutgers basketball.

After Rutgers incredibly fun run in the Big Ten Tournament, the Scarlet Knights graduated three players in Deshawn Freeman, Mike Williams and Candido Sa. And then Corey Sanders opted to leave school early and go pro. Freeman and Sanders were two of Rutgers leading scorers and Williams and Sa played important roles down the stretch for Rutgers. In fact, few fans may remember it, but Sa was playing really well for Rutgers until injuring his shoulder late in the season.

But head coach Steve Pikiell is tireless and six new faces will be on the court when Rutgers tips off against FDU on November 9th at the RAC. Peter Kiss, Montez Mathis, Caleb McConnell, Ron Harper Jr., Shaq Carter, and Myles Johnson are all set to make their college hoops debut.

So, how will Rutgers fill the holes left on this roster? Let’s take a look at what’s missing and the potential for replacing it.

Corey Sanders

This is the biggest problem. Sanders was Rutgers leading scorer, starting point guard, great defender and overall star. His loss will be easily felt the most. And the thing is, Rutgers won’t be able to solve this loss with one player. Sophomore guard Geo Baker will shift over to the lead guard position and McConnell will back him up. That puts more height at the position, but probably limits the team in terms of ball handling.

Sanders showed an ability to get in the lane almost at will. Pikiell has talked up McConnell being able to get a floater off in the lane, so that will help. The word is Montez Mathis is good on the break. Peter Kiss is a scorer. We haven’t seen (much) of these players yet, but Corey Sanders’ role as a scorer will have to be filled by the entire team. Rutgers relied on Sanders to put the ball in the bucket last year, but now will have to look for the team to do so more consistently.

On defense, Baker will have to step up and slow the top guards in the Big Ten. Early last season, Baker talked about having to get better at fighting through screens. With Rutgers added length, I would look for them to show more zone as well.

Deshawn Freeman

Freeman was Rutgers best rebounder averaging 7.3 per game. The next closest was Eugene Omoruyi at 5 per game. That’s a big void to fill. Omoruyi will probably move into the starting role, and word is he’s taken the biggest jump as a player again. If that is the case, one hopes he can up his rebounding game even more.

Shaq Carter is the JUCO newcomer who will be tasked with rebounding too. Pikiell has talked up his scoring, but at the radio show the other night, the coach said he wanted him to focus on only rebounding and the points will come.

Myles Johnson will give the team a much different look. He can be an interior scorer like Freeman, but also could be the best passer on the team per the coach. That will give Rutgers a completely different look than last year, as sometimes the ball stuck in Freeman’s hands when it shouldn’t have.

Omoruyi is the team’s best defender so, defending big men on other Big Ten squads shouldn’t take too much of a step back. But someone, probably Carter, will have to replace what Omoruyi did last year.

But there is one player we haven’t mentioned yet—Mamadou Doucoure started at center for most of the season last year and gathered a lot of fouls. Yesterday, Pikiell talked about Doucoure playing more power forward. If he’s limiting the fouls, he can fill in for a lot of that lost production.

Candido Sa

If Omoruyi is filling Freeman’s shoes mostly, the Carter may actually be a step up from Sa. There were a lot of moments were Sa struggled to find his spot on the team, and didn’t really step up until late in his senior year. If Carter can adjust to the Big Ten quickly, he may actually be an improvement coming off the bench. The same goes for Doucoure. Sometimes big men take a lot of time to develop, and it will be interesting to see how much of a step forward he takes.

Mike Williams

This is the most interesting replacement. Williams was never a superstar, but when he badly hurt his ankle, the team never really clicked while he was out. Williams was the heart and soul of the team. If the team needed a key rebound late or a put back and one, Williams was usually in the right place at the right time. He was a solid defender and could be counted on in the clutch often. He was touted as a great shooter, but that never seemed to click for him. That said, he was a workman like player who always found himself in the middle of key moments.

I’m not sure who will fill Williams role. Pikiell has said that Mathis can be the best defender and rebounding guard on the team—but he has to prove that. Kiss seems to have a mentality in the clutch to make big free throws. Baker and Omoruyi will have to fill the leadership void.

But Williams’ intangibles will have to be filled by players over time. It’s not something you can look for in stats, but has to grow on the court as the team grows together.

There are a lot of questions with Rutgers basketball because of what was lost and the unknowns that have been brought in. Positions have shifted and players are going to have to step up.

One of the fun things for fans this season will be to see how it happens.