While it’s now May and most people are ready for the approaching summer, hoops fans are thinking only six more months until the college basketball season begins. Our staff got together to give some thoughts on both last season and notable developments in the two months since it ended, as well as ponder key questions on the road ahead for Rutgers. Let’s tip things off here.
Final Thoughts On The Season/Big Ten Tournament Run
Dave White: That Big Ten Tournament run was exhilarating and put a stamp on what I thought the second year of a rebuild would be. The highs of the season were higher than year 1 (beating Seton Hall and some name programs, while hanging in with Michigan State and Purdue) but the lows were lower (StonyHart). The Big Ten run, however, did what it should have, leave you begging for more. When I’m bored, I find myself on YouTube rewatching highlights and wishing it was November all over again. Hopefully, it did the same thing to potential recruits.
David Anderson: This season went generally how I expected, as granular as losing two unexpected non-conference games. Had those tournament wins come in the regular season, I would have been almost perfect in my prediction with the needle continuing to move forward. After injuries to key players, it was nice to see the team finally gel after being embarrassed twice by Illinois late in the year, as I was one who was on the brink of giving up hope. The Big Ten tournament was incredibly exciting, but as we saw all year it is extremely difficult for any team (not just Rutgers) to win three consecutive Big Ten conference games that come down to the wire. Without major firepower Rutgers was only once able to really blow out a conference opponent. This coaching staff knows what they are doing so as RU gains more offensive talent, they will continue to get better.
Pete Winter: I have to say, I was pretty disappointed walking out of the RAC on the final day of the regular season after losing to Illinois for a second time. But like most other fans, the trip to Madison Square Garden gave me a much more positive outlook. Looking back, I thought we would win more than 3 Big Ten games (I think I predicted 6 before the season), but the win over Seton Hall coupled with an exciting run at the Big Ten Tournament prove that we’re moving in the right direction. As crazy as it sounds, I also think we benefited from the Big Ten Tournament being played a week early, as it gave us a chance to step into the national spotlight for a few days.
Patrick Mella: The foundation is there. This was a second season that was going to be tougher than the last despite expectations being higher this year. Despite that they proved they could compete with some of the best teams in the country. There were hiccups but as I’ll mention later, the losses to teams like Illinois were to me more bothersome than the loss to Stony Brook. But the B1G tournament was a true showcase that when firing on all cylinders this is a team and program that no one wants to play. They fight, scratch and claw, despite lacking the talent of some of the top teams in the conference. For a brief few nights we got a look at what this program could mean to the tri-state area.
Griffin Whitmer: This season had very high highs and very low lows. When it was all said and done, I think the final result was what many fans expected. The team had better wins than a year ago but also had plenty worse losses. All in all, it was definite progress and the win over Seton Hall and the Big Ten Tournament run provided moments that I am sure fans will never forget.
As a student, getting to cover those 3 nights at Madison Square Garden was without a doubt the best experience I have had at Rutgers. Words cannot describe the electricity at the Indiana game and what could’ve been against Purdue. Something special was happening at the Garden that week and anyone in attendance knows exactly what I mean.
Objectively looking at Rutgers this season, it’s easy to understand why there isn’t anything terribly impressive —with the signature wins being over a streaky Seton Hall team and an Indiana team that wasn’t even good enough for the NIT. However, there is a buzz and excitement around the program that I haven’t experienced in my years following Rutgers and that counts for something.
Namrita Singh: It was an improvement, a better second season under Coach Pikiell. They proved that they can play with just about anyone and the program is definitely headed in the right direction. The B1G tournament run was the icing on the cake. The team really started to come together as the season progressed and I thought they generally got better with each game, which bodes well for the future.
Aaron Breitman: Producing the three day run they did was so important to keep positive vibes alive for the program, as well as heading into a critical offseason with some momentum to use on the recruiting trail. As far as it being Pikiell’s second season, it was exactly what you would expect during still the relatively early part of this rebuild. A roller coaster of emotions during this past season became the norm. Excitement, disappointment, pleasant surprises, frustrations, pure joy and true pain were all experienced. I’ve always been a proponent of enjoying the journey, the ups and the downs, because it ultimately makes true success that much more enjoyable. This season will be looked back on, despite some legitimate lows, as when things started to feel different in a positive way.
Thoughts On Corey Sanders’ Rutgers Career
Dave White: Corey Sanders will go down in Rutgers history as a force to reckon with. When he was on, he carried the Scarlet Knights on his back. When he was off, Rutgers struggled to stay with teams. I felt like one more year of Corey with more scoring depth and punch could have him on the cusp of a monster season. Alas it wasn’t to be.
David Anderson: Sanders career began pretty well, but we had seen the same thing from other combo guards in the last 20 years including Earl Johnson, Mike Rosario, Corey Chandler, Todd Billet, Calvin Wooten, Eli Carter, and Quincy Douby. To his credit, Sanders had a better career than all of them but Douby after the focus on defense and passing elevated his game. Spurred by a wonderful debate in the comments section of one of Aaron’s articles, Corey is among the best athletes in the modern era of Rutgers basketball (since 1991) and seeing a point guard effortlessly slamming home alley-oops is something we might not see for a while on the banks.
Pete Winter: Corey is a special player who really benefited from his 2 years under Steve Pikiell, especially on the defensive end. He may not have been the greatest shooter, but he always seemed to step up when we needed it most (I still can’t believe his jumper at the buzzer against Michigan State didn’t fall). He left us with some great memories - including a game-winner against Nebraska last year and a unbelievable dunk to wrap up the win over Indiana this year. I don’t think he’s an NBA player at this point, but he can definitely earn a nice living playing overseas.
Patrick Mella: He was an integral part of the offense and I believe became a much better defender after Coach Pikiell took over, something he never got much credit for. He struggled with consistency but remained the best scoring option for the team on most nights. And for the most part when he struggled the team struggled. But give him credit for staying and not taking the path of Mike Rosario. He ended his career a Knight and for that I’ll always be rooting for him whether it’s in the NBA or playing professional overseas. But any red blooded Rutgers fan can’t help but wonder what one more season would have brought.
Griffin Whitmer: I was shocked when I saw Corey committed to Rutgers and am even more shocked that fans got three years of him. I was convinced he would have either gone pro or even transferred to another school when Eddie Jordan was fired. There were certainly frustrating moments, as he had his share of struggles maturing as a man, which led to some untimely suspensions, and he wasn’t always the player he was at MSG.
But now that it’s all said and done, he provided a plethora of unforgettable moments for Rutgers fans. The Illinois game his freshman year, the Nebraska game-winner his sophomore year, taking over against Seton Hall, the three-pointer against Wisconsin, single-handedly beating Northwestern, and of course MSG. Rutgers is a much better program than when he stepped on campus for the first time and he is a big reason why.
Namrita Singh: Corey Sanders gave this program his all and really developed as an athlete during his time here. While I wish he’d stay for another year, I’m more than grateful that he chose to play for the Scarlet Knights and really helped this program get back on the right track. He’s a difference-maker and a playmaker, and it was a joy to be able to watch him on and off the court do his thing albeit only for a short while. He has a lifelong fan in me no matter where he ends up next.
Aaron Breitman: Sorry, I’m still getting over David Anderson’s references to Rutgers guards from the past and what could have been. At least he didn’t mention this guy, who I still have some strong negative feelings for. Corey’s career is a fascinating one in which there were many highs and some lows, but it ended with the signature moment of his career. His three day effort in the Big Ten Tournament was as dominant a performance as a Rutgers player has produced in a very long time. As with anything that ends at a really good point, he exited the stage leaving Rutgers fans yearning for more. But, alas, one more year was not meant to be. As frustrating as it was each offseason having to wait to see if Corey would return, you have to give him credit for putting together three seasons for a last place team at a time when the best player in programs around college basketball like him typically transfer out. My lasting memory of Corey was seeing up close how much he truly cared about the program and the fans. I’ve seen him after games that he played well but the team lost and he was absolutely gutted and borderline despondent. Not many star players are like that and I’ve seen lesser players happy after having big games despite their team losing. Sanders wore his heart on his sleeve and I will always love that about him.
Thoughts On Danny Hurley To UConn & Potential Impact On Rutgers Recruiting Wise
Dave White: People know I’ve always been a fan of the Hurley name. He’s a very, very good coach and recruiter, whether Rutgers fans want to admit that or not. He will cause a recruiting issue for Rutgers, Seton Hall and St. John’s should he decide to try and mine the New York and NJ area. Now that Hurley has filled out his staff, it’s clear he’s targeting the northeast, and with Kimani Young recruiting for him--New York. While this does make New Jersey recruiting more crowded, I wonder if it makes Pikiell’s recruiting job harder. Because, while Hurley added a new staff to come into NJ and NY, Seton Hall lost Jersey-centric recruiting Shaheen Holloway to St. Peters. And to replace him, they hired someone who has strong ties to the DC area. Bottom line, Hurley coming to UConn doesn’t help Pikiell, but at the end of the day, you have to win recruiting wars. And as long as the players on his Huskies team buy in to his hard nose coaching on Day 1, he’ll have them turned around pretty quickly.
David Anderson: Coach Pike is a better coach at this point than Danny Hurley, so I’m happy about that. I didn’t think Pikiell would leave for a program in a lesser conference (despite it being his alma mater). It was nice to not wake up one morning to a surprise as stranger things have happened for Rutgers basketball head coaches in my lifetime. On the recruiting front, it’s a toss up but I have confidence in Pikiell to fuse the athletic project players with a few skilled guys. This has always been the formula for Rutgers dating back to the early 1970s and should continue. There are so many teams in division one college basketball, recruiting battles are much more complicated than other sports like football, so the future of Rutgers basketball will not be majorly altered by Hurley at Uconn or any other rival coach. I don’t have anything against anyone in the Hurley family, but I simply believe Pikiell is the best coach for Rutgers basketball right now.
Pete Winter: Danny Hurley is a good coach and I think he’ll do well at UConn. That being said, he still has to overcome the massive problem of UConn not being in a power conference. I think this will play a role in his recruiting, and the Huskies may lose a few big-name guys that they would have had if they still played in the Big East. He showed at Rhode Island that he can get the job done, but now the expectations (and pressure) will increase significantly.
Patrick Mella: Well, it’s not going to help. But Rutgers can only control what it can control. If it wasn’t UConn it’d be someone else. It’s no secret that the tri-state area is a hot bed for talent. Rutgers might never be in the mix for a five-star recruit but if they can get a few four-star guys and recruit three-star guys that they can develop, they’ll be fine. Other factors come into play like how players gel together, what kind of system they play in, and ultimately the effort you get from them. I’ve probably said this 25 times throughout the season but the program is in excellent hands. That’s with or without Hurley lurking in our backyards.
Griffin Whitmer: Put UConn on the schedule. I love Pikiell and Hurley and need to see their on-court energy at the same time.
Aaron Breitman: No doubt UConn will be targeting some of the same players as Rutgers and it will be a challenge for sure. I don’t understand why people are so quick to write off UConn as a “has been” program. They had a poor coach the past few years, but Hurley now gives them instant credibility and we’ve already seen him add some serious talent already. Plus, recruiting talent wasn’t the biggest issue with the previous coaching regime, it was making all of those pieces gel and work together in order to produce a good team. Hurley can flat out coach and UConn will be back to being a regular NCAA team very soon, maybe even next season. So yes, it doesn’t help, but at the same time, Pikiell and his staff have proven to be very resourceful in recruiting and won’t waste time fighting losing battles for recruits just because they are from New York City or New Jersey. They’ll continue to add talent to the roster any way they can and Hurley isn’t going to prevent that from happening.
How do you rate the two additions to the roster since the season ended and how should the staff fill the last remaining spot?
Dave White: To me, Caleb McConnell is a very interesting get. The scouting report on him in both film and what I’ve read makes it seem like he can play and defend 3 positions. He can shoot it a bit and also distribute the ball. I think the hope is he can be Geo Baker 2.0. If that’s true, he’s a very good get. Jacob Young is an enigma to me. He says the staff views him as a point guard, but the numbers show him to be more of a shooting guard. That said, the staff must see something in him where he can be the guy to run the offense. He is a former 4 star player, so there’s a ton of upside there and as a redshirt junior and senior, he might be able to reach that. Unfortunately, he won’t be available next season, which makes that last scholarship compelling. Clearly, the first goal should be to use it on best available talent... so if Aundre Hyatt wants to reclassify to 2018 and come to Rutgers, you take him without batting an eye. The next goal is to use the ‘ship on a ball handler who’s available for a year. A grad transfer who can take some pressure off Geo Baker and Montez Mathis. But... if those two options don’t come to pass, they you have to roll the ‘ship over. The last thing the staff should do is give the scholarship out just to have a full roster. It’s a play that needs to make an impact.
David Anderson: Rutgers needs ballhandlers regardless of position so it was crucial to plug that hole at least a little bit with Caleb McConnell. My biggest concern heading into next year is that if you use Issa and Omoruyi as your two forwards, both guards will need to be extremely reliable with the rock. At the moment I can’t say there’s two guys on the roster I feel like can handle man to man pressure or throw successful post entry passes regularly. So I love the addition of McConnell because even though he is not a point guard, he should be competent with the ball to help out. McConnell seems like a Jeff Greer-light to me because I don’t know how high his upside is, but he should be able to be a reliable starter in his career; a steal this late in the recruiting cycle.
I watched more of Jacob Young during his freshman year at Texas so perhaps the information my eyes saw is slightly stale. He looks like a guy who could go Jerome Coleman on people, either being unconsciously on fire with amazing range or chucking up shots despite being ice cold. At this stage of the rebuild, a high risk, high reward move is fine because Coach Pike has established enough of a foundation that if this move completely fails, it won’t rock the program to its core. If Young buys into the defense first culture, this move may look amazing in a few years.
Pete Winter: First off, I’m extremely happy with all the work that Pike and the staff have done on the recruiting trail. I think the national perception of Rutgers is changing before our eyes and recruits are starting to view us in a much more positive light. I love the Jacob Young addition, and I think that’s exactly the type of guy that Pike should be targeting on the transfer market. Players with big potential who, for whatever reason, may not have been in the best situation to thrive. But as a transfer, he’s obviously a guy for the future. As for Caleb McConnell, there are a lot of positives. Tall guard, solid offer list, quick commitment after his visit. He wants to be here, and I trust our staff to get him up to speed quickly. I think he’ll be a key part of the backcourt as a Freshman.
For the last scholarship, I think Dave is spot-on. Start with Aundre Hyatt (although his offer list is expanding) and move to a reliable ball-handler if necessary. The grad transfer market is extremely competitive, but if we can somehow find a guy to run the offense and distribute the ball effectively, it would be a big boost.
Patrick Mella: Although we’re going to have to wait another year to see Jacob Young I believe he’s the type of player that could flourish under this program. He’s a guy who just needs more time on the court and a defined role with a team. It’s no secret that Rutgers needs all the shooters they can get and even if he’s not the second coming of Quincy Douby, his presence as a playmaker should only benefit the team. McConnell should be a great system guy. What I mean by that is buying into the Pikiell system of playing good defense, protect the ball and make smart decisions on the court. I’d like to see them bring in another big man, preferably another true center to help compliment Shaq Doorson as you saw with CJ Gettys last year. Easier said than done but a big man eating up space down low would be a great addition to the roster especially one that should have a lot of rebounding opportunities.
Griffin Whitmer: I think Caleb McConnell is a very interesting piece. It’s pretty clear that Tai Strickland was the staff’s top priority, but when they didn’t get him, they moved surprisingly fast and got McConnell with relative ease, which was very impressive. If you remember last season, a similar thing happened with Jose Alvarado and the staff moved quickly on Geo Baker. Both are tremendous players but Rutgers got its guard for the future. McConnell will have a future at Rutgers but this year I think it’s a limited role off the bench as the backup point guard. He doesn’t look physically ready for the Big Ten, but has the length and will definitely put on some muscle in the offseason. He will be a solid piece for Rutgers and be a part of their rotation for the next 4 years. Grade: B
Jacob Young is incredibly intriguing, as he didn’t have a good season number-wise, but exploded in the Big Twelve Tournament against Texas Tech (A very good defensive team) for 29 points and was 6/7 from three. He give Pikiell great depth at Guard, as the team will be incredibly deep with Baker, McConnell, Mathis, Kiss and him going forward. He has shown that he can get unconscious from three, which is something that has been missing from Rutgers in years past. Pikiell will find a role for him where he doesn’t need him to make 4 threes every night, but those nights will come when he can’t miss and that could wind up as the difference in Big Ten game. Grade: B+
I think the last scholarship almost definitely goes to a graduate transfer. The biggest need I see right now is someone who can play the 3 and 4 and shoot from three. You have Issa Thiam and Eugene Omoruyi, but Thiam still isn’t physically ready to guard the paint and Omoruyi is not a wing who can shoot, but is a very good 4. Pikiell needs someone who can come of the bench and play either position. There figures to be good depth at center and power forward, but Peter Kiss is the only other player who can play the wing besides Thiam. They need someone with length and shooting ability to complete their rotation.
Aaron Breitman: My biggest takeaway is that the coaching staff replaced the bottom two scholarship players on the roster (Souf Mensah and Matt Bullock) by adding more talented guys in Caleb McConnell and Jacob Young. That’s what successfully building and improving a roster requires. The other thing is I understand the frustration that the staff hasn’t landed a lot of top local recruits, but beggars can’t be choosers. The bottom line is the staff continues to upgrade the talent on the roster. I’ve said before but Pikiell didn’t start with Rutgers on the ground floor and needing to build up in terms of recruiting. He needed to pull the program from six feet under the ground first before even building a foundation. Their relentlessness on the recruiting trail, as well as their preparedness and organization is better than any Rutgers staff I ever remember. Just because the results haven’t been home run after home run doesn’t mean they aren’t making major progress. Over time, they are building relationships that I really believe will pay huge dividends down the road.
In terms of the additions in April, McConnell is another under recruited player who could become a long term core addition and should really develop with this coaching staff. He needs to bulk up and adjust to the college game, but his versatility is intriguing. I’m not sure what should be expected of him this coming season, but if he can be a capable ball handler, passer, and defender, he will be a welcomed addition and useful player off the bench. As for Young, I was surprised the staff jumped on him so quickly and while it’s fair to wonder if he really fits the rest of the roster, there is no question he has the potential to become a more complete player at Rutgers. Pikiell obviously has a plan for Young and as others here have pointed out, he has the ability to explode offensively. The year off should help him develop his game and build chemistry with the other players.
As for the last scholarship available, it’s likely either going to be filled by a graduate transfer or will be rolled over to the class of 2019. I know some are holding out hope that highly touted 4-star recruit Andre Hyatt will reclassify for next season, but after Duke was the latest blue blood to start recruiting him this past week, I’m not optimistic Rutgers has much of a chance with him anymore. I’ll have a full recruiting update in a few days.
Which Newcomer Is Most Important For Next Season?
Dave White: Montez Mathis. He’s the highest rated and will probably start in the backcourt with Geo Baker. If he can get to the rim and put up points, it will make things a lot easier on Geo and open things up for the big men as well. There will be an adjustment period for all these players, but the hope is Montez will adjust quicker than most.
David Anderson: Based on my previous answer, I think it’s Ron Harper Jr. since a wing ball handler will add a dimension to a very limited Rutgers offense. Mathis will come into the fold much like the plethora of combo guards we have seen as freshmen before, like Sanders, Rosario, etc but what Rutgers needs is a 3rd guy to keep the ball moving on offense. If Harper can serve as a ballhandler and give Mathis / Baker some time off the ball it will develop their all-around games and take pressure off Omoruyi, Thiam, and Peter Kiss also. The key to that 2011 Big East stretch run was that Dane Miller could be used in this role.
Pete Winter: I think it’s Montez Mathis. Getting him on board was a huge recruiting win for Pikiell, his biggest since arriving at Rutgers. Even though he’ll be a Freshman, we could definitely use his scoring from Day 1. There are going to be ups and downs, as there are with all Freshman, but I’m hoping Mathis and Baker can develop a nice connection to lead the program into the future.
Patrick Mella: I’m very tempted to go the Mathis route but if anything the backcourt is in much better shape than the front court even with the loss of Williams and Sanders. The loss of Freeman leads a void to the tune of 11 points and 7 boards per game. Not to mention he shot .715 from the free throw line and 51 steals on the year. Shaq Carter has the body type and scoring ability around the basket to fill this role. He moves well without the ball and with scoring being an uncertainty he should have plenty of opportunities for some easy put backs. And for that reason he will be the most important newcomer for next season but don’t discount Mathis’ role next year.
Griffin Whitmer: I’m going to say Myles Johnson, while not being a newcomer to the program, per se, he will be a newcomer to the court on game day. Rutgers really needs offensive skill in the front court and if last year was any indication, Mamadou Doucoure is defensive-minded player to say the least. Shaq Doorson is very one-dimensional on offense and everyone I have talked to raved about Johnson as a practice player, saying that he was their best big man. He has lost a good deal of weight and will be in much better physical shape and I’d be surprised if he isn’t the starting center.
Namrita Singh: Mathis excites me and he’s definitely one to watch but I think I’m leaning towards Shaq Carter, replacing Deshawn Freeman. He connected with Coach Pikiell and the school, and he decided to transfer amidst a lot of competition from other great programs around the country. He’s improved over the past few years and his highlights are impressive; he still has a lot to learn but there is a ton of untapped potential. He could take several strides forward during his two years of eligibility with the program and make a noticeable difference.
Aaron Breitman: Peter Kiss. While I think Mathis has greater long term potential and may end up being the better player even by the end of next season, Rutgers will need an immediate scoring punch early in the year. Kiss played up to his competition during his freshman season at Quinnipiac and Rutgers will count on him a lot to provide scoring punch from the backcourt. He’s also a balanced player who can rebound and defend. While everyone should be excited about Mathis and expect him to likely start, I think Kiss could hit the ground running faster after a year of development with the staff and give Rutgers stability in the backcourt to go along with the heralded freshmen and Baker. Pikiell was really high on Kiss in speaking with him in April, saying “Peter Kiss gained 13 pounds and he practiced every day with us. He comes in with a scorer’s mentality that we need. He can really shoot the ball, but he has improved too.”
What Should Expectations Be For Next Season?
Dave White: Let’s see... three of the top players on the team are gone. There will be at least 8 new faces trying to meld together. This all bodes well... for year 4. But next year will be a struggle. The schedule will be tougher. The league will be better. The expectation should be finishing over .500. Anything beyond that is tough to imagine.
David Anderson: Expectations should be for a similar regular season record to this year, which isn’t a bad thing per Dave’s point that the team loses three of its best four defenders. Coach Pikiell should be able to get defensive improvement from a group of players that collectively have a higher offensive ceiling. So even if the defense takes a step back, the offense (3rd year in the same system!) should be better and allow Rutgers to pull out more of the close games, even fuel another blowout win or two. Of course there may be a few more blowout losses with less consistent defense, but that is par for the course.
Individually, we need to see a big step from someone now that Sanders has left the building. Thiam may be the most likely with Mamadou Doucoure being the dark horse. Doucoure is only 18 years old and a former four star prospect who I even at times almost forgot was on the team! Freeman was a solid offensive player, but Doucoure has so much more upside due to his size and could add another dimension to the RU offense.
Pete Winter: Steve Pikiell is starting to get his guys so there is a lot to look forward to. But as Dave mentioned, next year might be a struggle due to the tougher schedule and the new faces. I will say this though, we may be losing three solid contributors, but I think the sum of our parts will be better in 2018-19. I really like the recruits that we’ve added so far, and now that more spots have opened up, we have room to continue to build. Myles Johnson and Peter Kiss have been with the team for a year, which should help ease their transition a bit. And there always seems to be that one unexpected guy who takes a major leap from one season to the next (Omoruyi last season). Lots to be excited about moving forward.
Patrick Mella: Until they start finishing above .500 you can’t really start talking about the NIT. Fact is there’s some really good teams that make the NIT. You’re going to have some hiccups every season like we saw with Stony Brook but I was more disappointed with how badly they played against teams like Illinois. First step is to not finish in last place of the Big Ten. I know, Rutgers was not the worst team in the conference but record wise they were. They have to get themselves into the middle of the pack in the B1G before the NIT conversations start. It’s a goal that’s attainable and one that I think is on the horizon for the program but there’s certain check points they need to hit first.
Griffin Whitmer: It’s hard to say with there still being a few open spots on the roster, but I think the team has real shot to finish at or above .500. I think the non conference schedule will be harder, but Geo Baker, Issa Thiam and Eugene Omoruyi are a really strong core and if the new guys fit in well, I would expect at least 5 Big Ten wins and for the first time, no last place finish in the conference.
Namrita Singh: echoing what several others have said, I think my expectations for next season are really just finishing above .500. I’m looking for several players to take steps forward next season. We caught a glimpse of Geo Baker’s capabilities this season and I hope he and everyone else continue to grow and develop, and get this program back to where it should be. Coach Pikiell is still the right guy for the job and I love everything he brings to the table. Next season will probably still be a struggle and will be more similar to this season than the following season but baby steps, baby steps.
Aaron Breitman: Being hopeful and excited to see a new core of players begin their journey together should really be the main thought entering next year. This will be the first edition of a true Pikiell team, as the only Eddie Jordan holdover is also the only senior in Shaq Doorson. The only other scholarship players that on the roster who have played multiple seasons are Issa Thiam and Eugene Omoruyi. Actual expectations for season results should restrained. This team is very young and inexperienced. They will need time to gel and learn, but the potential for greater overall team improvement than years past towards the latter part of the season is there. As great as Sanders and even Deshawn Freeman were at times the past two seasons, they were not efficient players on the offensive end. If several of the new pieces can be more efficient and multiple shooters develop, it will make a big difference. I do think this group’s ceiling is higher than any Pikiell team so far, because they should be much more balanced. I wouldn’t count on the overall record to be significantly better though and the goal should continue to be achieving the first winning campaign for the program in over a decade. However, I think they’ll need time to come together and hopefully the stage will really be set for the following season for this program to truly take a significant step forward.