Piscataway - On Tuesday afternoon, the Rutgers men’s basketball program held its annual media day. Head coach Steve Pikiell, who begins his fourth season at the helm, addressed the local media before practice. Here are a five quick takeaways on what he had to say in regard to this season’s team.
- Pikiell’s opening statement was typical, as he was upbeat and went through acknowledging all the positives within the program, as well as within Rutgers university as a whole However, I thought one key thing he said was how continuity within the program has really helped in his tenure. All three assistants were with the program the first three seasons until Jay Young left to become the head coach of Fairfield. Still, Brandin Knight and Karl Hobbs are in the same roles. David Van Dyke has overseen strength and conditioning and Richard Campbell has been the head trainer the entire time, both coming with Pikiell from Stony Brook. Ben Asher has grown within the program over the past three plus years and is a key member of Pikiell’s staff. Shoes Vetrone is in a key administrative role and knows Rutgers better than anyone on the staff. Even new assistant Steve Hayn was with the program the last two years as well. That type of consistency is huge in building a program and that one mention from Pikiell was the most important thing he said in my opinion. This team has been nurtured by that and hopefully we’ll see they’ll reap the rewards of that on the court this season.
- Toughness has been an important trait for this team during Pikiell’s tenure and is an area they need to improve on this season. While they showed toughness at times, Rutgers really wore down last season, dropping its last three games. Losing Eugene Omoruyi and Shaq Doorson are big holes to fill in that regard, as is assistant Jay Young, who previously ran practices and the defense. Pikiell acknowledged the importance of toughness with this team and admitted its been a “work in progress”. Once this team gets to December and faces an extremely difficult four game stretch, that toughness must be there for them to be successful during and when the Big Ten gauntlet begins in earnest in January.
- Pikiell commented how this is the most athletic team he has had so far and that seems very true. In the past, in addition to talent level, Rutgers was extremely challenged in keeping up with Big Ten opponents in regard to athleticism. That should no longer be the case and the emphasis on playing a more up tempo style should showcase the improved athletes on this roster.
- There are only eleven scholarship players, but expect them all to play, at least in non-conference play. Pikiell traditionally plays a deep rotation and there will be opportunities for them all to get minutes with as fast a pace I expect them to play this season. I asked Pikiell about the big men adjusting to a more up and down pace, in which he responded about their improved conditioning as they’ve prepared for this change the entire offseason. The key will be how well this team can be with transition defense, which makes the bigs key in getting back to defend the rim. On the flip side, there seems to be little question that they will be able to run the break on offense with guys like Ron Harper Jr., Montez Mathis, and Jacob Young who can get to the rim, as well as Geo Baker and Akwasi Yeboah to shoot from the perimeter. It’s just a matter of taking care of the basketball and finishing in transition.
- Foul trouble is always a concern with a team that plays aggressive defense and Pikiell brought this up in answering a question. Especially with the frontcourt depth being somewhat of a concern with only three traditional big men in Myles Johnson, Shaq Carter, and Mamadou Doucoure, teams are going to attack Rutgers in the paint in an effort to create foul trouble. Being disciplined fundamentally, staying in front of who they are defending and not breaking down in the halfcourt despite playing a more up tempo style will be very important on the defensive end.
For my ten takeaways after watching the team practice, click here. You can watch Pikiell’s entire press conference from media day here: