It’s finally here! The Rutgers men’s basketball team opens the 2019-2020 season this Thursday night at the RAC against Bryant. In what is the most anticipated season in many years, our staff came together to offer some thoughts and predictions on what this team can accomplish in head coach Steve Pikiell’s fourth season on the banks. Let’s tip things off here.
Team Leaders in Scoring, Rebounding and Assists
David Anderson: Geo Baker in scoring. He should be able to do even more off the ball a lot, even though I expect more games Ron Harper Jr. and Jacob Young get really hot. Myles Johnson should lead in rebounding because no one else will likely be above that 4-5 range. I do think Mulcahy will lead the team in assists even if he doesn’t start because he’s the only real pass first player on the team at this point. The logjam for assists will be much like the rebounding as Young, McConnell, Harper, Mathis, Baker, and others will all be in the mix. Best case scenario here would be that Myles Johnson leads the team in dimes, but maybe next year.
Nick Kosko: I’m going to go out on a limb and say Geo Baker leads the team in scoring and assists. I love the freshman Paul Mulchay, but this offense, and pretty much the team is going to run through the junior Baker. Jacob Young finally getting into action is going to be exciting so I wouldn’t rule him out as a potential leading scorer of the team as well. I’ll agree with David about Myles Johnson leading the team in boards. He’s due for a monster season in that department and defensively.
Dave White: The word on Ron Harper Jr is he made a big leap over the summer. With his size, ability to get to the hoop and shoot—plus the lack of Eugene Omoruyi—I expect Ron to be the leading scorer with Geo close behind. I think assists is a tough on because the point guard position is full of a couple of new faces. I’m going to go a little bit rogue here and say Geo leads the team in assists, only because Paul Mulcahy is brought a long slowly. Myles Johnson is going to lead the team in rebounds—Caleb McConnell will lead the guards in rebounds.
Danny Burrick: Ron Harper leads the team in scoring in my opinion. I feel that he has made the most progress among all of the returning players. As for rebounding if Myles Johnson can avoid foul trouble he should average double figures in rebounding throughout this season. Paul Mulcahy for assists. I saw Paul play many times while he was in high school and he was easily one of the best passers I have ever seen and I am expecting him to be the future.
Fred Gaudios: I’ll do each of these with a single sentence of context.
Scoring: Ron Harper, Jr., because I feel he’s the hidden gem of the Big Ten conference and maybe we can get the 1990’s Chicago Bulls public address announcer to do pre-game warmups at the RAC one day (I hear you can hire him for weddings).
Rebounding: Myles Johnson, because he’s our most improved player this season (spoiler alert, more information below).
Assists: Paul Mulcahy, though I expect this to only become obvious in early March as he grows into his role, plays more minutes, and takes over the point guard position.
Scoring: Jacob Young. This could be one of the more interesting categories to pick for team leader. Rutgers should have some of the best scoring options in quite some time. Thinking logically here and how much hype has been around Jacob Young’s speed, I think that would translate to an attacking style towards the basket. Especially if this offense is going to more of an uptempo style, that should lead to some easy baskets or at the very least some opportunities from the free throw line.
Rebounding: Myles Johnson
The big guy down low should have plenty of opportunities at cleaning up the glass. Johnson is a smart player and has much better hands than he gets credit for. I think if he can continue getting better at positioning down in the box and get a little more aggressive around the boards he could easily lead the team in rebounds.
Assists: Caleb McConnell
In a crowded backcourt I think a lot of people forget about this guy but McConnell is a smart crafty player who should benefit from Geo Baker moving to the 2 spot. I don’t believe we know who will be running the point at this moment but McConnell should be in the running. He came off the bench last year and showed he could hang with competition from the Big Ten. Considering Rutgers should have a multitude of scoring options, McConnell at PG could see his assists sky rocket this year.
Adam Ross: I think its wonderful that we arent quite sure who is going to lead this team in points at this point. Its felt like Rutgers has only had one truer scorer every year for a while now. My initial reaction was to say Geo Baker, but I think I’m going to have to say Ron Harper Jr. His strides over the offseason have everyone in awe of his abilities. I’ll need to be convinced that Baker can still be a reliable scorer if he doesnt have the ball in his hands on every possession. As for rebounding, I’m prone to agree with everyone else and say Johnson, but I’ll throw another name into the mix - Akwasi Yeboah. He averaged 7.7 rebounds last year, and comes in to a Scarlet Knight team that lost Eugene and Shaq, so the opportunities will be there. And he knows this system emphasizing controlling the glass very well. Another unconventional name, I think Jacob Young has the potential to lead this team in assists. He has a great pedigree, and I think he ends the season as the starting point guard. I’m excited to see what Mulcahy can do, but I think he needs some time to adjust to the next level, and may have some limited minutes to start out the year.
David Kostus: I have to agree with a lot of the guys above. I’m a huge fan of Geo and I think his efficiency is going to increase greatly as he goes offball and teams have more weapons on offense to account for. That being said, everything makes it sound like Ron Harper Jr. has taken a huge step up since last season and various tidbits make it sound like the offense is focused on getting him shots. I expect him to lead the team in scoring at around 15/ppg. As for rebounding, it seems like its gotta be Myles Johnson. His offensive rebounding rate was crazy high last year and he’s going to get force fed more minutes unless he’s in foul trouble. As for assists, I’ll go with Geo. He has always been a good passer and didn’t get enough credit for his ability to set people up either last year or the year before.
Aaron Breitman: Ron Harper Jr. is going to play at another level this season and should be the most consistent scorer on the roster and thus the leading one as well due to his versatility. The games he is at his best and scores 20+ are those nights when Rutgers will be extremely difficult to beat. Myles Johnson needs to stay healthy and out of foul trouble, but due to averaging 7.8 boards in the 11 games he played more than 20 minutes last season, he should be closer to that type of rebounding production full-time this season. Assists is the hardest to predict but I’m going with Jacob Young because Rutgers needs him to embrace the point guard role for them to reach the next level as a winning team. He certainly has the potential to be the best ball distributor on the team, but needs to do that on a consistent basis.
David Anderson: Defending big, athletic wings. Myles Johnson’s on ball post defense is ok, though I’m not sold on Doucoure or Carter. None of them is really a rim protector though. Rutgers has some length on the perimeter, but in the event of penetration I’m not sure how Rutgers can stop it without completely collapsing and allowing open threes. Unless ... they play a Syracuse 2-3 zone. I know this is not this coaching staff’s bread and butter, but the roster is built for it. Man to man defense is important to build grit and responsibility with the underdog mentality, so playing 2-3 is probably a last resort.
Nick Kosko: A letdown. This team has more expectations than any Rutgers basketball team in recent memory and it’s perfectly reasonable for this team to contend for an NCAA Tournament bid. That is no joke. All has to break right offensively considering the confidence in the defense (at least from me), but something special could be brewing. If this team made the NIT, the fanbase would be thrilled as well, but there has to be some postseason play. We saw the energy from the fanbase and school when Rutgers made a run in the Big Ten Tournament two years ago and actually (dare I say it) had a path to the **gulp** Big Ten Finals.
Dave White: Interior defense is the biggest concern. Johnson, Shaq Carter, Akwasi Yeboah and Mamadou Doucoure are going have to hold down the fort and not foul much. Last season, Omoruyi and Shaq Doorson were lockdown type guys. The newbies (sort of) are really going to have to develop into defenders quickly. If they can do that, Rutgers will be in good shape on the defensive end.
Danny Burrick: My biggest concern with this team in injuries. Because you never known when and to whom an injury will occur they always remain a question mark. With Rutgers going up against top teams weekly, unexpected injuries can make the difference between making a tournament or not.
Fred Gaudios: I suppose I have two (sorry). The first, as I’m sure other contributors are noting as well, is how this team handles the Omoruyi transfer on the court. Eugene was perhaps the most essential part of this team last season on offense. This is nerdy, but if you look at KenPom’s ratings of the most efficient players in the Big Ten conference last season and filter the data by those who played an essential role in most of the team’s offensive possessions, Eugene was the 16th most efficient player in the conference on offense last season, in the same conversation as Ethan Happ (Wisconsin) and Lamar Stevens (Penn St). You can’t just replace that sort of production with one player, but thankfully basketball is a team game so I’m hopeful different guys step up and replace, if not all, the majority of his production. The second concern I have – and this is a recurring theme from the past several seasons – is whether we’ll have enough offense in general to compensate for a still-young team learning about the intricacies of team/help defense. Team defense evolves as players learn their teammates’ tendencies over the course of a long season, but offense has never been Rutgers’ strength under Pikiell (not meaning this as a knock) and there are going to be some games in the first half of the season where our offense will simply need to out-produce quality opponents’ offense. It’s still an open question as to whether that happens.
Patrick Mella: Defense. I know that sounds funny since it’s been a staple of Coach Pikiell’s philosophy since he’s stepped on campus. But losing Omoruyi was a huge blow to the team. Arguably this best all-around player, Eugene brought a defensive toughness that few other guys in the country could bring. Whether it was stepping into driving lanes to take a charge, diving for loose balls or being relentless on the glass, he will be a tough act to follow.
Adam Ross: Can the younger/newer players gel enough and get on the same page by the time conference play begins? We are all familiar with the “lofty” expectations of this squad for this season, but none of it will mean anything if we dont show improvement in our Big Ten schedule. We have a relatively easy out of conference slate, so the team will need to work extra hard to iron out any kinks so they are a force to be reckoned with come January. There wont be any hint of a postseason tournament if we muddle through the conference with only a few wins.
David Kostus: is it weird to say the biggest concern is something coming out of nowhere to just blow up the team and the progress that’s been made? That’s the way things tend to go at Rutgers. I can’t imagine Pikiell being involved in a scandal, and the players seem like great kids, but I’m just afraid of something crazy happening in the athletic department, which once again is mired in weird scandal, and it having an effect on the Men’s Basketball program. We’re Rutgers and the universe doesn’t seem to like us to have good things. On the actual basketball side, I’ll say the defense not coming together is my biggest concern. This team under Pikiell has never actually been as good as advertised on defense in conference play, at least according to advanced metrics. They get that reputation fattening up on bad OOC teams. Maybe Pike hasn’t been lying when he says its a concern.
Aaron Breitman: Injuries, as this team only has 11 scholarship players and is already thin with only three true big men. The most important players to stay healthy are Myles Johnson in the frontcourt and Geo Baker overall. Losing his leadership and experience for an extended period of time would be a crushing blow to a team looking to make a leap up the Big Ten standings. Of course, losing Harper Jr, Young, Yeboah or Mathis would be major losses to. Players are going to get hurt during the course of a 30+ game schedule, but Rutgers can’t afford multiple significant injuries or a season of hope will become a lost season instead.
Most Improved Player
David Anderson: Best case scenario is Doucoure, but I haven’t seen or head much to indicate that. I also can’t say Harper because I was so high on him last year. So I’m going to go out on a limb and say Montez Mathis. First of all, if he could just make free throws at even 70%, teams would think twice about just hacking him AND he would feel more confident going to the rack. If he can consistently make 3s at any point in time, that will be devastating because it’s still better to let him chuck than just shred you inside. Defensively, Mathis was forced to cover a lot of point guards who Young will check this year, so he will be more free to roam. If Mathis’s help defense improves at all, he will get a ton of steals and transition buckets. There are just so many areas where Mathis getting a little better will make a huge difference for him and the team. No one else can get easy buckets consistently.
Nick Kosko: Ron Harper Jr. The kid has a chance to average double figures this season and if the rebounding numbers go up, he’s going to be a pain for opposing squads. 10 PPG and 5-6 RPG? I’d take that. Can Mamadou Doucoure become a much improved big man? One can hope, but I’ll need to see a bigger sample size this season before I make that determination.
Dave White: Ron Harper Jr has all the buzz and Steve Pikiell’s been talking up Shaq Carter, but I say Caleb McConnell steals some of the spotlight. The guard has been really good in practice and knows he needs to earn his playing time. Look for him to really take over shooting the three coming off the bench.
Danny Burrick: Watching Ron progress throughout last season, I’m expecting him to have a dynamite season. I think he has the ability to make the ability to make the first or second all big ten team. He along with other players will help this team thrive towards their goal of making a tournament.
Fred Gaudios: The sexy and obvious choice is Ron Harper, Jr., and I agree he’ll be significantly improved this season, but my pick is Myles Johnson. Aaron said this better than I could in his October article, but the greatest improvement on this team needs to come from the paint positions in order to achieve the type of team improvement that gets us to the NIT / NCAA bubble. Big Myles showed flashes of dominance last season, and he’s had another full offseason to condition and prepare for an enhanced workload in 2019-20. I expect him to be the starting five on Day 1, stay there throughout the season, and average close to a double-double in Big Ten play with continued efficiency on offense and particularly on the boards.
Patrick Mella: Ron Harper Jr. Everything that has come out of Rutgers camp has pointed to Ron Harper being one of the most improved guys on the team. Especially on the wing, he’s got such great length and long strides, he can cover long areas of the floor in a few steps. As for shooting, he’s got to prove it during season as yo whether or not that’s improved. But so much of maturing in college basketball is finding a confidence within yourself. Harper could come into his own this season and develop into one of the most dynamic players on the roster.
Adam Ross: Since I’m late to adding in my analysis, I’m going to go in a different direction and say Geo Baker. He was already perhaps the best player on the team, but with Eugene in Oregon, we will see his leadership skills flourish in his third year on the banks.
David Kostus: I think Ron Harper Jr. being most improved would be ignoring that down the stretch last year he already may have been the team’s best player. I’m going to say Myles Johnson figures out how to stay out of foul trouble and ends up being one of the top rebounders in the B1G, adding a little rim protection in for good measure. If that happens, this teams ceiling rises quite a bit. (Shout out to Caleb McConnell. For some reason I love the idea of a multi-position guy coming off the bench as the 6th man and causing real headaches for the other team.)
Aaron Breitman: While Ron Harper Jr. will make a huge leap this season, Rutgers needs Shaq Carter to be the most improved player due to a lack of depth in the frontcourt. He showed he was a productive offensive player in spurts last season, but he struggled on the boards and defensively. If he can double his scoring and rebounding totals to become closer to a 8 point, 8 rebound type of player who can hold his own in the paint defensively, it would be a major positive development for this team. I think he can do it and Pikiell has raved about his improvement this offseason, saying he developed the most of anyone and rewarded him by making him captain. He is soft spoken, but hopefully carries a big stick on the court this season.
David Anderson: Though I think Harper, Johnson, and maybe Mathis will be more irreplaceable parts for the first 38 minutes of games, the team has only one heart and soul, Geo Baker. Like we saw last year when Omoruyi went down, the team was just lost. They need Baker’s leadership and confidence to take the ball in late game situations. Rutgers should be in a lot of close games this year and Geo’s their best chance to make difficult shots and get W’s.
Nick Kosko: Geo Baker. As I mentioned above, the team will flow through him. If he is hot all year long, this is going to be a good squad, a pain in the neck for the big time teams (Michigan State for ex.) and he’ll pump up the fanbase regularly at the RAC.
Dave White: Geo Baker. The team, as usual, will go as Geo goes. There are more pieces now to make up for him having an off night or two, but Geo is the face of this program and he knows it’s time to shine. I also should know better than to mix metaphors.
Danny Burrick: Jacob Young. The Texas transfer has played in the NCAA tournament with a respected program giving him experience and allowing him to have the ability to run a team. I’m sure this will be a surprise to many but after seeing his performance in Spain I believe he can lead this team.
Fred Gaudios: Ron Harper, Jr. He improved consistently as the season progressed last season, ending the year as a legitimate Big Ten starter and perhaps Rutgers’ most consistent offensive player. Our two best wins of the conference slate last season, at home against then-ranked Ohio State and on the road against Iowa, were games where Harper played a significant role. The Big Ten slate isn’t getting any easier, so for Rutgers to win 7-8+ games in conference this season, Harper will need to (and I predict him to) continue to step up. That said, this is admittedly a very tough question to answer, because this team is deeper with talented players than any in recent memory. It could easily be Geo Baker, Montez Mathis, Jacob Young, Myles Johnson, or even Paul Mulcahy at the end of the season…
Patrick Mella: Geo Baker. Another tough one. But Geo is the glue that will keep this team together. He should finally be able to fall into more of an off the ball role and this should in return get him some open looks. Don’t be surprised though if he does get a few games at the point. I know he was forced into that role last year, but I think not having the ball in his hands as much could lead to him getting a little itch to run that point again. Either way, to me he’s the one guy who is irreplaceable this year and thus my team MVP.
Adam Ross: Akwasi Yeboah. He is the replacement, for lack of a better term, for our team MVP of last season. Given that he is already a proven senior and knows the Pikiell system, I believe he will be the most valuable member of this squad in maintaining the overall progression of the program.
David Kostus: I’d love to be original, but I’m going to say Geo Baker. I think RHJ, Jacob Young, Yeboah and even McConnell are going to pull defensive focus away from Geo and he’s going to benefit greatly by increasing his efficiency. If he can keep his points, assists and steal numbers where they were last year but improve his shooting numbers, I think he gets the nod and those slight efficiency improvements could be the difference in a lot of games. He’s also played so many minutes over the last two seasons that he may be one of the most experienced guards in the B1G. That has to count for a lot.
Aaron Breitman: Ron Harper Jr. will be the most valuable player on the team and the first Rutgers member to make an All-Big Ten team other than Honorable Mention. That’s how high on him I am. He will emerge as the star player that Rutgers sorely needs to lead them up the Big Ten standings. Harper finished 16th in Big Ten play with an impressive offensive rating of 113.8, despite a slow start as a freshman. His production will increase significantly, even if his efficiency dips some, but I do think his shooting numbers will rise across the board. I haven’t been this excited for one player on Rutgers in a long time.
Expectations and How to Measure Progress
David Anderson: This may not be the progress we want, but you lost Omoruyi, your best all-around player. You lost Doorson, the guy who could matchup with really big centers on the other side. So interior defense will take some time to get settled and even then I don’t feel great about it unless a light switch turns on for Doucoure. I want to see significantly better ball movement and shot creation on offense. After a period where Rutgers struggled to have even one good passer on the floor at any given time dating back to Gary Waters, there should be no situation where guys like Harper and McConnell are not your 3rd BEST passer in the game at any moment. If the team loses a few games because they are overpowered inside or by big, athletic wings that won’t concern me long-term. If they lose games because they can’t get good shots, that’s a major issue in year four of the same offensive scheme.
Nick Kosko: Expectations should be to finish above .500 and have a shot at postseason play. Whether that is the holy grail NCAA Tournament berth or an invitation to the NIT, that will measure a successful season. Good progress would indicate consistent offense and not the lulls we’ve seen in years’ past. Can this team shoot well, as in, most of the time? Boy I hope so.
Dave White: With the schedule the way it’s set up, this is the year to at the very least finish .500. It’s time to embrace some expectations.
Danny Burrick: Expectations for this season are to have a winning record for the first time since the 2005-06 season, make a tournament, and avoid as much outside disruption as possible.
Fred Gaudios: In Pikiell’s first season, we were happy to win a Big Ten conference tournament game. In his second, we were happy when they won two conference tournament games and gave Purdue a hell of a scare in the quarterfinals. (I was at MSG for the Purdue game, and it was the most fun I’ve ever had at a college basketball game in my life.) In his third, it was justifiably the expectation that the team would escape the Big Ten cellar – and they did. In this year, year four, I am expecting an above .500 record, at least eight Big Ten conference wins, plus the potential for play in a secondary postseason tournament with outside hopes at the NCAA bubble. Of all four seasons of the Pikiell era, these are the toughest expectations to meet – this is the biggest leap. Wins are a zero-sum game, and it’s not like the Big Ten is a weak conference in which to play. In order to win our share, we’re going to have to outplay some teams which are (on paper) better than we are. Here’s how I measure progress. One, I expect this team to improve over the course of the season. We are still one of the younger teams in Division I, and we need time to gel, especially with a freshman point guard likely earning minutes (and making freshman mistakes) throughout the season. Two, I expect to win more than our share of toss-ups – this is how well-coached teams differentiate themselves. There are 13 games on our schedule this season where Rutgers has between a 30% and 60% chance to win, according to KenPom. If we win more than seven of these games, Pikiell deserves a standing ovation and we’re headed somewhere – maybe somewhere good – for the postseason. Three, I expect we beat Seton Hall, because that’s always fun to do. J
Patrick Mella: This is a team that is good enough on paper to make the NIT. The NCAA is just so difficult to make and coupled with so many question marks this year. I just know how likely it is. Possible? Yes of course. If you’re a fan reading this, get excited. This is a team and group of guys that could be very good this year. But realistically it takes time, we’re talking seasons, to gel together. Even if Rutgers does settle for an NIT berth considering where this program was 5 years ago I think most fans would sign up for that. Finishing higher than 10th in the Big Ten like most predictions have said would be another indication this program is on the rise.
Adam Ross: The fan base clearly has high expectations, and not without good reason. This is the best team we have put out in at least 15 years. The publications dont seem to share our optimism, putting us 12th in the conference. Hopefully, that just means other teams will underestimate us. I agree with the rest of the contributors that a .500 record should be the expectation. But how do we measure progress? I think that will be in the value of the recruits who sign on for 2020. If this team is creating a buzz and attracting more young talent, that will prove how well we are progressing.
David Kostus: If this team eliminates bad losses that will be huge progress and show that the team is making progress. Also must not take a step-back in conference play and get at least one more conference win this year. Finally, learn how to win in big games... I think they lost every home sellout last year, and this year there are already more sellouts on the schedule.
Aaron Breitman: My baseline expectations for this team is a winning record, no bad losses i non-conference play, not suffering any 20+ point blowouts, improving their Big Ten win total from last season’s program best (7). These type of measurements will be achieved if they take the necessary development steps as a team: learning how to close out games, improving their assist to turnover ratio as a team, being able to exploit opponent weaknesses, and perhaps most importantly, play unselfishly on offense and focus on strong team defense.
Regular Season Record, Big Ten seed & Postseason Outlook
David Anderson: I think the team is .500 overall, a 9 or 10 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. They don’t make the NIT, but hopefully can get a random other tournament bid.
Nick Kosko: I’ll go 16-15 since the team is a bit younger with exciting veterans. Obviously the loss of Eugene Omoruyi is going to sting, but there is potential with Steve Pikiell’s squad. Let’s say a 10 seed in the Big Ten tournament with a win to get to the quarterfinals. Not sure if the record will get them to the NIT, but if they’re above .500 and make a surprising run to the Big Ten semi-finals (it is March after all), then we can see more postseason basketball.
Dave White: My heart says 18-13 regular season, but my formal prediction will be 17-14. This team has the pieces but probably needs one more year to really coalesce. A Big Ten run could do a lot of this team, but as usual that has to do with seeding. I think this team finds a way into the NIT with two wins the Big Ten Tournament. But, Rutgers fans are due and this team is thinking big, so you never ever know. Maybe it’s a special year for once.
Danny Burrick: I agree with Dave in thinking they will go 18-13. They have everything where set up for them to be able to do so. I think they can be a seven seed in the big ten tournament and maybe even make a run to go deep into the tournament. I believe this team has the ability to reach the NCAA tournament but will they deliver?
Fred Gaudios: I predict a regular season of 18-13 (9-11), with two non-conference losses (at Pittsburgh plus the obligatory random loss) but a win against Seton Hall. Among our nine conference wins will be one court storming upset of a top-ten team at the RAC, which will be one of the leading stories on that night’s SportsCenter and will lead to one of those awesome “check out all the tweets from national CBB media” articles the next day. This regular season performance will be good enough for the #9 seed in the conference tournament and a first-round bye. I predict we win two games in the conference tournament, making us sweat Selection Sunday, where we will be a bubble team unfortunately left out by the NCAA. We’ll be disappointed with our NIT berth for about fifteen minutes before we realize how far this program has come, how great postseason experience will be for this team, and how better days are still ahead for this team.
Patrick Mella: I think 17-14 would be considered an accomplishment this year. Finish inside the 10th seed in the Big Ten, and get an invite to the NIT. Considering the youth of this team and the difficulty of life in the Big Ten I’d be over the moon for those results.
Adam Ross: I’ll go with a 17-14 record. There’s the potential for more certainly, but with the relative youth of this team, I think it settles back into 17 wins, which is nothing to sneeze at. I think we are on the outside looking in for the Big Dance, but we do make the NIT. With a conference tournament win and an NIT win, we could be talking about a 20 win when all is said and done, which is objectively a successful season.
David Kostus: I agree with Aaron here, 19-12, 9-11 in conference, they make the NIT and while we’re all excited about that the team still gets close enough to NCAA bubble conversations for fans to feel a bit of a let down.
Aaron Breitman: To quote Dr. Sean McGuire in the closing line of Good Will Hunting in reference to Dave Kostus, “son of a bitch, he stole my line.” I think the reasonable window for win total in the regular season is between 16 and 19 wins. I’m going with the high end, despite not thinking this team is quite there yet. However, I think this team will be much improved from game 1 to game 31 and I think the Big Ten, other than Maryland and Michigan State, is pretty wide open this season. I’m worried about lack of frontcourt depth, injuries, turnovers due to playing an up tempo style, interior defense and this team wearing down at the end of the season once again. However, I think team chemistry is best it’s been under Pikiell, there are more scoring options by far, they’ll create a lot of matchup problems with their size and versatility that will be showcased with multiple lineup combinations, and I really think this team gets it in regard to how they need to play in order to win. My prediction is a regulars season record of 19-12 with an 9-11 record in Big Ten play, which I think will put them in 9th place in the conference standings. I do not think that would be good enough for an NCAA berth unless they made an unprecedented run in the Big Ten Tournament. After a 14 year postseason drought in addition to a winning season, an NIT berth would be huge for this program and where it was before Pikiell got here to now.
Fred Gaudios: This is going to be a fun season, if everyone stays healthy and we win the games we should win. Football season has been an incredibly soul-sucking challenge for those of us who follow the sport closely, so here’s hoping men’s basketball season brings us more of what we’ve come to expect from this team over the years – tough defense, grittiness, tense and fun game-watching moments, and (new for this season) postseason tournament expectations!
David Anderson: All I ask for as a fan is continued long-term hope and some competitive games to make things worth watching and emotionally investing in (aka avoid strings of blowouts). College basketball is supposed to be fun regardless of whether your team makes the NCAA Tournament or not. One thing that makes it so exciting is how freshmen or other high upside newcomer can make such a big difference right away, but most players don’t. So you have to be optimistic it could happen that Mulcahy is a stud right away or Young became a star while sitting out, but never count on that.
Dave White: This is it, folks. This is the year the Pikiell era has been pointing towards. NCAAs? Probably not, but there is a chance, if absolutely everything goes right. But this is the season that Pikiell’s pounding of nails should result in a foundation finally being complete. This team should embrace expectations finish over .500 and be one of the most fun seasons Rutgers basketball fans have had in years (and last year was fun, soooo...). Maybe an NIT run. Maybe the basketball gods bless us with more. But, hopefully, we’re sitting in the RAC at the beginning of February with excitement in our eyes, sore throats from yelling and more hope on the horizon.
Patrick Mella: Maybe it’s the disaster that is the football program or my fantasy football season being over early. Maybe its the Yankees being eliminated or the Giants making me look at early Mel Kiper draft predictions. But I can’t remember a Rutgers basketball season that I’ve been more hyped for. This is a coach, a team and a program to rally around. Although I would caution fans that there will be ups and downs this year, I think it’s fair to get excited. Anyone who experienced the Eddie Jordan years will know how truly far this program has come. This team embodies everything but is to be a Rutgers fan- Always the underdog and always fighting.
Adam Ross: I can’t remember being this excited for a basketball season since I was a student myself. My hope is that the coaching staff tempers the excitement in the young guys, which I have no doubt they will do. The pieces are all there for the start of something great. It will be a pivotal season to start making noticeable progress in the standings with these players, so they can help continue that trend for the future.
David Kostus: There is something about Pikiell and the guys on this team that makes them particularly easy to root for. For their sakes, I hope they rally around the B___ S___ that is having your captain transfer in the middle of the night via Instagram and have a great season. For my own sake, I hope the season goes well enough to distract me from the horrors of political twitter and all of the issues with the football program. All I really want is the season to start so that I can google Rutgers and read a story that doesn’t have to do with football, Schiano, or a scandal in the athletic department. Following sports is supposed to be fun, and that is something this team has given everybody over the last few years. Here’s to hoping that trend continues.
Aaron Breitman: This is such a crucial season for the program and Pikiell, a major key to me is truly making the RAC a nightmare for teams to play. That can’t just be playing teams hard and the environment be crazy anymore. It has to mean that when Big Ten teams come to the RAC, more times than not they leave with a loss. It’s the only way Rutgers is ever going to climb up the Big Ten standings. Yes, they need to win more on the road, but if they can produce a winning record in conference play at the RAC, something like 6-4 or 7-3, which I think is attainable, your ability to be a .500 team or better in the Big Ten is achievable. They had five sellouts last season and lost them all. Time to change that this season. Overall, I’m as excited as I’ve been for this team in years and really believe they are ready to take a significant step forward this season.