As I start typing this, we are two days, 10 hours and 15 minutes away from tip-off. As you can see, I’m no longer enjoying the build, but am instead embracing some expectations. Here are four thoughts on Steve Pikiell’s fourth season on the banks.
Set Up For Success: People aren’t going to like this, but this is still a young team. There are two seniors on this team, one from the JUCO ranks and one a graduate transfer. But the players at the Junior and Sophomore level have a ton of talent and have played a ton of minutes. That means this team is set up for success not only this year, but at the very least on to next. This is Geo Baker’s team, and as Geo goes, so will the Scarlet Knights. You have to believe he’s geared up for a big season. And with Ron Harper Jr reportedly having made the jump from talented freshman to a sophomore with NBA potential down the line, there is some scoring here. It should make for one of the most entertaining seasons at the RAC in the last 20 years. Pikiell has built this roster with craftsmanship, and there is depth here at guard where Geo doesn’t have to have a super night every single night.
How Will the Losses Affect the Team: This offseason didn’t go as smoothly as most would have hoped. The transfer of Eugene Omoruyi after midnight, the day Coach Pikiell announced they would play a game in Canada specifically for him, has been debated over and over again and losing Eugene won’t help the team. But two other departures have the potential to hurt just as much. Shaq Doorson had his best season as a Scarlet Knight last year, locking down the interior defense and rebounding while staying on the floor the longest he had in his career. Myles Johnson and Mamadou Doucoure will have to step up to replace Shaq’s presence. But the biggest loss could be Jay Young leaving Rutgers’ assistant coaching ranks to become the head coach of the Fairfield Stags. Young often ran practice for Pikiell, and instilled a toughness with the big men that hadn’t been seen for the Scarlet Knights in quite some time. It will be interesting to see how they adjust to these personnel losses.
The Newcomers Are Intriguing: Oh man, I cannot wait to see some of the new guys take the floor. Jacob Young is eligible after sitting out his transfer year. I’ve seen Young in practice twice now and he is the fastest player on the team. You want to see Run, Rutgers, Run? Put the ball in Young’s hands after a rebound and watch him streak down the court to the hoop. Akwasi Yeboah was not brought in to replace Omoruyi, but instead augment his presence. Instead, now, he will be there to help Shaq Carter lock down the power forward spot and step out to shoot the three. Reports are he has a heck of a shot from deep. We’ll see. Finally, there’s Paul Mulcahy, the Jersey born and bred point guard. He’s 6’6” and has the court vision some can only dream of. He will probably be brought along slowly, but you can bet he’ll see the court Thursday night against Bryant. Maybe he’ll have a couple of headband highlight passes.
Postseason on the Horizon? The out of conference schedule is super duper light at the RAC. Yes, Rutgers has to face Seton Hall (which is already sold out and the RAC should be a rocking), but the rest of the games should be games that Rutgers can win pretty easily (yes, this is Rutgers so take that with a grain of salt. They will likely struggle with a few opponents.). That means Rutgers has a chance to finish over .500 for the first time since Quincy Douby left to be a pro. And if Rutgers can get over .500 (which they flirted with last year until the last few weeks of the season), they very much have a shot to win the extra two to three games to get into the NIT. Here’s my hope for the season: I hope that in mid-February, the RAC is full against a ranked opponent and the word bubble is used. Pikiell has this team trending in the right direction—so now let’s hope everyone has their head’s right and maybe we finally get a little basketball magic.
The best time of year is finally here.