While March Madness is in full bloom, it’s never too early to look ahead at what the Rutgers men’s basketball team could look like next season. After the freshman four showed a lot of potential this season and just one key rotation player has left in Shaq Doorson, there are legitimate reasons to be excited about the step forward the program seems in line to make next season.
With Texas transfer Jacob Young and First Team All-State signee Paul Mulcahy joining the backcourt, Rutgers still has two open scholarships for the 2019 class. The talent level will be elevated and could be even more so depending on how the two additional spots are filled.
The first big question is how will Rutgers fill them? There are a lot of ways head coach Steve Pikiell and the coaching staff can go.
Adding a four year high school player at this point is still possible, as Caleb McConnell committed on April 15 last year. However, with most high school players capable of playing at the high major level already signed or committed, its likely Rutgers will land at least one player another way.
The graduate transfer market is always highly competitive and hard to predict, but you can be certain Rutgers is scouring the transfer portal with a fine toothed comb. The list grows by the day of available grad transfers and will continue into April once the season ends.
Taking a JUCO player is possibility as well, as Rutgers signed Candido Sa, Souf Mensah and Shaq Carter from that level the previous three years under Pikiell.
Of course, with so many returning players and two impact newcomers added to the mix for next season, minutes are going to come at a premium and will take some juggling to keep everyone happy. For me, I think that makes it very possible that Rutgers ends up taking a sit-out transfer like they have the previous two years with Kiss and Young.
Another scenario is recruits currently part of the class of 2020 deciding to reclassify late in the game. Last season, Rutgers finished in the top three for Aundre Hyatt, who reclassified late in the recruiting cycle. He landed at LSU instead, but is an example of a target in the following recruiting class that could emerge as a potential add before next season.
The second big question is what types of players does Rutgers need to help the program take another step forward? Let’s look at the current makeup of the roster as of now:
Frontcourt: Eugene Omoruyi (Sr); Shaq Carter (Sr); Mamadou Doucoure (Jr or RS So); Myles Johnson (RS So)
Wings/Backcourt: Geo Baker (Jr); Peter Kiss (RS Jr); Jacob Young (RS Jr); Ron Harper Jr. (So); Mathis (So); Caleb McConnell (So); Paul Mulcahy (Fr)
I included wings along with the backcourt because there is a lot of versatility within the roster, which is by design. Pikiell has made size, athleticism, and multi-positional players a priority in his tenure at Rutgers and is a key aspect of his blueprint in rebuilding the program.
Harper Jr. is really the only true wing player, but McConnell and even Kiss could fill that role as well. Pikiell will now have four players capable of handling the point with Baker, McConnell, Young, and Mulcahy. Pikiell will have the flexibility to mix lineups based on matchups and styles accordingly. There are a lot of options along the perimeter and that will be a strategic advantage at times next season.
However, Rutgers needs help in two areas: a big man for now and in the future, as well as a sharp shooter who can contribute in other ways. With the graduation of Shaq Doorson, along with Omoruyi and Carter entering their senior seasons, there is a need to restock in the interior. They could fill with a grad transfer for immediate help next season, or take a longer term player out of high school or a sit-out transfer. Quality big men don’t grow on trees, but Rutgers really needs to add someone who can fill a role in the frontcourt next season. They are targeting several big men in the class of 2020 like Cliff Omoruyi, Matt Zona, Isaiah Cottrell, Zed Key and others. Landing at least one will be a must, but finding someone to provide defense and rebounding next season is important too.
Finding a stretch four who can shoot would be ideal, as Rutgers needs to improve with its out side shooting, as well as frontcourt scoring production. They could take more of a wing who can produce from behind the arc as well, but more versatile the better.
The third big question is who is on the market that could potentially fill a role and make an impact for next season and possibly beyond? Let’s look at a few names, both who have been linked to Rutgers and intriguing names available.
Akwasi Yeboah entered the transfer portal last week and was the best player on a Stony Brook team that went 24-9 this past season. While there haven’t been any reports that Rutgers is pursuing him, the wing was recruited to that program by Steve Pikiell and Jay Young and redshirted their last season at the school. You may remember he had a huge game in beating Rutgers two seasons ago, when he produced 21 points on 6 of 10 shooting in just 23 minutes, while adding 6 rebounds. He is a good defensive player who would add a proven scorer to the roster, despite not really filling one of the two roles Rutgers needs the most. Yeboah shot 31.6% from three-point range on 209 attempts. Yeboah has said it’s possible he will stay at Stony Brook, who just promoted assistant Geno Ford to head coach after Jeff Boals left for Ohio. His decision is certainly one to watch.
Yeboah should be able to play immediately as a grad transfer and is a player that could make a difference for a lot of teams. https://t.co/HMpJJio6ir— John Templon (@nybuckets) March 22, 2019
Another intriguing grad transfer is Lehigh’s Pat Andree, who Rutgers has reportedly contacted. The 6’8” forward is from Colts Neck, New Jersey and played high school ball at CBA for former Rutgers star Geoff Billet. Andree would fill a need as a stretch four that would instantly become the most proven three-point shooter on the roster. He shot 42.5% from behind the arc in the past two seasons, averaging 176 attempts per year. With his size, along with his ability to catch and shoot, he can draw post defenders out of the paint and create more space for players like Ron Harper Jr., Montez Mathis, Paul Mulcahy, and Jacob Young to drive to the rim. He also averaged 6.2 rebounds per game and the 29th lowest turnover rate in the country last season. He also had an offensive rating of 118.0, which was 187th best nationally. While I think Andree would be challenged on the defensive end in Big Ten play, his potential to add outside shooting punch, minimize mistakes and be a useful rebounder make him definitely worth pursuing.
Lehigh transfer Pat Andree has heard from Pittsburgh, Boston College, NC State, Wake Forest, TCU, Kansas State, Duquesne, Fordham, Illinois, Rutgers & USC.— Evan Daniels (@EvanDaniels) March 26, 2019
Averaged 12.9 PPG & 6.2 RPG this past season.
In terms of a grad transfer big man, Barret Benson is graduating from Northwestern in three years and has one year remaining. At 6’10” he would provide some depth in the frontcourt, but he never played significant minutes in three years with the Wildcats. He does have the potential to provide defense and rebounding off the bench for whoever he ends up playing for next season.
Moving onto high school prospects remaining on the open market, the only New Jersey recruit ranked in the top ten in the state uncommitted is Roselle Catholic point guard Josh Pierre-Louis. He previously committed to UNLV but re-opened his recruitment after former head coach Marvin Menzies was fired earlier this moth. However, Rutgers doesn’t need another point guard and never pursued him too much previously. UPDATE: He committed to Temple on Friday afternoon.
One available high school prospect that Rutgers is known to be involved with is 3-star and 6’5” wing Marvin Price from Baltimore, Maryland. He has been recruited for awhile and he was just named Baltimore City Player of the Year last week and led Patterson high school to a state title. He scored 31 points on 12 of 18 shooting and 3 of 7 from three-point range, along with 10 rebounds, in the championship game. Price can also defend and seems like a tough two way player that would fit the culture within the program. While it’s questionable how much of an impact he would have next season, he is an intriguing prospect long term nonetheless.
In regard to sit-out transfers, a familiar name hit the market this week when point guard Tai Strickland announced he was leaving Wisconsin after just one season. Strickland had visited Rutgers last summer and seriously considered the Scarlet Knights, before committing to the Badgers on his official visit there. Whether interest on both sides reemerges remains to be seen, as well as his path to even be able to transfer within the Big Ten.
A player who was previously offered by Rutgers is Kareem Reid, a 6’8” big man who plays at Putnam Science Academy in Connecticut. He just announced he was reclassifying to the class of 2019, but I would consider UConn the favorite to ultimately land him.
The reality is so much can happen between now and the fall semester, which begins 5 months from now. Remember, the transfer addition of Jacob Young from Texas came out of nowhere last April. And don’t panic if Rutgers hasn’t filled both spots before the summer. There are still more transfer announcements coming with the college basketball season not completely over yet. Going back to Pikiell’s first year, he added little known recruit Eugene Omoruyi in August. He added valuable grad transfer CJ Gettys that month as well. The year after, Mamadou Doucoure reclassified over the summer and secretly enrolled at Rutgers before it was even reported.
It’s impossible to predict what will happen, but have faith that Pikiell and this coaching staff are doing all they can to add the right fits with the open scholarships available. Whether they are a transfer, JUCO player, or high school prospect, the most important thing is can they help the program take another step forward? Next season has to be the best in many years, but expectations could rise even more based on who is added to the roster this offseason. Stay tuned.