Breath in......breath out.....breath in......breath out...... That’s what Wednesday morning has been for Rutgers basketball fans, who either couldn’t sleep through the night or have been strung out all morning upon discovering the news that Eugene Omoruyi intends to leave the program. The news of Omoruyi transferring out has truly shocked everyone, including media covering the team and people within the program itself.
Speculation is starting to trickle out though. Keith Sargeant of NJ Advance Media is reporting that part of the issue with Omoruyi wanting to leave was that he is “considering sitting out the 2019-20 season to rehabilitate his knees” per a source. Sargeant also reported that head coach Steve Pikiell flew to Canada Wednesday to meet with Omoruyi in hopes of getting him to stay. Whatever the reason, his departure would be a major blow to the program and at this point, seems more likely than not.
Lance Glinn and myself will have an emergency podcast out tomorrow morning to better put this news into historical context, but for now, here are some rapid reaction thoughts on how Omoruyi’s departure will affect this Rutgers basketball next season.
- The loss of leadership, toughness, and rebounding that Omoruyi brought on the court is going to be extremely hard to replace. He was clearly the most proven scorer in the post and the leader on and off the court. He was deemed the most improved player the past two offseason’s by the coaching staff. This is a massive blow for sure and the ceiling for next season has lowered.
- Grad transfer Akwasi Yeboah is of similar build and posted similar numbers to Omoruyi in his career, albeit at a lower level, but their games on the court do not make them interchangeable parts. According to the site Hoop Math, 50.5% of Omoruyi’s shots came at the rim last season, while only 28.0% of Yeboah’s did. In regard to two-point field goals that were considered jump shots, Omoruyi made just 25.0%, while Yeboah made 39.1%. Omoruyi only took 14.2% of his shots from behind three-point range while making 31.2% of them , while Yeboah took 47.2% of his shots from behind the arc, making 31.6% of them. Omoruyi was much more of a post up, back down his defender and shoot as close to the rim as possible type player, while Yeboah is much more of a natural player along the perimeter. I’m not saying one style is better than the other, just that the comparison isn’t a deep as perhaps some believed.
- Speaking of style, with a massive hole at the 4 spot with Omoruyi presumably gone, the two most likely candidates to fill those minutes are Yeboah and Ron Harper Jr. Both are more suited along the perimeter, which means that Rutgers is almost certain to play a more up tempo style with a smaller lineup that we’ve speculated we would see more of next season, even before this news. While a perimeter oriented team is intriguing and a shift closer to how Michigan played under former head coach John Beilein more likely to be attempted, a style which Pikiell has lauded, for it to actually work, Rutgers needs to shoot far better as a unit next season. I wrote recently a potential rule change in furthering the distance of the three-point line could actually help this team offensively by creating more space to attack the rim, which could help having more perimeter players on the floor.
- Of course, Shaq Carter could also step up and fill a more traditional role that Omoruyi played in the post, but his defense and conditioning will have to improve. He can certainly be a bucket filler near the rim and his size is something Big Ten teams will need to contend with. However, he really needs to take a step forward in his development to be a consistent factor next season.
- Dave White and I had a lengthy exchange speculating how minutes would be distributed next season and the quick answer after today is there is more opportunity for everyone on the current roster to play now. There is still lineup versatility at Pikiell’s disposal and various combinations for him to use within his rotations. Three guard sets seem more likely to happen at a higher rate now as well. The potential for Rutgers to run and press more often exists too.
- For a team that was ranked 330th out of 353 Division I teams last season regarding experience, losing their most seasoned player is an obvious negative. However, the freshmen and sophomores on the roster will be counted on for significant minutes, which is both a good and bad thing. Good in that they are very talented and will gain ever more experience. Bad because it’s a great unknown how they will handle the grind and pressure of the season. We know this team wore down at the end of this season and despite the loss of Omoruyi, expectations should still be higher entering next year than they were last fall.
- There are now two scholarships to fill and it’s unlikely Rutgers can land impact players for next season. I’ve said before that Pikiell has a knack for adding useful talent late in the recruiting cycle (i.e. C.J. Gettys, Omoruyi, Mamadou Doucoure), but it certainly isn’t a preferred position to be in. Hopefully, they can land one player who can help next season and preferably in the frontcourt. Landing a high school player in the class of 2019 that could help will be challenging at this point and big man target Hason Ward, who the staff offered after the April live period, recently committed to VCU. It’s most likely another grad transfer or JUCO player will be added.
- Whoever it is, Rutgers really needs to add someone to the roster that can contribute next season. A big reason they did wear down so much the last three games of the season in my opinion was they really were operating with only nine scholarship players. Mamadou Doucoure missed most of the season and Issa Thiam was dismissed the final week of the regular season. Baker was exhausted, Omoruyi was hobbled, and the freshman all hit the wall at the same time. Depth is so important and remains an uphill battle for the program to climb as the rebuild progresses. If they can’t add a player for next season, it will continue to be a major concern and potentual pitfall.
- Perception wise, it’s never a good thing to have your team captain, as well as leading scorer and rebounder leave the program ahead of their senior year. It’s also a bit embarrassing that it was announced just hours before Omoruyi stated his intentions that the program scheduled a game near his hometown in Canada as a tribute to him. With all that being said, moves like this are becoming more common in college basketball, as over 500 players have entered the transfer portal this offseason. There shouldn’t be a conspiracy theory or red flags thrown in regard to how Pikiell is running the program, just like fans should be grateful for the three years of heart and guts that Omoruyi gave Rutgers on the court. We aren’t owed anything from players and wishing Eugene anything less than the best on his way out would be criminal, even if the way he announced the news was questionable.
- As I joked on twitter, while Omoruyi leaving seems out of left field for most, it seems more par for the course for Rutgers fans. We’ve had our hearts broken before and just when the hope ahead of next season had reached a fever pitch, the news of Omoruyi wanting to leave broke. It’s a bit of cruel joke for a proud but wary fan base. The sky is not falling, but the black cloud that has seemingly followed this program the past three decades is still hovering. The news of today does not make me question whether Steve Pikiell will ultimately turn this program around. I believe he will. But patience needs to remain, even though it’s fair to feel frayed and be tired of having to wait much longer. The fact is Rutgers still returns a talented and young core that will have multiple seasons together. Pikiell has always said there will be unexpected bumps along the way to rebuilding the program. Wednesday yielded a road blocking boulder ahead of next season, but there is still time and plenty of development to occur that can pave a new and perhaps even better path for the future heading into his fourth season leading Rutgers basketball.