Anticipation for Rutgers basketball is sky high right now, but the season is still 6 months off. Aaron and Dave were going back and forth about the rotation after Akwasi Yeboah committed and decided to have a little roundtable discussion. Batting back and forth emails, the two discussed the starters, the rotation and the minutes players would earn.
Lots of speculation here, but a fun read nonetheless. Enjoy:
“I play the best and am fair to the rest.” Steve Pikiell said that in one of his postgame press conferences early in his Rutgers tenure. The line stuck with me. I think it’s what has helped some really good team chemistry the past few seasons. Basically, everyone gets a chance with the coach.
But, this coming season presents a different challenge. Pikiell finally has a ton of depth and all of the players either haven’t played, but have high ceilings or have contributed in meaningful ways last year. So, let’s look at this, Aaron. Let’s try to decided on a starting five, a ten man rotation and then the role players. I’ll go first.
I know a lot of people have high expectations for Paul Mulcahy as the point guard of the future, and a guy who will get starters minutes as soon as possible. But I think that, unless he blows people away in the pre-season, Pikiell will ease him into the rotation like he did with Montez Mathis, Ron Haper, Jr., and Caleb McConnell last season. I think the starting five will be very similar to what we saw last year.
In early November, I expect to hear these players announced as starters: Geo Baker, Montez Mathis, Ron Harper, Jr., Eugene Omoruyi and Myles Johnson.
What do you think?
What a fun debate to have, how times have changed since the Pikiell era began.
The roster is fascinating to analyze and speculate on how Pikiell will employ it next season. I completely agree with Harper Jr., Omoruyi, and Johnson locked in as starters. As far as the backcourt, it’s a true puzzle that might have different fits throughout the entire season based on matchups, riding the hot hand, etc. Any of the five guards (Baker, Mathis, Mulcahy, McConnell, Young) have the potential to start. For me the truly exciting part of this is what the second five off the bench will look like, as the three that don’t start will come in along with Yeboah and either Shaq Carter or Mamadou Doucoure. Of course that could change depending on how the final roster spot is filled, but the point remains the bench is as deep as I can remember in the last 15 years, possibly longer.
Getting back to your question, I think a lot of who will start in the backcourt will depend on how they all develop in the offseason. All have upside, all have things they need to get better with. I also think Pikiell may not wait on Mulcahy, because I think his ability to change the offense with his playmaking and distribution of the basketball make it inevitable he will take over, so why not make the transition immediately? Mulcahy seems very mature and has been building a rapport with his teammates for the past year before even arriving on campus permanently.
My starting five projection is Mulcahy, Baker, Harper Jr., Omoruyi and Johnson.
I’ll throw it back to you with this question, should Pikiell consider Baker to come off the bench instead of starting? Hear me out. Aside from Pikiell making the comment you mentioned above, he has also said that who starts is less important to him than who is on the floor at the end of games. With the thought that Mathis is the best backcourt defender on the team, does it make more sense for him to start and matchup with the opposition’s best guard right from the start? Baker is a selfless player and it would show tremendous leadership if he willingly came off the bench. It would also make the second team substituted on the floor very strong. The reality is with a more up tempo style of play that we both think will be utilized next season, everyone is going to get minutes. Baker can still be on the floor at the end and perhaps not starting will keep him fresher, as well as allow him to see things develop from observing the first run of the game, as he is a smart kid. Thoughts?
Interesting that you went with Mulcahy to start. I may be biased because he’s a freshmen and I think if you have experience, you use it. But then I started thinking about how, if you went with your line-up, the possibilities of the next five and what Pikiell could do with it. I could see him subbing out Harper, Baker and Mulcahy for McConnell, Mathis and Jacob Young. And then think about the defensive havoc, those three guards could create on the floor. A bit of a press, some trapping, and everyone gets minutes. It could stand to wear down some starting line-ups early and push the pace on offense. However, that next step might give up a bit in the way of three point shooting--however turnovers should allow them to get plenty of fast breaks.
The frontcourt is a something to work with. Part of it is because is still an open scholarship for this team--and one that you would expect would be used on a big man. But I think Yeboah, in the situation I presented above, would come in for Eugene and Doucoure would come in for Johnson. Doucoure would become the rim protector on the press. Yeboah has shown himself to be a good rebounder at Stony Brook so that might help too. Do you think Pikiell will go with wholesale hockey-style line changes during the games or will he substitute liberally when he sees fit? And if it’s just normal subbing, who’s the first man off the bench?
Baker not starting for an extended stretch next season would stun me, unless he went into a bonafide slump. In fact, I’m not sure that strategy is even completely about Geo Baker, but recruiting and the program as a whole. The same if Yeboah were to start over Eugene if he’s healthy. Both Eugene and Geo are the key cogs and faces of this program. They are two of the first to say yes to Steve Pikiell. Having them not start creates a narrative that I’m not sure I like. ”You’ve been with me forever, but it’s time for you to sit.” I might be wrong here, I’ve been wrong before, but I think it’s something that could be used against Pikiell on the recruiting trail. ”Look, they got to their junior or senior season and he didn’t start them.” That said, Pikiell always says he doesn’t care about starters, but who finishes. I’ve been wrong before.
Speaking of finishing the game, Aaron: Rutgers is up 3 with one minute left. The RAC is rocking. The other team is about to start fouling. Who do you have on the floor in crunch time?
Woah, woah, woah, David. You took my Baker idea and doubled down with Omoruyi? I agree both players are indispensable, but Baker coming off the bench doesn’t limit his potential effectiveness in my opinion. The idea is not an indictment of Baker himself, merely a product of the depth and versatility of the backcourt as it stands today. Gene is in a different situation, as he is the best frontcourt player on the team. I don’t see Yeboah starting over him, simply because Omoruyi is more of an inside out player, while Yeboah is the opposite. I see them on the floor together at times and see Yeboah more of an interchangeable part with Harper as opposed to Gene.
I think that negative recruiting narrative would fall flat because I think Baker would be vocally on board about doing what is best for the team and would preach that to recruits. Pikiell is known for not promising any role to any recruit and having a guy like Baker buy-in to a different role would actually benefit recruiting in my opinion. It would certainly turn certain guys off, but it would ensure the right one’s in regard to culture fit would want to come to Rutgers.
Yes, I would think finding a big man is a priority in filling the final scholarship available. Finding a capable post defender and rebounder would really help the frontcourt depth and essentially be a replacement for Shaq Doorson. I don’t think taking a sit-out transfer makes sense, unless they are able to acquire a very talented player and Pikiell feels there aren’t many minutes going to be available to whoever the 13th player will be. However, I think counting on Doucoure and Carter as the backups exclusively would only work if both show significant improvement on the defensive end.
In terms of the end of game with Rutgers up 3, I’d have Mulcahy, Baker, Yeboah, Omoruyi and you go 50/50 with Harper Jr on the floor on offensive possessions and sub Myles Johnson on the floor for defense. What do you think?
I did double down, didn’t I? I didn’t intend to when I first started writing. Baker would probably on board. The good thing we saw about this team last year is how selfless they seem to be. You didn’t hear much--if any--grumbling about playing time or diminished roles. Also, at some point, I think nearly everyone on the team started and played in key junctures. That’s the hardest part about predicting this stuff--so much happens in a 30 game season that a lot of this kind of speculation goes out the window.
If Baker is on board and makes a point of it, people would lay roses at his feet. Same with any other player, but the team leader? The one who took all the clutch shots last year? That would be a pretty impressive moment.
I think I agree with your assessment for last guys on the floor. Though I’m going to guess we’ll have to learn what kind of defensive player Mulcahy is. Also, how does he do shooting free throws? If I remember McConnell was great at the line in the clutch last year and with his length, I think I might have him on the court. Can we play 6 or 7 guys in the final minute?
Also, I’m going to throw a bone here: Lots of people are discounting Peter Kiss. Yes, he didn’t play as much as expected last year and he’s probably not the first guy off the bench, but I’d be willing to wager that--just like he hit a huge three against Nebraska down the stretch--he will come into play at an important juncture this season. Thoughts?
I think we covered this pretty well... but I have one last question for you. Can you give me an average minutes breakdown of each player? Who plays the most?
That’s the best part about the improved talent and depth, Rutgers is better prepared for any injury related or other issues for next season than in a very long time. There are legitimate replacements to slot in if someone misses time. That’s a huge thing and one aspect people forget about at the end of the season is that Rutgers was down to 9 scholarship players. That took more of a toll on the team than I think people realized. Starting the season with more scholarship players and more talent among that group is absolutely huge.
Just to be clear, I’m not campaigning against Baker starting and I believe in him completely. I just think it’s an idea worth considering based on the backcourt and how worn down he got last season. I also think the other four guards are better with dribble penetration, so prioritizing that early in the game will open up perimeter shots for a guy like Baker later on.
Great point about McConnell. While I think the other three players in his class have identifiable strengths, McConnell’s best quality seems to be his ability to contribute with the little things. He was the best player on the court for Rutgers at times last season and just carries himself like a winner. He did make some clutch free throws and I agree he could be in late instead of Mulcahy. I think the only real concern with the incoming point guard is his ability to defend Big Ten guards. I don’t consider it a long term concern, but it will probably take him time to adjust. We saw that with last season’s freshmen class and they all improved as the season progressed, which is what should be expected of Mulcahy as well.
I don’t disagree on Kiss being a factor at some point, but with a full roster, I think it’s hard to envision him getting many minutes right now. He is a good option to have on the end of your bench due to his ability to provide scoring punch, but his shot selection and defense was an issue at times last season. I think his development this offseason is key and he could certainly surprise next season based on how much he improves.
Alright this was fun until you pulled this stunt. I think I have a dentist appointment to get to instead. This is so difficult to answer because there are so many different lineup rotations that Pikiell can use. Okay, I’ll try but this is an impossible question to answer but I’ll give it my best shot based on the current roster:
Eugene Omoruyi (30)
Geo Baker (25)
Ron Harper (23)
Myles Johnson (22)
Paul Mulcahy (20)
Montez Mathis (20)
Jacob Young (20)
Akwasi Yeboah (20)
Caleb McConnell (15)
Shaq Carter (5)
Mamadou Doucoure (5)
Peter Kiss (5)
NOTE* - Yes I’m accounting for 210 minutes total, 10 more than a regulation game. Last season’s team averaged 208 minutes which is possible with overtimes and players not playing every game.
Second NOTE - I hated this question but leaned on a smaller, faster lineup that I expect them to implore a good amount of the time with multiple combinations.
Dave after you answer, my last question is based on increased expectations and improved roster, next season is the most anticipated Rutgers basketball season since ________.
You want me to take a shot at the minutes? All right, let’s do this:
Eugene Omoruyi (25)
Geo Baker (28)
Ron Harper (20)
Myles Johnson (22)
Paul Mulcahy (20)
Montez Mathis (25)
Jacob Young (15)
Akwasi Yeboah (20)
Caleb McConnell (15)
Shaq Carter (10)
Mamadou Doucoure (10)
Peter Kiss (5)
I’m going to go with 215 minutes, because I can’t do math and because of how Aaron did his. I don’t expect Pikiell to lean on players too much and think he keeps everyone under 30 minutes to try and keep them fresh. of course, if RU lands one more player with eligibility this season it blows this whole thing out of whack... so we’ll see.
Well, Aaron, let’s answer this question for you: This is the most anticipated Rutgers basketball season since...2011-2012. The easy thing would have been to look at 2003-2004, but I don’t think that season was extremely hyped up. Rutgers was coming off an awful season in 02-03 and people weren’t sure what to expect. But 2011-12 was Mike Rice’s second year and people were excited. They were still angry over the botched St. John’s ending, excited because of the 4 point play vs Villanova, and curious because Rice was bringing in the Mack/Jack class which was a consensus Top 25 class. There was a lot of hope that season and for the future, but it really doesn’t feel the same as this.
This season is different. There was a marked improvement last year and now the same guys (with added Mulcahy, Yeboah, and Young) are coming back. They’re looking to build off what they’ve done before. I’m nervous. I’m excited.
What season would you choose, Aaron?
I agree. I actually didn’t consider the 2003-2004 season for the reasons you mentioned. I was debating between 2005-2006 and 2011-2012. As you know, the 2006 team had Quincy Douby and Marquis Webb entering their junior seasons and they were paired with incoming freshmen Anthony Farmer and JR Inman. I think everyone expected Douby to blow up and he did, becoming the only Rutgers player to ever lead the Big East in scoring. Being that it was the last winning team made me think of them, but I agree they weren’t as hyped as Rice’s second team, as they too were coming off a disappointing season the year before .
There was real hope something special was brewing in 2011. Rice’s preseason press conference gave me goosebumps. It was honestly the most impressive critique and breakdown of a coaches team I’ve ever heard and I was ready run through a brick wall for him. That was a top 25 recruiting class coming in and Rice had gotten more than expected out of his first team. Of course, that class never lived up to its billing and Rice self destructed.
I also agree this season feels different and for me it’s all because of Pikiell. He appears to be building something sustainable. The program has been built based on a very stable foundation. Every move he has made has been methodical and strategic, even if they haven’t all worked out. He has a very clear plan and it’s fun to see it really start to develop. I do think this season will be the biggest challenge of his coaching career. Increased expectations, the most talented team he has ever had, and it being year four of his tenure. The overwhelming emotion I have is excitement. For the team, for Pikiell, for the fans, and for the school. I want to party like it’s 1991 Dave, even if that means we have to wait to the following year to do just that.