Rutgers football opens training camp on Thursday, but August is a very important month for the men’s basketball program as well. The team is set for a three-city trip to Spain from August 5th through 16th. They’ll visit Madrid, Valencia, & Barcelona and play several games against pro club teams. Not only is it a great life experience for the student-athletes, but it’s a great opportunity for them play together in a competitive environment ahead of next season. Here are five things Rutgers basketball needs to accomplish on this trip to help them hit the ground running when practice begins in the fall.
Adjust To New Three-Point Line
There isn’t a better offseason to be playing games in Europe than this one since the distance for the college basketball three-point line was officially moved back to the FIBA line, from 20 feet, 9 inches to 22 feet, 1.75 inches for next season. I wrote about why I think this change could benefit Rutgers next season here, based on their preferred style of play. European basketball leagues have played with this three-point line for many years, so Rutgers will have an advantage of playing several games with the new distance coming to the college game. It’s one thing to take hundreds of shots from behind the new arc, but you can’t replicate game play. Shooting from that distance with the adrenaline and tired legs that a game brings is just different, so this is a valuable chance to gain experience doing so.
Build Chemistry On The Court
The same principle applies here, as playing in game competition can help bring a team closer together in a way that is different than going head to head in practice each day. While most of the roster is returning, players have worked hard on their individual games and this is a chance to showcase and demonstrate more ways that they can contribute and make the team better moving forward. This is also a great opportunity for Jacob Young and Paul Mulcahy to play for the first time in a Rutgers uniform before the actual season begins. Young has been with the program for over a year at this point and played two seasons at Texas, so this is more about him running the Rutgers offense for the first time in game play. Mulcahy is a true freshman, so this trip will provide a tremendous opportunity to get his feet wet and adjust to the speed of play away from the spotlight. The more the team can bond and learn to play with each other on the court during this trip, the greater benefit they will have achieved heading into the season.
Lineup Experimentation & Style Exploration
This trip gives Pikiell a chance to try out multiple lineup combinations and do so in an exhibition environment where results don’t matter, but the pace of play is similar to the regular season. Who will start and who will close out games? How often will he utilize a smaller lineup? How often will Rutgers employ a full court press and look to run in transition? How many minutes will Young, Mulcahy, Geo Baker, and Caleb McConnell get running the offense from the point guard spot? Which players will step up in the frontcourt and help fill the void of Eugene Omoruyi? There are plenty of questions to ponder and this trip will provide at a minimum, some short term answers as to what to expect from this team next season. This will help Pikiell and the coaching staff better prepare for the preseason practices as well.
Establish Defensive Identity
With Steve Hayn now running the defense and replacing former assistant Jay Young, this trip will provide a good test for this team to show how far along they are on that end of the court. There were too many games last season where the defense was average at best. If this team wants to climb the Big Ten ladder this season, they must improve significantly on the defensive end and establish a clear identity on that end of the floor. Playing against pro teams will be a challenge physically and skill wise, as will guarding the deeper three-point line. Don’t expect the concepts or style to be much different as it’s still Pikiell’s defense. However, this will be the first chance for both coaches to get a true assessment of where they are heading into the preseason on the defensive end.
Learn From Game Experience
View this trip like taking a SAT course and getting graded on practice exams before the real thing actually takes place. The games they play will provide valuable experience and game tapes for the coaches and players to review ahead of preseason practice. With recent visitor and Utah transfer Donnie Tillman having recently committed to UNLV, the likelihood of adding a player to the roster who is eligible for next season is slim. If any of the two open scholarships are filled before the season, it’s likely to be with a sit-out transfer. This means the group making this trip will be most likely be the full squad taking the floor when the season begins in November. If they can learn from these Spain games and improve from it, both individually and as a team, Rutgers will have benefited greatly from this trip heading into the most anticipated and critical season in years.