If the Rutgers men’s basketball team wants to achieve or even get close to their lofty goals for this season, they must improve offensively. While last season they achieved the 72nd best offensive efficiency rating in college basketball at 107.9, the program’s best in 9 years, that isn’t good enough if they want to ultimately be an elite team. One player whose development can have a major impact on improving offensively this season is sophomore guard Paul Mulcahy.
As a freshman, he showed both promise and obvious deficiencies that led to an inconsistent season. However, when Mulcahy was at his best, it was clear his impact on the offense was significant. Rutgers beat three Big Ten teams that were ranked and Mulcahy achieved three of his four highest offensive rating performances in those victories. In wins over Maryland, Illinois and Penn State, Mulcahy distributed 11 assists while committing just 1 turnover, was 5 of 5 from two-point range and 6 of 6 from the free throw line, as well as 8 rebounds and 4 steals.
In addition, he also had five games in which he dished out at least 5 assists and even had a 9 rebound game in the win over Minnesota.
Overall, Mulcahy played in all 31 games last season, averaging 3.7 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists while shooting 54.0% from the floor. He finished 6th in the Big Ten with a 2.17 assist to turnover ratio and 10th in two-point shooting percentage at 58.5%.
It’s more than stats though that make Mulcahy an asset, as his passing ability and vision puts his teammates in better position to score. This made him especially effective against zone defenses. He gave Rutgers a weapon on offense they don’t have otherwise and his pass first mentality ensured that ball movement was a focus when he was on the court.
“Paul’s been unbelievable and he had a great offseason”, said head coach Steve Pikiell. He continued, “I think he has gotten taller too. He told me he is 6’7” now. Physically he looks different.”
Mulcahy credited strength and conditioning coach David Van Dyke and trainer Richard Campbell for his physical development this offseason. “I’ve been working with coach Van Dyke. He is the best. I’m trying to take care of my body as best as possible with Rich our trainer. In the offseason I just tried to be consistent with everything.”
As for Mulcahy’s growth in his game, Pikiell stated, “He is really comfortable. He improved his jump shot, his ball handling. He’s been great in practice and is by far our best assist guy.” He continued, “Defensively too he has made some really good jumps. He is going to play a huge role for us. He can play so many positions and guard so many positions. He is unselfish and has all the great qualities. He is going to be a huge key to our season this year.”
Ron Harper Jr. explained the key to Mulcahy’s improvement this offseason, saying “Paul is our hardest worker. He is a gym rat. He was definitely getting his work done early (during time away due to the pandemic).” Harper continued, “He has improved a ton. He is in the gym every day. Whenever you walk into the APC, you always see him. He works his tail off and has become a much better player. He will be a great piece for this team.”
As for how his freshman season benefitted his growth long term, Mulcahy said “Last year I learned a lot. I just tried to take everything that I can do better with it and apply it to my summer and even now. I have to work on my whole game.” He continued, “I do have strengths but definitely have weaknesses I’ve been trying to focus on. I think things are coming along and just trying to be consistent. I’m still going to play just as hard and control what I can control.”
Mulcahy praised his backcourt mates as a reason for his improvement on the defensive end. “Jacob Young is probably the fastest player in our league, if not the country. I think that’s going to help me down the line. Playing against different guys. Caleb is a big guard so he shows something different. Jacob is super fast. Geo is smooth. I take it as a competition, but it’s helped me a ton on the defensive side.”
One thing that Mulcahy was adamant about was his confidence level. “I’m in a totally different mind set. Coming in last year I had a lot to learn. A lot to pickup quick. This year I definitely feel more confident playing with the guys. I think they have more confidence in myself which helps me a ton. I’m excited to get out there and play.”
Even though it’s only his second year with the program, Mulcahy has taken on more of a leadership role this season. He explained, “Same mindset. I learned a lot last year and went through a lot of different things. Now I feel more mature. We have a really good freshmen class and coachable kids. They take everything we say to the heart. Just trying to do my part that way.”
Mulcahy has also taken a leadership off the court by starting the Grateful4 Foundation, which promotes gratitude and selfless acts. Pikiell commented “He started a foundation as a freshman and is doing great things for the state of New Jersey.”
There is no denying his future is bright on and off the court. For Rutgers fans, they hope Mulcahy does even greater things on the court this season and beyond. If Rutgers can meet or exceed expectations after being picked to finish fifth in the Big Ten, Mulcahy will be a big reason why.