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Rutgers men’s basketball reemerging on national stage as season approaches

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The Scarlet Knights are no longer an afterthought across the college basketball landscape.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Rutgers Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports

The Rutgers men’s basketball team tips off the 2021-2022 season in less than a month and after a relatively quiet offseason, the program is getting more attention on a national level.

After going dancing for the first time in 30 years and winning an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in 38 years last season, the Scarlet Knights return five of the top eight players from the rotation. It’s a major reason why Andy Wittry of NCAA.com included Rutgers as one of seven teams “best positioned to pick up where they left off in 2021.” The list also includes Gonzaga, UCLA, St. Bonaventure, Memphis, Texas and fellow Big Ten member Purdue. Another reason the article cites to believe that RU can pick up where it left off is due to their defense, which finished No. 16 in defensive efficiency per KenPom.

In addition, Matt Norlander of CBS Sports published his preseason countdown of all 358 Division I college basketball teams. He listed Rutgers No. 39 nationally. Norlander’s message to the fan base was “Congratulations to the Rutgers faithful out there, for this is where Steve Pikiell has brought your program. Making NCAA Tournaments and comfortably being projected as a top-50 team in the sport feels toasty, doesn’t it?” The Scarlet Knights are ranked 8th among Big Ten teams, which is the same spot they were picked in the Big Ten preseason media poll. Of note, UConn (No. 34) and Seton Hall (No. 37) was listed ahead of the Scarlet Knights, while Syracuse (No. 46) and St. John’s (No. 49) were listed behind them.

Previously, The Field of 68 podcast network with Jeff Goodman and Rob Dauster included Rutgers in their Top 50 countdown listing them at No. 49. You can watch the full preview hosted by John Fanta that includes head coach Steve Pikiell, Jerry Carino and myself here.

Obviously, how Pikiell and the staff replace the departures of Jacob Young, Myles Johnson and Montez Mathis are crucial to continued success this season. There is no direct replacement for Young’s ability to attack the rim. Having Paul Mulcahy as a primary ballhandler will change the offense and how effective he can be in his increased role is key. Cliff Omoruyi’s development and ability to replace Johnson as a rim defender and efficient rebounder is a major key as well. The lineup versatility and size has increased with the additions of transfer Aundre Hyatt and Ralph Agee. Potential contributions from Jaden Jones and Mawot Mag are critical as well. Of course, the return of Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr., along with Caleb McConnell, gives this group a veteran core who are now proven winners in the Big Ten with back to back top half finishes in the conference. How good this team can ultimately become remains to be seen, but there are more reasons to believe they will be dancing in March once again than not.

Rutgers has announced two sellouts for this season already with Michigan on Tuesday, January 4 and Michigan State on Saturday, February 5 confirmed. The sellout streak dating back to the 2019-2020 season is currently at nine games. The rest of the sixteen home games at the RAC list less than 1,000 tickets available for each on the program’s schedule page. Making the RAC rock again and maintaining one of the best homecourt advantages in the country like it was before last season when fans couldn’t attend due to the pandemic is a major key to the Scarlet Knights returning to the NCAA Tournament this season.

We’ll have extended preseason coverage beginning this weekend leading up to the season opener against Lehigh is on Wednesday, November 10 at 7:00 p.m. ET.

In case you missed our podcast episode with Steve Pikiell from late summer where he declared that this “will be my best team”, you can listen to it here.