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Rutgers men’s basketball pursuing options across every level to upgrade roster

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The coaching staff is targeting several intriguing transfer candidates, as well as at the JUCO and high school ranks.

NCAA Basketball: DePaul at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

With an unprecedented offseason underway due to new transfer rules, an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19, the past season forcing players to remain isolated and Rutgers coming off its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 30 years, it’s an unpredictable time.

The Scarlet Knights have four players in the transfer portal, with Jacob Young still expected to play pro ball next season and Myles Johnson, Montez Mathis and Mamadou Doucoure expected to find new homes. Ron Harper Jr. has declared for the NBA Draft but will remain eligible to return if he withdraws by July 19. Geo Baker has yet to announce whether he will take advantage of the free year of eligibility and return next season.

Fans are understandably growing restless and are concerned with how the roster will be restocked for next season. Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell built last season’s team with a combination of under the radar recruits that the coaching staff developed along with a few higher rated and recruited players, including transfers. How Pikiell builds the roster moving forward will be fascinating to watch and there should be confidence that after building Rutgers into a winner, he will be able to keep the program at the level he has elevated it to.

Although the roster will look different next season, Rutgers still has a solid core remaining on the roster and has more to sell than it ever has under Pikiell and any other coach in a very long time. Buoyed by its most successful season in 38 years, the APC practice facility, one of the best home court advantages in college basketball with the RAC, as well as the development of players like Johnson, Young and Harper Jr. under the current staff, there is plenty to sell recruits on.

As a result, Rutgers is involved with some very intriguing targets. While they pursued several transfer candidates that have already committed elsewhere including Cole Swider to Syracuse, Aaron Wheeler to St. John’s and Tyson Walker to Michigan State, there are plenty of quality options they are still in the mix for.

Pauly Paulicap

The former Manhattan and DePaul 6’8” forward from Elmont, New York just had a virtual meeting via zoom with Rutgers on Monday per Jake Weingarten. He previously met with West Virginia this past weeked, but they just added Dimon Carrigan from FIU on Monday, so they may have filled their need for a low post presence and rim defender. Paulicap played in 19 games (15 starts) for the DePaul last season, averaging 7.2 points and 6.1 rebounds in 22.2 minutes per game. He led the Big East in offensive rebounding rate and was second with 2.6 offensive boards per game. Paulicap also had the 5th best block rate and 23rd highest defensive rebounding rate in the Big East, as well as 10th in two-point field goal percentage at 56.8%.

Before transferring to DePaul, he averaged 10.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in three seasons at Manhattan where he earned MAAC Defensive Player of the Year honors. With an extra year of eligibility that came unexpectedly due to the NCAA’s ruling with COVID-19, Paulicap is looking to make another move after DePaul fired head coach Dave Leitao after another last place finish in the Big East. A noteworthy connection is that Leitao was an assistant coach at UConn when Pikiell played there and was a graduate assistant in the early 90’s.

Paulicap proved he was a impact power five player this past season and is a true rim defender. He plays extremely hard, can defend taller players, can score in the low post and has excelled on the offensive glass. He would be a tremendous addition through the transfer portal for Rutgers and they are clearly in the mix for his services. Matt Agnoli reported Tuesday night that Paulicap is set to have a second zoom meeting with Rutgers on Wednesday. I’d be most excited about adding him above anyone else they are reportedly pursuing at the moment.

John Harrar

The 6’8” Penn State transfer led the Big Ten in offensive rebounding this past season and averaged 8.8 points and 8.8 rebounds while starting all 25 games. He also had the 5th best offensive rebounding rate, 25th best defensive rebounding rate and 5th best two-point shooting percentage in Big Ten play. Rutgers was involved as soon as he entered the transfer portal after PSU made a coaching change, but there hasn’t been much reported about where Harrar stands with his options at the moment. It’s unlikely Rutgers would take both Harrar and Paulicap, but getting one of the two is crucial to next season’s roster. Harrar would certainly be a quality addition and is a proven performer in the Big Ten.

Jayden Gardner

The North Carolina native has seen his stock rise in a major way this offseason and he still could play for two more seasons. He averaged 18.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in 35.1 minutes per game for East Carolina this past season. Gardner led the Pirates to an upset win over Houston in early February with 21 points, 15 rebounds and 4 assists. The 6’7” forward isn’t much of a shot blocker and is a bit undersized in the post for the Big Ten, but he would be absolutely worth adding for his scoring and rebounding ability. Jake Weingarten reported Gardner held zoom calls with Rutgers, LSU and Oklahoma State on Monday, so stay tuned as the competition is fierce.

Update: On Tuesday night, Gardner cut his list of options to five programs not named Rutgers.

Gethro Muscadin

The former 4-star 6’10” big man is one of several players transferring out of Kansas and was originally recruited by Rutgers when he played at Aspire Academy in Kentucky. Endless Motor Sports reported that RU and New Mexico have reached out to him as soon as he became available. 247 Sports rated him the 27th best center and 167th in the 2020 recruiting class. Muscadin is raw and unproven at the college level, only playing 2.8 minutes in 12 appearances this past season. While his expectations for next season would be low, he has four years remaining and his upside is very intriguing long term. He can stretch the floor and his athleticism is off the charts. With the right coaching, he can become a star.

Martice Mitchell

Mitchell is another former target of Rutgers that didn’t play much in his first season at Minnesota. The 6’10” big has a similar skill set and upside as Muscadin has, but just played 3.3 minutes in 7 games this past season. There haven’t been any reports regarding Rutgers contacting Mitchell, but his potential as a rim defender and to shoot the three makes him a transfer to keep an eye on. He is the only player in this group of options that I included without any reported contact with Rutgers, but I felt his past connections with the staff make him someone to keep an eye on.

Josh Baker

The 6’2” guard was offered by Rutgers last summer and plays for JUCO powerhouse Hutchinson, the same school that former Scarlet Knight Deshawn Freeman played for. He has missed some time this past season due to injury but over two seasons has been very consistent offensively. He is averaging 14.3 points over 43 career games and shooting 48.6% from three-point range on 4.9 attempts per contest. Baker is also shooting 88.9% from the line free throw line while averaging over 5 attempts per game this season. He is an elite shooter at the JUCO level and would certainly fill a need for Rutgers. While he is averaging close to two steals per game, how he would perform defensively at the Big Ten level is the biggest question about him, along with his 1.1 assist to turnover ratio. However, his offensive upside as a shooter makes him a quality prospect and Rutgers reportedly remains in the hunt for him.

Terry Roberts

Another intriguing guard option at the JUCO level is 6’1” Terry Roberts, who Rutgers has shown interest in but has yet to offer per Matt Agnoli of 247 Sports. He has made a leap in his second year at Florida Southwestern State, the same program Rutgers landed Shaq Carter from. Roberts is averaging 15.4 points, 5.6 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 2.9 steals per game. He is more of a true point guard as opposed to a lights out shooter, as Roberts is shooting 44.4% from the floor and 33.3% from three-point range. He is an excellent free throw shooter, making 82.3% on 79 attempts. While Rutgers would likely take Baker first since they’ve pursued him harder and longer, Roberts appears to be a solid alternative.

Mouhamed Lamine Mbaye

There is still one high school player in the 2021 class that Rutgers is still very involved in . Mouhamed Lamine Mbaye is a 6’8” wing from Senegal that plays for Colorado Prep. He was considering Colorado, New Mexico and Rutgers before George Mason offered him this week, as well as Virginia beginning to show interest as well per Matt Agnoli. While his value would be long term versus a major impact next season, he is worth keeping track off in the next month.

What’s Next

It’s important to remember that Pikiell and the staff prefer to recruit quietly, so although there are over a half dozen reported targets they are pursuing at multiple levels, they are certainly in contact with other prospects as well. With the season just having officially ended on Monday night and it being the first week of April, it is still relatively early in regard to adding players via the transfer portal. Over 1,200 players have entered already and that number will continue to grow.

While Rutgers appears to have three scholarships to fill for next season, how many they hope to use remains to be seen. If Geo Baker did return, he could do so while not counting against the 13 scholarship limit due to the free year exemption. Finding a big man is a major priority and if Paulicap, Harrar or Gardner end up joining the program, they would be quality transfer additions. Of course as was the case with the addition of Jacob Young three years ago, it wouldn’t be surprising if a player seemingly out of nowhere committed as well. Don’t expect Pikiell to rush to add players and to remain disciplined in prioritizing fit for the program above all else.

The bottom line is Pikiell has done a great job of adding key transfers and JUCO players in the past, so there should be confidence he will do so again with even more to sell this offseason. Stay tuned.

To listen to our recent podcast episode on recruiting for this cycle and beyond featuring 247 Sports analyst Matt Agnoli, click here.