With practice officially underway for the 2021-2022 season, the Rutgers men’s basketball team is in as stable a position as its been in many years. After last season’s team made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 30 years while also winning a game for the first time in 38 years, the roster returns five core players from the rotation. Of the three players to transfer, Jacob Young leaves the biggest void to fill from an offensive perspective.
He was second on the team with 14.1 points per game and had the ability to take over for spurts with his quickness in getting to the rim. The 6’2” guard was able to get to the foul line and convert in making 72.6% of his 84 attempts last season, which was also second most on the team. He also led Rutgers with 3.4 assists and 1.7 steals per game.
The loss of Young, who transferred to Oregon, is no doubt a significant one. His steal to save the Minnesota game that led a NCAA Tournament clinching victory will go down as one of the greatest plays in program history. While his on the ball defense was stifling, he was arguably the best penetrator that Rutgers has had in many, many years.
While replacing his offensive production won’t be easy, it’s not an impossible task. In fact, it doesn’t appear that head coach Steve Pikiell plans to replace Young’s production like for like based on the current roster. Instead, the plan appears to be to redistribute that production in a more balanced way.
Geo Baker returns and can hopefully increase his production this season while obviously having the ball in his hands at times. However, the key player expected to take on a larger role in the offense is Paul Mulcahy.
The difference in playing style between Young and Mulcahy is stark. The 6’6” junior isn’t close to the penetrator that Young is. However, he has incredible vision and a good feel for the offense. As we’ve seen against zone defenses, he has the ability to post up at the foul line and distribute the ball with his passing skills. Pikiell has been vocal about wanting the ball to move more within the halfcourt offense. He doesn’t want it to stick with any one player for too long. Having a natural distributor like Mulcahy with the ball in his hands more this season should help accomplish that or at least make it likely to be a more regular occurrence.
While Young averaged the second most shots per game last season at 11.6, Mulcahy was seventh at just 4.3 shots per contest. Having a pass first guard more involved will keep the other players on the court more alert knowing he has the ability to find open teammates that aren’t always easy to find. Mulcahy can create shot opportunities for teammates by penetrating into the lane and creating open space in the process to find them in.
He’ll need to keep defenses honest by taking mid-range jumpers at times and even attacking the rim. That’s not a bad thing, as the only Rutgers player to shoot a higher percentage from two-point range over the previous two seasons was center Myles Johnson. Mulcahy shot 57.7% from inside the arc over in the past two years and should continue to be an efficient player from short-to-mid-range.
After shooting a team best 39.3% from three-point range last season, Mulcahy should also look to shoot from behind the arc more moving forward. He was the first Rutgers player to shoot that high of a percentage from deep with over 50 attempts since Omari Grier shot 40.5% in 2015-2016. Playing in the backcourt more exclusively with Baker will allow the two guards to play off of one another and should generate quality shots for them both.
Another area Rutgers should improve on with Mulcahy being even more of a primary ball handler is in reducing turnovers. Over the past two seasons, Mulcahy had an assist to turnover ratio of 1.93 compared to Young who had a 1.03 assist to turnover ratio. From a pure production standpoint, Young dished out nine more assists over the previous two seasons (150 to 141), but committed double the turnovers as Mulcahy (146 to 73). It’s not a knock on Young as he controlled the rock a lot more than Mulcahy did and his fast paced playing style made turnovers an inevitable part of his game.
That being said, Mulcahy is a more efficient guard in creating assists and limiting turnovers. If he can maintain a 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio while handling the ball more this season, it would be a major benefit for the offense.
The more Mulcahy distributes the basketball, the more shots there will be to go around for Ron Harper Jr, Geo Baker, Aundre Hyatt, Jaden Jones, Caleb McConnell and Cliff Omoruyi. The offense will be more balanced and harder to predict if that’s the case. It’s also the way that Mulcahy wants to play, which is essential to him being successful in that role.
Pikiell has created a more versatile roster this season and Mulcahy is at the center of it. His size, vision and unselfishness make him a perfect fit to capitalize on a lineup that will utilize players at multiple positions. He needs to continue to develop on the defensive end and prove that he can hold up physically as a primary point guard in the Big Ten. There is little doubt he is ready to take on that challenge.
I wrote before his freshman season that Mulcahy had a good chance to become the first Rutgers player to average 5.0 assists per game at some point before his career was over. The last to do it was Brian Ellerbee when he dished out 6.2 assists per game during the 1984-1985 season. Mulcahy doesn’t have to accomplish that feat for him to positively impact the Rutgers offense this season. Running the offense more efficiently and getting teammates quality shots, along with being more assertive with his own scoring opportunities will be the key to Mulcahy making Rutgers better this season.