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Cliff Omoruyi continues to show improvement but has one more step to take

The big center for Rutgers is an important part of the team this season.

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

If you asked someone familiar with Rutgers’ basketball before the season who the most important player heading into the year was, there is a good chance the answer was Cliff Omoruyi.

The 6-foot-11 sophomore came into the season as the starting center in a thin frontcourt. Omoruyi spent his freshman season backing up Myles Johnson, who is now at UCLA. Omoruyi needed to clean up some parts of his game and was a big question mark coming into the season.

The pure and raw athleticism of Omoruyi was never in question. He is seen on many occasions throwing down emphatic dunks and using his length to finish at the rim and grab rebounds. This has helped the sophomore average 11.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game through 13 contests. Omoruyi has logged two double-doubles and has scored in double-digits 10 times.

From the opening weeks, it was clear that Omoruyi would dominate the non-conference part of the schedule. He opened the season with 16 points and nine rebounds against Lehigh before finishing with 11 points and 13 rebounds against Merrimack. The question was — could Omoruyi take the next step and compete in the Big Ten?

Through three games, the answer seems to be yes.

Omoruyi did not come into the season with expectations as high as Hunter Dickinson or Kofi Cockburn, for example. He has gone head-to-head with both and has held his own.

The key for the Scarlet Knights’ center is staying out of foul trouble. Omoruyi had just two fouls in a blowout loss to Illinois to open Big Ten play. In Rutgers’ upset of No. 1 Purdue, Omoruyi was on the floor for 30 minutes and scored 11 points.

On Tuesday against Michigan, Dickinson was going to get his. The Wolverine is one of the best bigs in the nation and is difficult to stop completely. Omoruyi helped make it difficult for Dickinson and did so without fouling. He picked up a couple late but played a season high 35 minutes in the victory and grabbed 12 rebounds.

While the performance from Omoruyi against Michigan was a good one, it did show an area that he must improve. That is finishing in the post.

Omoruyi finished with four points on 2-for-8 from the field. On the year, he is shooting 58.9% from the field. This is common of a big man who gets most of his chances within five feet. For Omoruyi, a big portion of these have come via huge dunks. When Omoruyi catches the ball with his back to the basket, he struggles to finish — whether it is a jump shot or hook shot.

At the end of the day, this is an area that is going to improve. Omoruyi was given the job this season and has done it well. If anything, the Scarlet Knights should be excited about what his game will look like when this is added.

Rutgers is off to an 8-5 start overall and have won two out of three to begin conference play. With the schedule full of winnable games in January, Rutgers needs to capitalize. For this to happen, Omoruyi will have to remain consistent inside and he has shown that this is possible.