Tip-off for the 2022-2023 Rutgers Basketball season is less than a month away. Steve Pikiell begins his seventh season as head coach of the Scarlet Knights and began this campaign the way he does each year.
Since Pikiell took over at the helm for Rutgers, the program has taken steps forward each year. At the beginning of his press conference during Big Ten Media Day, the man who thanks reporters each time they come out took some time to focus on others once again.
“I first want to congratulate Coquese Washington,” Pikiell said. “We hit a home run. Our women’s coach is following a Hall of Famer, and she’s going to do an unbelievable job. Glad she was here before me.”
“I also want to welcome Coach Willard to the league, a New Jersey guy, did a great job at Seton Hall. I want to congratulate him on that. I also want to welcome UCLA and USC who will be joining us next year. Congratulations to those institutions.”
Off the court, Pikiell exudes class and confidence. On the court, his team carries great expectations once again and it is a product of his work.
Coming off tenures from the likes of Mike Rice and Eddie Jordan, Pikiell was tasked with the challenge of turning Rutgers into a national program. He has done so by leading the Scarlet Knights to two consecutive NCAA Tournaments, which would have been three if the pandemic did not cancel the 2020 event.
The overall consistency and return of talent is what makes a program successful. The Scarlet Knights might have lost Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr. but they return a lot of production from the previous season.
“We have one player from the transfer portal,” Pikiell said. “We did not lose a player in the transfer portal, so I’m proud of that. I’m excited about returning 64% of our minutes from last year. I really believe that we have a chance to be really, really good in what is the best league in the country, and even going to get better moving forward.”
Rutgers was well-represented at the Target Center in Minneapolis. Paul Mulcahy, Cliff Omoruyi, and Caleb McConnell joined were the select players brought to speak on behalf of the team.
Mulcahy returns for his senior year and second running the show at the top of the offense. He averaged 5.3 assists per game, which was second in the Big Ten.
“Paul has only played in NCAA tournaments since he arrived. He’ll be our point guard,” Pikiell said.
Omoruyi was just named to the Preseason All-Big Ten Team. He was named All-Big Ten Honorable Mention last season after averaging 11.9 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. He started in all 32 games after becoming the primary center for the Scarlet Knights.
“He’s one of the best dunkers in the country, but he’s a better person and basketball player,” Pikiell said of his big man, who finished second in the nation with 94 dunks. “He keeps improving every day. I think he’s going to have a special year for us.”
McConnell highlighted the group as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. At 6-foot-7, McConnell has the size and length to defend all levels. Offensively, he is preparing to take a step forward with an extended role.
Last season, McConnell averaged 7.1 points per game and struggled with his jump shot at times. He shot just 27.1% from three-point range. During the First four game against Notre Dame, McConnell exploded for 23 points and 11 rebounds on 10-for-12 from the field. With Baker and Harper Jr. gone, McConnell has a chance to step up offensively and continue his prowess on the other end.
“I think he has a chance to be the national Defensive Player of the Year,” Pikiell said.
“Caleb has helped grow the program from when we weren’t in the NCAA tournament, now to have the opportunity to go three straight times, which has never been done in school history. If you want to tack on the COVID year, that was a year we were going, too.”
The expectations for the upcoming season are there and fans are beginning to salivate at the thought of filling up Jersey Mike’s Arena. With Pikiell on the sideline and the returning talent on the floor, the Scarlet Knights could be in for another strong season in Piscataway.