Rutgers Basketball season is just around the corner and to preview it, I’m going to be going in-depth on all of the players that project to be difference-makers for the Scarlet Knights. This is a multi-part series, you can read the previous articles on Paul Mulcahy here.
Cliff Omoruyi is Rutgers's most dynamic player. The 6’11” forward figures to be the focal point of this team, and he’ll be leaned on heavily to produce at a high level every game. Last season, Omoruyi averaged 11.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks. This was a major improvement from 2020-21 when he averaged 3.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 0.7 blocks. As a freshman, Omoruyi was extremely raw and didn’t contribute much offensively. But last season, Omoruyi was much improved and showed his abilities with highlight reel dunks, an improved post-up game, and the ability to defend the best bigs in the country. This offseason, he has improved his jump shot and looks to feature an 18-footer.
Now a junior, Omoruyi should be among the top players in the conference. He was a preseason pick for the All-Big Ten Team and was named to the Kareem Abdul-Jabaar Award Watchlist. Omoruyi’s expected to build off a stellar sophomore year and with two years under his belt, his experience should be a strength on the court this season.
It’s not just Rutgers fans and coaches that have noticed how good he is. At Big Ten Media Day, Illinois coach Brad Underwood told NJ Advance Media that he thinks Cliff Omoruyi is the “best player in our league,” and that Omoruyi would be his pick for “preseason player of the year”. This is the highest praise one can offer Omoruyi and it comes from an experienced coach who knows talent when he sees it.
Underwood was not the only one to talk highly of Omoruyi as many other players such as Trace Jackson-Davis and Zach Edey lauded him as one of the most talented players in the Big Ten.
It was not too many years ago that Cliff was the young forward that veteran big men looked to attack on the offensive end of the floor. On the flip side of that now, Omoruyi can use his talent and experience to take advantage of freshman and sophomore forwards on other teams.
It’ll be hugely important for Omoruyi to attack the rim offensively and haul in plenty of offensive rebounds. Last year, he averaged 2.2 offensive rebounds a game and had an offensive rebounding percentage of 8.8%. If he can get those numbers up closer to 2.8 offensive rebounds and a 14% offensive rebounding percentage Rutgers's offense will surely benefit. Those numbers would be more on par with Myles Johnson’s stats in his 3 seasons on the banks.
This will lead to more shots for the Rutgers offense and fewer shots for opponents. Rutgers is a team that likes to grind down their opponents defensively, and being strong on the glass is a huge part of that.
In 2021-22, Rutgers was 8th in the conference with a +1.9 rebounding margin against opponents. Ideally, Rutgers can improve that margin and finish in the top 4 or 5 in the conference. For that to happen Omoruyi needs to be a consistent presence on the glass.
As I mentioned earlier, Omoruyi has been working on an 18-footer and 3-point shot. If he can be even somewhat effective from outside of the paint, defenses will have to honor it. This can help Rutgers spread the floor offensively and create room for drives to the basket. If he can knockdown a few jumpshots when needed, it adds yet another demension to his game.
Omoruyi had six double-doubles last season and he needs to have quite a few more, especially if he wants to shoot up the NBA draft boards. Fans and coaches alike expect Omoruyi’s numbers to skyrocket this season, and if Rutgers wants to return to the NCAA tournament the play of Omoruyi is going to play an important role.
The biggest adversity Omoruyi is likely to face this season is the refs once again. His fouls per 40 went from 5.2 as a freshmen to 3.0 as a sophomore, but it will need to continue to stay that low while he consistently defends the best and most dynamic big men in the country. Rutgers can’t afford for Cliff to be off the floor for extended parts of a game because the death at center is largely unproven and lacking.
Dean Reiber showed some promise as a true freshman, but he plays more naturally as a stretch four and can’t handle guys like Zach Edey or Hunter Dickinson defensively. Additionally, Antonio Chol and Antwone Woolfolk both seem like guys who can develop into solid forwards, but they’re true freshman who will likely struggle to stop the Big Ten’s elite crop of forwards as well.
Cliff Omoruyi is far and away the most talented player on the Scarlet Knights roster, and he needs to showcase that talent on the court this season. Omoruyi is a freak athlete with an incredible combination of speed and power which makes him a matchup problem for almost everyone guarding him. He needs to be able to takeover a game and bully-ball the other offense in a Kofi Cockburn-esque way. Omoruyi is THE GUY for Rutgers this season and will be a fun player to watch.
Season Prediction: 15 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks. All-Big Ten First Team
Bold Prediction: Second Team All-American