The offseason is more than a week old for Rutgers men’s basketball and the program is actively pursuing players in the transfer portal. With the departure of three seniors, two potential early exits for the pros, as well as another player questionable at best to return next season, head coach Steve Pikiell has opportunity to sell in a way that he hasn’t been able to since the one time transfer sit-out rule has existed. While it’s fair to be concerned in needing to replace so much production for a team that went to back to back NCAA Tournaments, the possibilities for reshaping the roster are exciting as well.
First a current outlook for next season’s roster as of late March with years of eligibility remaining in parentheses. Returning starters in bold and returning rotational players in italics.
Backcourt: Paul Mulcahy (2), Jalen Miller (3), Derek Simpson (4)
Wings: Aundre Hyatt (2), Mawot Mag (3), Oskar Palmquist (3)
Frontcourt: Cliff Omoruyi (3), Dean Reiber (3), Antoine Woolfork (4)
There is certainly a need to make impact additions to the roster for next season. That being said, having one of the top two or three returning big men in the Big Ten in Cliff Omoruyi and Paul Mulcahy who had the second most assists in the league last season is a solid base. Player development will be key and Aundre Hyatt, Mawot Mag, Dean Reiber and Jalen Miller, all in the rotation last season, need to make jumps in their game in the offseason. Incoming freshman Derek Simpson has a ton of upside but how much he can contribute right away remains to be seen.
Out of Eligibility: Geo Baker, Ralph Agee, Luke Nathan
Declared for NBA: Ron Harper Jr., Jaden Jones
Note: Both Harper Jr. and Jaden Jones have signed with agents but both are certified by the NBA. That means they can maintain their eligibility due to this fairly new rule ahead of the deadline to withdraw from the NBA Draft on June 1, 2022. If they don’t take their names out of consideration by that date, they officially forego their eligibility.
Intentions Unknown: Caleb McConnell
Scholarships Available: 3-4
Pikiell has options in how he wants to reshape the roster. Does he focus on offense with his top two scorers gone and plenty of minutes available to market to potential targets? Does he look to add defensive reserves in the frontcourt behind Cliff and Reiber, who could shift to the 4 spot? Is adding more ball handlers to replace Geo and possibly McConnell a priority? Will Rutgers get bigger or go with smaller guards? If Jones returns he add to the wing depth but do you look to add at least one more regardless of if he comes back or not? So many questions, so many different ways to go.
There are four transfer portal targets so far that Rutgers has been reportedly in contact with and expressed interest in those players. It’s a process that will likely take a few weeks. If you see a college basketball player leave their school and transfer to a new team quickly, within a week or two, there is usually an obvious reason why.
Of the four players reportedly on the radar of Steve Pikiell and his staff, three are ranked in the top 33 of Evan Miyakama’s projected BPR for next season. The Bayesian Performance Rating (BPR) is an advanced statistical metric that quantifies “how successful a team or player is, using play-by-play data and advanced box-score metrics. This metric is predictive in nature, which means that each rating is fine-tuned to predict performance in future games.”
Miyakama’s rankings system makes it clear that although it’s early in the offseason, Rutgers is targeting potential high impact transfers right out of the gate. There were 758 players in the transfer portal as of Thursday, so that number is north of 800 as of Saturday morning.
Let’s review who Rutgers has reportedly contacted so far.
#Rutgers reached out to Lafayette transfer center Neal Quinn yesterday. The 7-footer from New Jersey is expecting things to pick up even more after the season. https://t.co/SP0BTiKXGe via @247sports pic.twitter.com/IsHORZkLkb— RHoops Recruiting (@RHoopsRecruits) March 10, 2022
Lafayette: 7’0”, 260 lbs; Junior; Allendale, New Jersey; Ramapo High School
2021-2022: 14.7 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.4 blocks, 54.5% FG, 70.9% FT
Eligibility: Two years remaining
BPR ranking: No. 15
Analysis: Quinn had 12 points on 6 of 12 shooting along with 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 block and a 1 steal in Lafayette’s upset win of Rutgers last November. The Second Team All-Patriot League player is efficient, finishing last season with a 111.6 offensive rating per KenPom, which ranked No. 432 nationally. He’s an excellent passer for his size and finished 59th in the country in assist rate. Quinn is not an elite rebounder, but finished in the top 300 national in both offensive rebounding rate (9.4%, 240th) and defensive rebounding rate (19.5%, 281st). Also notable was his 5.1% block rate (153rd) and 39.2% free throw rate (268th).
The biggest question for Quinn is what his role would be at Rutgers compared to other potential landing spots. He told John O’Connor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch this week that the schools recruiting him the hardest are Pitt, Richmond, Penn State, Virginia Tech, and Loyola-Chicago. It’s likely he could slide into the starting five spot at those schools, as opposed to Rutgers when he would come off the bench behind Cliff Omoruyi for at least next season. While he could be an intriguing addition to the offense, I have concerns on his ability to defend bigs in the Big Ten.
Outlook: Quinn is a New Jersey kid who had a good season for Lafayette and is looking to take a step up in competition for the last two years of his college career. Rutgers showed interest immediately and Quinn took an unofficial visit before the NCAA Tournament. While I think he would be a solid addition, I tend to think he’ll have multiple opportunities to transfer to a high major or quality mid-major with a more minutes available next season. While I think Rutgers is interested in Quinn and they have a legitimate chance to land him, the more high majors that get involved with more minutes to offer, the less likely they sign him.
Michigan, Rutgers, Maryland, Minnesota, Cincinatti, Arkansas, New Mexico, Iona are among some schools to reach out to Penn State transfer guard Sam Sessoms. He talked a timeline, his time in the transfer portal and more with @247Sports.— Dushawn London (@DushawnLondon1) March 22, 2022
Story: https://t.co/soPf3uj8p4 pic.twitter.com/ve0NZbQD0e
Penn State: 6’0”, 189 lbs; Senior; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania;
2021-2022: 11.6 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 44.8% FG, 42.0% 3-pt FG, 78.3% FT
Eligibility: One year remaining
BPR ranking: No. 33
Analysis: Sessoms started his college career playing two seasons at Binghamton where he was All-America East Second Team selection in 2019-2020. That season, he averaged 19.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.6 steals on 41.5% shooting and 31.5% from three-point range. He played the last two seasons at Penn State and scored 30 points on 10 of 21 shooting in two meetings against Rutgers this past winter.
He is a quick guard who shot extremely well from behind the arc this past season. His offensive rating was only 100.4 this past season and isn’t a highly efficient player. However, he was efficient in two key areas, finishing 281st nationally with a 22.2 assist rate and was 84th nationally in shooting 42.0% from three. Sessoms also showed significant improvement in his second season with both Binghamton and Penn State. Cons are a high turnover rate (19.6%) and having trouble defending bigger guards.
Outlook: While Sessoms can provide instant offense and help push the pace on the offensive end, it’s likely going to be hard to land him at Rutgers. Multiple Big Ten schools have reached out as well as Elite 8 bound Arkansas. Transferring to a third school can pose additional challenges from an administrative standpoint. Rutgers also plays a similar grinding defensive style like Penn State. Sessoms may want to get away from that and find a more high tempo offensive team. I’m not optimistic that this pursuit will go very far but it’s encouraging that the staff have made contact early in the process.
Niagara: 6’3”, 173 lbs; Senior; Queens, New York,
2021-2022: 18.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 43.0% FG, 37.0% 3-pt FG, 83.1% FT
Eligibility: One year remaining
BPR ranking: No. 106
Analysis: Hammond was the second leading scorer and First Team All-MAAC selection last season, the third time of his career. He had a solid offensive rating of 107.1 last season and was good at taking care of the basketball while handling it so much. He had an 19.7 assist rate ranked 406th nationally while also having only a 13.9% turnover rate ranked 487th nationally. Hammond got to the line often with a free throw rate of 33.0% (454th) and took advantage once he got to the foul line shooting 83.1% (163rd). He also was a good shooter from behind the arc at 37.1% (420th).
He is a slight guard that likely needs to add muscle to his 6’3” frame to be able to handle the physicality of the Big Ten. While he is a legit scorer at the low major level, how efficient he would be at the high major level remains to be seen. Hammond is intriguing and an experienced player, but I don’t think he is a sure thing in regard to being a legitimate impact transfer at a high major conference. Defensively, he was a slightly above average defender at Niagara but would need to adjust to guarding more skilled players at the high major level.
Outlook: I’m glad Rutgers is kicking the tires on Hammond as it shows they are actively exploring options with different backgrounds and skill sets. It’s possible that Hammond can excel at the high major level, as he is still developing physically in growing 2 inches and gaining 15 pounds since his freshman season. We’ll know if Rutgers is serious about Hammond if he does take an official visit in the coming weeks.
Princeton transfer Ethan Wright has heard from some new schools, he told @Stockrisers, the newest programs to show interest are: Rutgers, Colorado, and Creighton.— Jake (@jakeweingarten) March 26, 2022
Has also heard from Penn State, Minnesota, Boston College, Richmond, Loyola Chicago, LMU, UIC, USF, Elon, others.
Princeton: 6’4”, 190 lbs; Senior; Newton Centre, Massachusetts; Newton North
2021-2022: 14.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.1 steals, 50.0% FG, 39.5% 3-pt FG, 70.6% FT
Eligibility: Two years remaining (he’s only played three seasons in four years due to the Ivy League cancelling the 2020-2021 season.)
BPR ranking: No. 32
Analysis: The Second Team All-Ivy League selection is a highly efficient offensive player with a rating of 115.1 last season. He was 76th in the country with a 59.7% effective field goal percentage and had a 13.4 turnover rate that ranked 414th nationally. The surprising part about Wright, a natural 2-guard, is his ability to rebound. He was fourth in the Ivy League with 6.9 boards per game and was 178th nationally with a 21.3% defensive rebounding rate. As good of an outside shooter as Wright is at 39.5%, he shot 61.3% from two-point range, ranking 121st last season.
While there might be some fan concern about whether Wright can make an effective transition to the high major level, there are examples of high performing Ivy League players that have excelled at a major conference. Yale has seen Makai Mason succeed at Baylor as well as Paul Atkinson Jr. do very well at Notre Dame (editor’s note: sorry to mention him). In addition, Bryce Aiken was the best guard on Seton Hall after coming from Harvard. The value of adding players from the Ivy League is the upside that they aren’t necessarily leaving their original program due to any issues but rather the four year rule within the conference. Wright would bring experience, shot making ability, is a good rebounder for his position and makes good decisions. While he might struggle against quicker guards in the Big Ten, he is tough player that can hold his own on the defensive end and is not shy in diving on the floor for loose balls.
Outlook: Of the four players that Rutgers has been reportedly in contact with so far this offseason, Wright is the most intriguing player so far. He was a really good player on a team that won the Ivy League regular season title and played well against the best competition that Princeton faced.
Wright averaged 15.3 points over four games against South Carolina, Minnesota, Oregon State and VCU in shooting 46% overall and 11 of 26 from three for 42.3%. He also had 39 rebounds in those four games with two resulting in double-doubles. In his one game against a Big Ten foe, Wright had a 14 point, 18 rebound (16 defensive), 3 steal performance against Minnesota.
I think it’s likely Rutgers makes Wright a priority in the coming weeks although the competition to land him is going to be stiff. I expect Rutgers to push hard for Wright and if Pikiell can land him, it would add a weapon to the roster that the program hasn’t had in a long time.
Names of Interest
Other names that have been speculated as potential targets in the media include Nevada transfer Warren Washington, who is ranked No. 16 in Evan Miyakawa’s transfer portal rankings. He took an official visit back in 2017 and has blossomed into an efficient two-way big man. There is no word as to whether Rutgers is even going to pursue him and whether he would be interested. He’ll have plenty of options.
A player in the transfer portal with local ties is Ithiel Horton, who is No. 184 in Miyakawa’s transfer rankings. Horton played at Roselle Catholic and is familiar with the Rutgers roster. However, he isn’t the most efficient player and wasn’t a top producer on a bad Pitt team. He did shoot 37.9% from three-point range in taking just over two shots from deep per game, but also had an off the court arrest with those charges ultimately being dropped a few months ago.
There are several other Big Ten portal possibilities aside from Sessoms. They include big man Ryan Young of Northwestern and Indiana guard Rob Phinisee, who are ranked No. 26 and No. 27 respectively in Miyakawa’s rankings. Another shooter to keep an eye on is Indiana’s Parker Stewart, who shot 39.3% from deep and just landed on the portal in the past couple of days so he hasn’t been ranked yet.
Nothing has been reported in regard to Rutgers showing interest, but all three were solid players in the conference and have good reputations as team first, program fit targets. All three have a lot of experience so it will be interesting to see if Rutgers gets into the mix with any of them.
Another thing to remember is that the season isn’t even over yet. The transfer portal will continue to add players over the next month. Being diligent but also patient in not missing out on players who enter the portal on the later side that ultimately could be better fits is a balancing act to manage.
Also remember that there are good players in low major programs that can help high major teams as well. Point guard Mike Smith went from Northeastern to Michigan last season and was a significant reason they won a share of the Big Ten regular season title.
While Rutgers could still add a high school prospect in the class of 2022 this cycle, it appears they are prioritizing the transfer portal. It’s the better path to finding impact players for next season at this point of the cycle. They were recruiting combo guard RJ Luis of Mt. Zion Prep over the past couple of months, but RU was the only high major program pursuing him and appear to have backed off. There is also the possibility of 4-star Desmond Claude coming back into the mix after he committed to Xavier in January but has since seen their head coach Travis Steele fired.
The JUCO route is always a possibility as well although no known targets have been reported. Last year, they recruited shooter Josh Baker before ultimately backing off and he went to UNLV. He only shot 26% from three this past season for the Running Rebels.
Pikiell was criticized by fans for how he navigated the transfer portal last offseason. While Aundre Hyatt was a rotational player and has two more seasons of eligibility, Ralph Agee never made an impact as a backup big man.
This current offseason offers a different set of circumstances with so many key spots available. I think Pikiell and the staff are already showing that they are managing the process more aggressively.
At the end of the day, they aren’t going to lower their standards and will prioritize players that are good cultural fits and bring winning qualities to the program. It’s clear there are talented players available that potentially check those boxes and although it’s early, Rutgers is being active. It’s fair to consider that if four targets have been reported, there are likely several more that the program is in contact with at a minimum.
We’ll post recruiting updates as often as there are new developments to report as the roster continues its reconstruction. Stay locked in with all of our offseason coverage of Rutgers men’s basketball here at On The Banks.