Maintaining success has never been more difficult in college basketball. The combination of the transfer portal and the NBA Draft makes each offseason both eventful and potentially transformative for most programs.
Now that the smoke has mostly cleared following the 2021-22 season, we’ll go team-by-team in the Big Ten to assess which programs are set up for success, and who might take a step back.
Next up is Rutgers. After 13 straight seasons with a losing record, the Scarlet Knights have posted winning seasons for three straight years under head coach Steve Pikiell. Rutgers has also been .500 or better in the Big Ten in each of the last three campaigns. Overall Pikiell is now entering his seventh season in Piscataway. He has a 98-91 record at Rutgers, including a 46-70 mark in the league. Rutgers is 54-37 and 33-27, respectively, over the last three years.
- Ron Harper Jr., (15.8 PPG),
- Geo Baker (12.6 PPG),
- Jaden Jones (3.6 PPG),
- Ralph Gonzales-Agee (1.9 PPG)
- Clifford Omoruyi, C (11.9 PPG),
- Paul Mulcahy, PG (9.0 PPG),
- Caleb McConnell, SF (7.1 PPG),
- Aundre Hyatt, SF (4.3 PPG),
- Dean Reiber, PF (2.9 PPG),
- Mawot Mag, PF (2.9 PPG),
- Oskar Palmquist, PF (1.5 PPG)
- Jalen Miller, G (0.6 PPG)
- Cam Spencer, SG (18.9 PPG at Loyola Maryland)
Freshmen (Rankings from 247Sports Composite)
- Derek Simpson, PG (3-star, No. 243),
- Antwone Woolfolk, PF (3-star, No. 288),
- Antonio Chol, PF (not ranked, 2023 reclass)
RETURN MINUTES: 63.5 percent (per barttorvik.com)
WHY IT WILL WORK
While the losses of Harper, Jr. and Baker are massive, Rutgers actually returns the second most minutes of any team in the Big Ten. The trio of Omoruyi, Mulcahy, and McConnell give the Scarlet Knights three highly experienced returning starters to build around. Mulcahy made a big jump last year, McConnell is an elite defender, and Omoruyi is on track to be very productive as an upperclassman. Cam Spencer is a career 39 percent shooter from three and should help offset some of the lost scoring production in the backcourt. Pikiell has proven at this point that he can get the most out of a team.
WHY IT WON’T
Harper, Jr. and Baker were the heart and soul of those three straight winning seasons. While Rutgers returns three starters, none of them were looked upon as primary scoring options and played off of the threats posed by Harper, Jr. and Baker. Rutgers won a lot of games by just giving the ball to Harper, Jr. and Baker late and letting them create. Who can step into that role? There isn’t a lot of support for the notion that Spencer’s production will translate to the high-major level, and Rutgers didn’t bring in anyone else from the portal or its incoming freshman class who projects to be ready to take on a big role. There are candidates (Reiber, Mag, Palmquist) to emerge as a starter in a stretch-4 role who can help space the floor, but to this point none of them are proven.
Pikiell may have done the best coaching job of anyone in the Big Ten over the last three years. Rutgers was as big of a challenge to turn around as any high major, and his defense-first philosophy coupled with an emphasis on length got things rolling. Offensively Pikiell has trusted his play-makers to win matchups one-on-one, and they have delivered. He has also generally been able to keep key players in the program rather than hitting the portal. This season will test his ability to keep things rolling, and recruiting needs to improve, but if they can keep him the Scarlet Knights appear to have found a winner in Pikiell.
BIG TEN OUTLOOK: Middle of the pack
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