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Can Rutgers Basketball Escape the Big Ten Cellar?

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The Scarlet Knights have the size to surprise in 2016-17, but can new HC Steve Pikiell get results right away?

Welcome to B1G Basketball 2016! Ahead of season’s tip-off on November 11, we are setting out to preview all 14 teams in the Big Ten, along with a few other bells and whistles along the way. It’ll be a team a day, hopefully in reverse order of finish from 2015-16.

That means we start with Rutgers!

Vitals

2015-16: 7-25 (1-17), Kenpom #291

Coach: Steve Pikiell (1st Year)

Departures: DJ Foreman (F, transfer to SLU); Bishop Daniels (G, graduation); Justin Goode (G, transfer to Broward); Jalen Hyde (G, graduated); Omari Grier (G, graduated); Greg Lewis (F/C, graduated)

Additions: FR Matt Bullock (F, 2*), FR Issa Thiam (F, 4*), RS JR Nigel Johnson (G), junior Candido Sa (F), grad transfer C.J. Gettys (C)

The Lineup

Expected Starters: PG Corey Sanders, SG Nigel Johnson, SF Mike Williams, C CJ Gettys

Steve Pikiell has brought in a ton of size for his inaugural run in Piscataway, as 7’0" grad transfer center C.J. Gettys and JUCO transfer 6’9" forward Candido Sa join the Knights. They should help the Rutgers clean up better on the boards in 2016-17, where they finished 341st nationally in offensive rebounds allowed last year. Really, expect to see some height when you face the Knights in general—they have two seven-footers at center, a handful of 6’9-10" forwards, and overall should be able to avoid allowing 50 offensive rebounds or whatever they actually did allow to Purdue.

The Knights return a lot of scoring from 2015-16: freshmen phenom Corey Sanders lit it up, averaging nearly 16 ppg, while junior transfer Deshawn Freeman averaged 13 ppg in limited appearances and junior guard Mike Williams added 12 ppg of his own. K-State guard transfer Nigel Johnson, who sat out last year, will provide some support in the Knights’ backcourt and could be a pleasant surprise in the Big Ten.

A Solid Coaching Hire?

Steve Pikiell was good at Stony Brook. Under the guidance of the former UConn guard, the Seawolves won at least 22 games in 6 of his last 7 seasons, making three NITs, two CBIs, and finally an NCAA appearance last year, where as the #13 seed they lost to Kentucky 85-57 in the first round.

Pikiell’s Seawolves liked to slow it down and play strong defense, rating out at 242nd in Kenpom’s AdjTempo and 67th in AdjDefense, rating in the top fifth of all programs in defensive efficiency each of the last five years. Pikiell traditionally plays a hard man defense, getting back quickly in transition and cutting off the lane in the half-court.

The Schedule

It’s an incredibly doable schedule for Rutgers if they make even the most basic improvements: After opening up with D-II Molloy College, the Knights really only have two "should lose" games on the schedule, traveling to Miami and Seton Hall. Rutgers heads to Rosemont for the ugliest of the Gavitt Games showdowns, a matchup with DePaul, and spends most of the non-con playing lowly mid-majors of the Northeast. There’s a lot of potential there for the Scarlet Knights to cut their teeth and enter Big Ten play with just a few losses.

In conference play, Rutgers faces a pretty rough open: Four of its first six games are on the road, and those games are at Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa, and Indiana. The Knights do get Penn State and Northwestern at home, though, creating the potential for a few wins early. With home-and-homes against Penn State, Northwestern, Wisconsin (at MSG), Iowa, and Maryland, Rutgers will need to find a few wins at the RAC to pull itself off the 14 line in the Big Ten Tournament.

OTE Predictions:

Most of our "experts" have the Knights rolling into Big Ten play around 9-4, then…the growing pains begin.

OTE Predictions
Rutgers
B1G Overall
Writer W L W L
Aaron Y 2 16 11 20
babaoreally 3 15 12 19
Candystripes 1 17 12 19
Creighton M 1 17 9 22
DJ Carver 0 18 7 22
Graham F 1 17 9 22
Jesse C 1 17 8 23
MNW 1 17 10 21
StewMonkey 0 18 8 23
Thump 3 15 12 19
WSR 0 18 10 21
Average 1.2 16.8 9.8 21.0
High 3 15 12 19
Low 0 18 7 23