Hey there guys and gals, think you all know me, it’s Assistant Principal Akers, I’m gonna be taking your Rutgers postmortem here, your regular Rutgers teacher, well, I’m sure by this point you all know about the litigation there so let’s just get to it.
The 2021-22 season got off to, shall we say an inauspicious start for a program that Steve Pikiell has steadily built, and in getting Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr. to run it back for one more season each, there was plenty of reason to think this would be a breakthrough season for the Scarlet Knights.
The offense, though. They scuffled their way to 48 points in an early win over awful Merrimack, and then dropped a string of three nonconference games despite a very weak schedule - none of DePaul, UMass or Lafayette felt like excusable losses at the time, and none of them aged well either. Thus, after getting absolutely blasted by Illinois in their conference opener, there wasn’t any real reason to think then-#1 Purdue had anything to worry about in their December 9th trip to Piscataway.
Rutgers found itself the sudden beneficiaries of an unbelievable homecourt advantage, knocking off not only the Boilermakers, but still-well-regarded-at-that-point Michigan and eventual conference tourney champs Iowa in the Whatever It’s Called Now Center. Still, they continued to lose enough road games that there were sample size questions about exactly how good this team could be when the schedule turned from Tough, Because It’s The Big Ten to Wow, How Did This Even Happen. Behold the gauntlet of MSU, OSU, @Wisc, Illinois, @Purdue, @Michigan, Wisc.
That Rutgers managed a 4-3 record out of that stint countered those early noncon losses enough to earn them a spot in a play-in game, where they had a bafflingly compelling performance in a 2OT heartbreaker loss to Notre Dame.
Considering where this program came from before Pikiell arrived, it’s hard to view this season as anything other than a success. A 4th-place finish in the conference, another NCAA tournament berth, and another step in the evolution of, you know what, it’s always going to be the RAC to me into one of the more formidable home courts in the conference probably constitute a success for this program by any measure.
This is the hard part, though. Rutgers’ three best players by some distance - Baker, Harper Jr., and reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Caleb McConnell - are all done as Scarlet Knights, and if there was any lingering ‘well, it’s Just Rutgers’ sentiment among the conference’s players and coaches heading into this season, that should be firmly dispelled by now. Rutgers won’t be surprising anyone anymore, especially in their own venue.
Pikiell’s culture has thus far immunized his roster from the portal, and despite some past success pulling players in that way, he’s passing on it himself thus far. Neither of Rutgers’ two incoming prep prospects look like immediate contributors.
Ergo, if they want to even hold their position in the pecking order, let alone advance towards a conference title, Pikiell needs a quantum leap from C Cliff Omoruyi, and it wouldn’t hurt if G/F/Cmon Man The Headband Looks Stupid Paul Mulcahy got considerably less streaky, and also realized he’s never going to get the same calls on the road he does at home.
I would guess Pikiell reaches into the portal for a lead guard and maybe a wing to handle the scoring load and bridge between Baker/Harper and the next generation, as young guys like Aundre Hyatt and Dean Reiber might not be ready for a huge leap in responsibility just yet given that Pikiell leaned pretty heavily on his starters this year.
On a closing note, it still seems strange to me that another year of the coaching carousel has subsided without even a rumor of anyone trying to poach Pikiell, whose program build alongside the Raritan has easily vaulted past more-ballyhooed competitors at schools with substantially better histories to draw upon. I get that he’s under contract through 2030 at a respectable salary, but since when has that ever stopped enterprising athletic directors? Anyway. Next year is a possible inflection point with multiple program icons moving on, but the smart money’s on Pikiell making it work.
So. Uh, there are considerably fewer of you here than when I started talking. As always, turning my back to you to sketch out Bo Boroski in a clown suit on the chalkboard has cost me my audience, but as always, I have no regrets about that.