A bit of a rollercoaster for Rutgers last year, at least a sad rollercoaster that broke down before it got really fun. They started pretty slow, going 6-4 with losses to Temple and Seton Hall. By February, though, they were in great shape, 16-7 and 8-4 in conference with a big win over Michigan State. Unfortunately, Mawot Mag hurt his knee, the team went into a tailspin. and they capped everything off with a first round loss to Hofstra in the NIT.
A busy list here. Defensive madman Caleb McConnell is poking around the G League. Cam Spencer ran
all out of eligibility to UConn. The transfer portal claimed four guys. Three were no big deal: Jalen Miller to Oral Roberts, Dean Reiber to Charlotte, and Oskar Palmquist to Elon. The weirdest was Paul Mulcahy, who fooled around acting like he was going to the NBA before transferring to Washington.
PG Noah Fernandes, 5’10’’ 5th Year: Fernandes comes over from UMass and looks to slot in as the starter with Mulcahy leaving. He’s undersized, but should be reasonably competent moving the ball around and shooting from outside. He struggled with an ankle injury last season, though was shooting 45% from three in 11 games. Still, a jarring shift from Mulcahy wrestling with guys out on the perimeter.
SG Derek Simpson, 6’3’’ 2nd Year: Probably a fuzzy start here. Simpson didn’t do a lot as a freshman last season, but he did go for double figures in five of their last six games. His -overall numbers were very rough, including a not-what-you-want-from-your-shooting-guard 22% clip from three. If he can improve his shooting, he and Fernandes can play together, which would give Rutgers two ballhandlers. If not, he probably shares time at the point.
SF Aundre Hyatt, 6’6’’ 5th Year: Hyatt was the sixth man last year and will slot into the three or the four. He’s always been a bad shooter, so he probably isn’t the answer to Rutgers’ offensive questions, but he may be in line to replace McConnell’s defense. One can hope at least.
PF Mawot Mag, 6’7’’ 4th Year: Mag is another presumed starter, at least once he gets healthy. His knee injury last season was impactful - Rutgers went 3-8 after he went down and went from NCAA team to bust. He’s athletic and can rebound and get to the basket, all helpful things. However, his status is still up in the air. He was only recently cleared to practice and is still apparently on some restrictions, so I’m not certain when he will be game ready.
C Cliff Omoruyi, 6’11’’ 4th Year: The other returning starter and one of the best returning centers in the conference, Rutgers really needs Omoruyi to be his best self. While his Big Man stats rose last year in rebounding and rim protection, his two point shooting dropped 10 points. With outside shooting on the team being real iffy, Rutgers needs some ways to generate points, and Omoruyi in the post needs to be something reliable.
SG Austin Williams, 6’4’’ 6th Year: The Transfer Portal reaches into the sky and grabs guard Williams, who loves transferring. He played two years at Marist, two years at Hartford, then spent a season at Florida International where he unfortunately didn’t play due to injury. He looks to be an able scorer, but like everyone else, struggles from deep.
C Antwone Woolfolk, 6’9’’ 2nd Year: Woolfolk got a few minutes a game last season. His biggest goal will be to stop turning the ball over whenever he touches it.
F Oskar Palmquist, 6’8’’ 5th Year: The Jersey Swede comes back, and perhaps has a role this season. While he has never played or contributed much, he does have the reputation of having a sweet deep shot, and Rutgers needs all the help they can get on the perimeter. He should at least get some minutes early while Mag recuperates, so if he can make some shots he can keep his time.
PF Antonio Chol, 6’9’’ 2nd Year: Rutgers has like three guys who are the size of a house and can stuff you in a trash can but are of uncertain talent basketball wise. Maybe they moonlight as Sopranos enforcers. Anyways, Chol is one of them.
C Emmanuel Ogbole, 6’10’’ 2nd Year: Ogbole spent a year in JUCO after coming over from Nigeria. Your guess is as good as mine.
SF Gavin Griffiths, 6’7’’ 1st Year: Griffiths toils down here because he’s a freshman and we hate freshmen. However, odds are good the sweet stroking Connecticutican (Connection?) gets a lot of minutes this year as Rutgers is especially thirsty for anyone who can put the ball through the net. He’s a real live recruit, checking in at 44 on the composite. Expect to see his goggles soon.
PG Jamichael Davis, 6’2’’ 1st Year: The other freshman in the class, Davis is not nearly as highly rated as a recruit and supposedly brings toughness and defense to the fold. Rutgers isn’t lacking for that, so he probably won’t play quite as much.
A Conversation With Our Writers
MaximumSam: All right everybody, how is everyone’s favorite team, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights?
BoilerUp89: Rutgers lost three starters (Spencer, Mulcahy, and McConnell) from a team that didn’t make the NCAA tournament. While they’ve added a couple of decent incoming players, they were a bad shooting team with no depth last year, have lost their top two shooters, and still have no depth. To make matters worse, Spencer, Mulcahy, and McConnell were all excellent defenders. I suspect it’s another NIT season until Rutgers brings in the top recruiting class in the nation the following season.
RUReady4Brazil: Rutgers is a wildcard which means they will probably win games they should lose and lose a few they should win. That is more interesting as a fan than when you just Big Ten West football style focus on defense and ball control. This is really an attempt to keep the #2 recruiting class in the country (will be #1 if they get Dylan Harper) for next year. How much will Pikiell allow them to play faster before he freaks out and tries to revert?
RU in VA: It’s going to be a long season. They still can’t shoot and are lacking the size in the forwards to play the usual bully ball style that works against half the league. No Mulcahy, no McConnell, and no Cam Spencer.
MaximumSam: I can feel the optimism. I love Pikiell, surely something good could happen this year?
BoilerUp89: Big fan of Cliff Omoruyi. Hard to believe he’s already a senior although he could run it back next year in what will finally be the last year of the COVID career extensions. Best rim protector in the Big Ten, a great post presence on offense, and an excellent rebounder. Cliff does struggle with foul trouble from time to time and is a poor FT shooter, but he’s an excellent player and will take over several games this season. Possible first team all-B1G player. Darkhorse candidate for All-American if he takes another step in his development.
Aundre Hyatt is an underrated glue guy. His numbers don’t jump out at you, but he is a solid contributor and executes his role. Mawot Mag was apparently another underrated glue guy. After Mag went down to injury, Rutgers’ skid began, and they lost 7 of their final 9.
Incoming freshman Gavin Griffiths is a four star SF recruit. I expect Griffiths to start until Mag is fully ready to go and if he plays well enough, he could keep the spot or shift Mag to the PF spot. Griffiths is known as a good, confident shooter. Getting used to the college game speed and physicality may take some time.
RUReady4Brazil: Gavin Griffiths probably should be playing for Iowa but Rutgers is happy to have him. Cliff Omoruyi needs to not just stationarily post up and will be dangerous. A lot depends on how well they can shoot and if the defense can be above average since they won’t be elite.
Last year was painful to watch after Mo Mag went down and I’ve never seen a team fall apart just because a glue guy got hurt like that. If he’s healthy they could be a tournament team if things break right and deficiencies of certain players are minimized. But even if Mag is not or certain players don’t rise into bigger roles, it should be a wild season at the RAC.
MaximumSam: See, not all bad. But I assume there is some bad?
BoilerUp89: Derek Simpson will have to shoot better than he did as a freshman as 21.7% from three will not cut it. Simpson had some big games for a freshman (he scored 10+ in 7 games against Big Ten teams), but he’s going to have to consistently perform this year as he steps into the starting role.
Incoming transfer Noah Fernandes comes in from Umass after missing most of last season due to an injury (I’ve seen it referred to alternatively as an ankle, calf, or foot injury). Fernandes is an above average three-point shooter and capable ball handler. Concern would be his ability to guard Big Ten points. At 5’11 180 lbs, he’s rather small and will have to rely on his quickness to defend. We’ve seen similar sized PGs get bullied in the Big Ten from time to time, and I’m concerned anytime someone relying on their speed is coming off a leg injury, but having Omoruyi patrolling the paint behind him should help erase some of those potential issues.
Austin Williams - a 6’4” guard that struggles shooting the ball and has previously played four years for Marist and Hartford before missing all of last season at FIU due to a knee injury. Austin needs to be granted a medical redshirt for last year. He is a graduate transfer.
Jeremiah Williams - a 6’4” guard that struggles shooting the ball and previously played two years at Temple before missing all of last season at Iowa State due to an injury. Jeremiah is dealing with legal issues from the Iowa State gambling scandal. He also needs a waiver from the NCAA as a two-time transfer.
Jamichael Davis - a 3 star PG recruit. At just 155 lbs, Davis is badly in need of a redshirt season to add strength.
Oskar Palmquist is a reserve PF option. Palmquist has some shooting ability but outside of knocking down three pointers when left off an opponent’s scouting report hasn’t been a huge offensive threat thus far in his career.
Antwone Woolfolk and Emmanuel Ogbole offer post depth behind Omoruyi. Neither is expected to make a huge impact this season, but between the two of them they should be able to offer a breather for Omoruyi as needed.
RU in VA: Pikiell has a stiff challenge ahead of him with something I haven’t really seen our OTE nerds mention - Coaching. He’s replaced longtime assistant/head/chief of staff Karl Hobbs (out to Georgia Tech) and replaced with CMU’s Marlon Williamson.
Williamson has served in the LIU-Brooklyn staff, Pittsburgh, and UMass before taking the Rutgers assistant coach position. This is ALSO the last year on Assistant Coach Brandin Knight’s deal. As Pike is changing the guard here I see two things shifting since he entered the B1G and the program:
- His assistants being full-time recruiting assets. Knight has always been a known commodity in the recruiting scene - Williamson is as well, but in the Midwest/Detroit area. I don’t know for sure, but I hope Pike has learned that recruiting next-level talent is the ONLY way to take the next step of B1G championship and single digit NCAA seeding.
- Rutgers is frustrating to watch. I know. It’s frustrating as a fan/alumni as well. To have all those rangey athletes on the court continuing to run two offensive plays and not look behind them on defense is tough to watch. Hobbs was the defensive guy so it will be interesting to see how often Gavin Griffiths and Simpson are launching it from 3 and letting Omoruyi be a post bully rather than a lob and catch center.
MaximumSam: Well, that is more information on Rutgers basketball than I think anyone on earth wants. But we at OTE strive for even more. Sum it up for us.
BoilerUp89: Pikiell runs a defense first program. Don’t expect that to change this season but I also don’t know that this is a top 10 defense like it was last year after losing three really good defenders. I don’t know that enough shooting capability was added to make up for the expected defensive performance dip and there is nothing in terms of proven depth to help see the roster through the grind of Big Ten play. Pikiell’s team is going to have to win some ugly games and use the intimate environment of the RAC to make a run at a return to the NCAA tournament.
RU in VA: I’m not going to repeat what’s also been said, but the ‘stars aligning’ Rutgers basketball team will do a few things:
- Omoruyi takes his NBA draft report to heart. He’s not a 7’ Zach Edey. He’s a 6’9” wildly athletic PF at the next level. Can he develop anything except a pivot dunk in the paint and alley-oops?
- Griffiths turns out to be a solid wing player and more importantly, a rangy defender at the 3 line. Rutgers gets BURNED from deep due to their inability to get taller defenders close to shooters (read: Iowa).
- Simpson gets tough. One thing you always knew about Geo Baker or Jacob Young, or Corey Sanders - is that they’re coming back the next play. They’re not elite Kansas players, but that next trip down the floor is going to be just as tough as the last.
- Mawot Mag probably has the best NBA odds on the team as a 6th man defensive specialist for athletic wings like James Harden, or Damian Lillard. He’s gotta show his body is all right and he’s ready to get better.
10th in the B1G sounds about right. What B1G fans that care more about Runzas than the East Coast should keep their eyes on is Rutgers’ recruiting. If this team flatlines, you can probably count out Ace Bailey and Harper. If they can make the NCAA and those two see themselves as a core to improve? Not super great for the rest of college basketball.