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Rutgers Scarlet Knights 2016-17 Basketball Preview

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When Rutgers entered the Big Ten back in 2014 there was plenty left to be desired for most of the program, and chief amongst that group was the underperforming men’s basketball program.

Rutgers came in to the Big Ten on the back of a huge player abuse scandal that whipped out its head coach and athletic director. Now in year three, this team and the program are under new leadership.

Athletic director Patrick Hobbs hired Steve Pikiell as his first move to rebound this wholly bad basketball program.

Pikiell will have his hands full, as the Scarlet Knights have won just three games in two years of Big Ten play.

 

Burning Question: Can Rutgers Ever Become a Big Ten-level Basketball Program?

This is a serious question, because it takes a serious commitment to become one and the RAC plus the old athletic department certainly weren’t getting the job done.

Add in a saturated market for high-level talent and Rutgers not exactly registering on the radar for most of that talent and Pikeill has his work cut out for him. Then again, he knew all of that coming in to this job and clearly believes he can make inroads.

Making inroads and becoming a team other Big Ten teams fear on a nightly basis are two very different things.

Even when the program went 20-13 overall in 2003-04 and made it to the championship game of the NIT that season. Success wasn’t even close to permanent though, as Rutgers has had just one winning season since then.

That was under Gary Waters, who decided taking the Cleveland State job was a better career move than staying on at Rutgers. So, success is far from guaranteed for Pikiell despite an alleged big commitment to improving the ancillary things around this program.

Biggest Strength: Corey Sanders

Rebuilding efforts aren’t always easy, as we’ve noted. However, they are made a heck of a lot easier when you have the likes of Corey Sanders on the team. Sanders was criminally left off the All-Freshman team by the Big Ten last season, despite leading all freshman in scoring (16.2 points per game) and also dishing out 4.8 assists per game and gaining 1.8 steals per game.

Pikiell likes to play an uptempo game with players getting to the rim as often as they like. That fits right in to the slashing game of Sanders, and while the sophomore isn’t likely to stick around this program for very long, he can be the best advocate for Pikiell’s style of play possible.

However, don’t expect this season to be the full offense on display, as Pikiell isn’t going to have a full scholarship roster available to him and depth is a major concern. Look for him to pick his spots to put up tempo and to focus on winning games with defense first.

Biggest Weakness: Perimeter Play

Rutgers was awful from beyond the arc last season, shooting just 32 percent as a team from three-point range and ranking 12th in the Big Ten in that category.

The key will be for Sanders to evolve his game and show an improved perimeter game too. He shot just 31.5 percent from beyond the arc and attempted nearly five three pointers a game as well. In fact, his 4.8 three point attempts per game were second on the team to junior Mike Williams (4.9).

Projected Starting Lineup:

G: Mike Williams, Jr. — 12.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.1 apg, 38% FG
G: Corey Sanders, So. — 16.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.3 apg, 42.3% FG
F: DeShawn Freeman, Jr.  — 12.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.1 apg, 54.2% FG
F: Jonathan Laurent, So. — 8.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 50.3% FG
C: CJ Gettys Sr. — 5.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 50% FG *at UNC-Willmington

Overall Thoughts:

Steve Pikiell has some good pieces to work with despite the horrific results under Eddie Jordan last season. If Corey Sanders wants an NBA future, he’ll show up big time for this team in 2016-17.

However, this team needs so much work and has so little depth that its margin for error is almost zero. It even has taken in a so-so 7-footer like C.J. Gettys from UNC-Willimington in the hopes of getting a roster that can be worked with this season.

Don’t expect much out of the Scarlet Knights this season, except to be much more competitive than it has been in the past.

Pikiell has the chops on the recruiting trail, but it won’t matter much this season as he looks to just build a team capable of winning a lot more than they ever have in this decade.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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Early 2018-19 Big Ten Basketball Outlook: Will it be a breakout year for Rutgers basketball?

Rutgers suffered through another brutal season in Big Ten play, but things seem to be trending upward for the Scarlet Knights and Steve Pikiell.

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The 2017-18 season may still be going on for some teams (we’re looking at you Michigan and Purdue), but for the rest of the Big Ten it is time to look forward. What was done this season is done, it’s time for lessons to be learned and new season’s to begin.

For 12 of the 14 programs the offseason and attention to next season begins now. So, we’ll do the same here with a series looking ahead to 2018-19 and what each program looks like heading in to the offseason and what we believe you can expect from them in the coming year.

Up first is the team that has seemingly occupied the No. 14 spot in the Big Ten standings since it joined the conference a few short years ago — Rutgers.

After coming off back-to-back three-win seasons in Big Ten play, what will year three of the Steve Pikiell era have in store for everyone?

Reason to be Optimistic: The Right Track

Sometimes the feeling you get from a re-building program matters more than the results at first. Such is the case with Rutgers, which was left in shambles due to scandal, administrative issues and incompetence of the highest order. Pikiell’s hire as head coach seems to be the right one. He’s gotten the program playing hard, playing together and most importantly believing in itself once again. A win over in-state rival Seton Hall in December was a huge milestone, while making a run to the Big Ten quarterfinals was also a positive sign of change for the Scarlet Knights.

Recruiting has been getting better and Pikiell has brought stability to the program overall. Just how much do others believe in what he’s done in two years at Rutgers? There are rumors of his name being associated with the opening at former national powerhouse UConn.

We doubt Pikiell jumps at that opportunity or in the seriousness of UConn’s interest, so don’t be afraid Rutgers fans, you’ll have the guy there to see the plan through a third year. Oh, and there’s something about the little $5 million buyout that Pikiell has in his new contract that was signed in January of this year. We’re pretty sure Pat Hobbs knows what he has and took steps to keep Pikiell in place for a while longer.

Reason to Worry: Life Without Corey Sanders?

As bad as the records have been the last two years, can you imagine where Rutgers would have been without the most underrated player in the Big Ten — Corey Sanders? It’s a frightening thought, and one that could be a reality as Sanders explores his NBA options for a second offseason. It would be a miracle if he came back for his senior season if you ask me.

That would mean replacing 15.2 points, 4.3 rebounds and over 40% shooting from the field, not to mention the leadership that he provided. Watching him literally will Rutgers to a win over Minnesota late in the season was a thing of beauty. Rutgers simply doesn’t have a replacement for him in the wings, and that is reason to worry about a program that couldn’t win much even with Sanders in the fold.

Player to Watch: Geo Baker

If life after Corey Sanders isn’t as bad as the pundits make it out to be, look no further than Geo Baker to be the reason for that. Baker’s debut season for Rutgers was a huge success, averaging 10.8 points per game and starting 29 of 31 games on the season. The 6-4 guard led the team with 54 made three-pointers and shot a good 36.1 percent from beyond the arc overall. He took the second-most shots on the team, and will need to improve his overall shooting this offseason though. Shooting at a 38 percent clip from the field isn’t going to cut it when you don’t have Sanders to help you out on the perimeter and being able to slash to the basket.

Incoming Help:

If you need any more proof that Pikiell is on the right track, just look at the 2018 recruiting class that is being brought in. Sanders may be leaving, but Pikiell targeted and got 4-star shooting guard Montez Mathis in the fold.

He also added the No. 7 ranked JUCO player in the country in 6-9 power forward Shaq Carter and New Jersey native Ronald Harper out of powerhouse Don Bosco Prep.


It appears that Pikiell is making great strides in the talent-rich state of New Jersey and most importantly outside of the state. This could be a class that helps change the perception of the program and could make an early impact.

Overall Outlook:

Yes, Steve Pikiell’s teams have finished with the exact same three-win seasons in Big Ten play during his first two years in Piscataway, but something felt different in 2017-18. Rutgers was more competitive overall and played much better as a team. Baker showed plenty of promise in his first season, but is the only returning double-digit scorer on the team. Given the slow growth of this team, don’t be surprised to see others step up to the challenge next season thanks to the foundation that was laid over these last two years.

The good news is there are strong building blocks in place for a long-suffering basketball program. Will year three be the big turnaround year? It’s unlikely we’re going to see the Scarlet Knights post a winning Big Ten record, but there’s certainly the pieces for more than three wins in B1G play. Don’t be surprised to see Rutgers competing to get off the bottom of the conference barrel for the first time in the Pikiell era.

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Rutgers betting big on Pikiell with contract extension

Rutgers set to make Steve Pikiell one of the Big Ten’s highest paid head basketball coaches as they extend his contract to the 2023-24 season.

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Steve Pikiell came in to the Rutgers men’s basketball head coaching position in the middle of interesting times for the basketball program. Just two years later and he is now receiving a contract extension and getting paid rather handsomely in the process.

Rutgers announced a new contract extension for Pikiell on Wednesday afternoon, one that will see him extended until the end of the 2023-24 season. It’ll also see him reach a guaranteed compensation package of $15.05 million over the course of the next five seasons. There are also performance bonuses that could bring this total even higher.

“Steve is doing a fantastic job and it’s our intent to do everything we can to keep him at Rutgers for a very long time,” said Director of Athletics Pat Hobbs. “There is incredible excitement around our program. We are going to compete with the very best because of Steve’s leadership. Our program could not be in better hands.”

Rutgers apparently decided it was also going to compete at the top of the Big Ten coaching pay scale too. The new contract means Pikiell is going to average nearly $3 million per season guaranteed over the next five seasons. However, much of the contract is back-loaded as Rutgers will pay big salaries to Pikiell following it getting it’s full-share as a member of the Big Ten conference for the first time.

To put that in perspective, his average salary would nearly the same as John Beilien at Michigan and just around $500,000 less than Tom Izzo is making at Michigan State. Yes, that same Tom Izzo who has a national championship and plenty of Final Four banners hanging in the rafters of the Breslin Center.

Just to put this in to perspective, Pikiell’s new deal would make him the fifth highest paid head coach in the Big Ten according to the latest numbers by USA Today and contracts for the newest coaches in the Big Ten. That would put him behind Izzo, Beilein and newcomers Archie Miller at Indiana and Chris Holtmann at Ohio State respectively.

All of it for a coach who is 26-24 overall and has the Scarlet Knights sitting 11-6 on the 2017-18 season.

The investment certainly indicates a Rutgers athletic department willing to go all-in on a coach who has at least made the Scarlet Knights competitive after years as the also-ran of the Big Ten and Big East before that. It also indicates a program that knows it needs to pay to keep a good coach around to build something worthwhile in Piscataway.

The announcement came on the heels of Rutgers’ big win this weekend over Wisconsin to snap a bad three-game losing streak that included losses to Rider and Stony Brook. But, hope also springs up thanks to a big win prior to that three-game losing streak, as Rutgers beat No. 13 Seton Hall in the battle of New Jersey.

Something is brewing in Piscataway, and the Scarlet Knights brass are going all-in that Pikiell is the long-term answer.

It’s a gamble, but one that Rutgers likely needed to show to the outside world as much as anything. For once, the Scarlet Knights are taking all athletics seriously and putting their money where their mouths are.

But, as with all gambles like this, it needs to pay off and that jury is still way out on whether or not that will happen.

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What does success look like for Steve Pikiell as Rutgers’ men’s basketball HC?

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Over the weekend it was reported that Stony Brook men’s basketball coach Steve Pikiell would be named to the same post at Rutgers. With the news that Rutgers would be holding a press conference to announce the new head coach on Tuesday morning, it is clear Pikiell is indeed the choice.

It is the second major hire for new athletic director Patrick Hobbs, and it may be even more important than the football hire in some ways. With Rutgers stuck in the East division with heavyweights like Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State, its football program is going to have a major uphill climb every season.

However, on the basketball court is where Rutgers could get some semblance of acceptance as a real member of the Big Ten. So far, the Scarlet Knights have yet to really scare anyone in any sport that anyone pays real attention to in the league.

Even the once-proud women’s basketball program has been down since coming from the Big East to the Big Ten.

The point being, if Rutgers ever wants to feel like a real part of the conference and not just a media market grab, finding a way to be relevant in one of the major sports is a good way to go.

Hobbs’ hiring of Pikiell signals the athletic department at least knows what it needs to become relevant. Rutgers simply needs a man with credibility in the Northeast recruiting region, understands doing more with less and can build a program virtually from the ground up.

When he was hired at Stony Brook, the program was still trying to find its footing as a newer D1 program. Today, it is a 3-time America East champion and finished in the top 2 in the league in six of the last seven seasons.

From 4-24 in year one to 26-6 in 2015-16, clearly the man knows what it takes to build a program from the ground up.

While Pikiell’s overall record of 192–156 (.552) may not seem amazing, what he did with a program in building mode is simply remarkable.

Given his reputation, what exactly is the measure of success at Rutgers?

Is it winning a Big Ten championship? While every coach will tell you it’s on the least of goals for every season, let’s be realistic — Rutgers hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament in 25 years, the same year it last won a conference championship.

This is a program with just five conference titles and six NCAA tournament appearances in its history. Rutgers simply needs to start to learn to crawl before it can walk its way to a Big Ten championship.

Part of that is a head coach knowing he’s going to be working with less than his peers in terms of facilities and monetary support. Unless Rutgers’ new direction under Hobbs includes a major investment in facilities and a new arena for its team to play in, Pikiell is going to be fighting an uphill battle from day one.

Is success becoming a mid-level Big Ten team?

Striving for mediocrity may not be the wisest of ideas for any coach, but becoming a consistent threat to win games in the Big Ten certainly would be a great starting point for the Scarlet Knights. Given a bare-bones roster with very little Big Ten-caliber talent, getting to the point of being a competitive team night in and night out is certainly one step on the ladder of success.

One this is clear with this hire, Hobbs is telling the Rutgers fans, players and administrators that patience is going to be needed and stability is the real ultimate goal. Having a head coach in place for more than a few years at a time, building a solid recruiting base, getting the support back behind the team on campus and in the boosters eyes and showing progress quickly is exactly what success is going to be about for Pikiell.

Hit those benchmarks and the rest should take care of itself.

The only question is if the program is ready to take itself seriously for the first time in a long time. If the players and administrators buy in, this team could become dangerous in a few short years.

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Rutgers announces firing of men’s basketball coach Eddie Jordan

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Did anyone not see this coming? After getting the final beatdown of what can only be described as the most dreadful season in Big Ten history, Rutgers University Director of Intercollegiate Athletics, Patrick Hobbs, announced the dismissal of Eddie Jordan as men’s basketball head coach.

“I have decided that we need new leadership for our men’s basketball program,” said Hobbs. “Rutgers University is deeply appreciative of Coach Jordan’s efforts these past three years. He is and will always remain a valued member of the Rutgers Community.”

Rutgers was downed 89-72 in a first round Big Ten tournament matchup with Nebraska on Wednesday night, finishing the season at 1-18 against conference foes. In Jordan’s final season, Rutgers finished with an overall record of 7-25 this season. He compiled an overall record of just 29-68 in his three years at the helm of Rutgers’ program. 

The tell-tale sign that things weren’t working is the continued decline in record during conference play during Jordan’s tenure in Piscataway, New Jersey. He directed RU to a 5-13 conference mark in The American in 2013-14, before leading Rutgers to 2-16 and 1-17 league marks in the Big Ten in 2014-15 and 2015-16, respectively. 

No doubt that Jordan came in to a virtual no-win situation, with a roster depleted by graduations, transfers and suspensions. He also faced the aftermath of the scandal involving former head coach Mike Rice.

Still, wins and losses matter and in the ultra-competitive Big Ten, there were few signs of any improvement at all in the wins category.

Rutgers will begin a national search for a new head coach, and with Patrick Hobbs in place as AD this could get really interesting. In bringing in a new football head coach, Hobbs made a significant financial upgrade for the program.

Could the same be in the offing for his next hire? With a new football and men’s basketball head coach in the same academic year, Hobbs’ career will be tied to his decisions on replacements.

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