The primary goal of virtually every college basketball team is to make the NCAA tournament and compete for a national championship. Rutgers is looking to make the tournament for the third consecutive year, which would mark the first time in program history. However, with the significant losses of Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker, accomplishing this feat may prove to be difficult.
The team is returning three starters: Caleb McConnell, Clifford Omoruyi, and Paul Mulcahy. Caleb McConnell, who is returning for his final year of eligibility, led the Big Ten conference with 70 steals last season and was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. The guard also finished top 5 in voting for the 2022 Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Award and will look to serve as the team’s defensive anchor this coming season. However, McConnell’s offensive skill set is not to be underestimated. In the final game of last season, McConnell scored a career-high 23 points on an efficient 10-12 shooting performance.
The team also expects to receive significant defensive contributions from center Clifford Omoruyi. The seven foot center was a true glass-cleaner last season, averaging 11.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest. Both of these statistics were career-highs and Omoruyi will look to improve this to a double-double this season. Omoruyi’s wingspan alters the shots of opponents driving to the basket as well. He showcased his shot-blocking ability often last season, recording 4 blocks against both Nebraska and Indiana last season. The last of the returning starters, senior point guard Paul Mulcahy, has developed into a floor general during his tenure with Rutgers. Last season the six-foot-seven guard averaged career-highs in points (9.0), rebounds (4.1), and assists (5.3). He doubled his production from his sophomore season during his junior year and is looking to increase his productivity once again in order to assist Rutgers in its goal of reaching the tournament. It is likely that the team’s ceiling for this season will be largely dependent on the contributions made by their returning starters.
The Supporting Cast
The team will likely look to Aundre Hyatt (junior) and Cam Spencer (senior) to round out the starting five. Hyatt transferred from LSU to Rutgers last season and did not receive consistent minutes last season due to Ron Harper’s stellar play. Regardless of the circumstances, the team will look to him for defense, rebounding, and hustle plays. The transfer averaged 4.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 0.6 assists per game during his first season with the Scarlet Knights. Cam Spencer transferred from Loyola Maryland this offseason and led the Patriot League in scoring with 18.9 points per game. His scoring ability alongside his defensive prowess (2.3 steals per game) earned him a spot on the All-Patriot First Team last season. While the competitive level of the Patriot League does not stack up with the competition in the Big Ten, Spencer’s scoring capabilities may prove to be promising for the team.
Other potential contributors this upcoming season include Dean Reiber, Jalen Miller, and Oskar Palmquist. Dean Reiber, a junior forward, shot over 50 percent from three last season and is arguably the best perimeter shooter on the team. Jalen Miller, a rising sophomore, received significant minutes last year off the bench due to his defensive skill set. Coach Pikiell often called upon Miller to defend the opposing team’s best scorers and provide energy off the bench. Oskar Palmquist, a junior forward, also provides perimeter shooting and will log consistent minutes off the bench this year. The lefty has a 6’8 frame and a polished shooting form that enables him to provide offensive spacing.
The Scarlet Knights finished their 2021-2022 campaign at 16-12 and lost to Notre Dame by a score of 89-87 in a tournament play-in game. They also play in a very competitive Big Ten conference that regularly sees a handful of teams play in March Madness. That being said, it is reasonable to expect the Scarlet Knights to finish around the .500 mark on the year with a tournament bid being an attainable goal. The chances of them getting a bid will largely depend on the play of their returning starters and the team’s performance in the conference tournament. Rutgers plays only a few ranked teams in the regular season, most notably Michigan and Indiana, so the conference tournament will be imperative to Rutgers’ tournament chances as it carries significant weight during the March Madness seeding process.