The latest edition of Big Ten basketball previews features Rutgers. After a promising start to last year’s campaign, the Scarlet Knights lost six of their final eight regular season games. This led to them missing the NCAA tournament and losing to Hofstra in the first round of the NIT. The Scarlet Knights hope to return to March Madness this season.
Big Ten Basketball Preview: Rutgers
The best returners from last year include star center Clifford Omoruyi, freshman standout Derek Simpson, and productive wing Aundre Hyatt. They also brought in UMass transfer Noah Fernandes and a strong high-school recruiting class. They could also see the return of Mawot Mag, who missed the end of last season due to injury. He is a very important returning piece for the team.
Although the Scarlet Knights lost many starters, they should still be able to compete this season. If Omoruyi can continue to establish himself as one of the premier big men in the conference and Simpson can improve as a sophomore, then Rutgers could surprise a few people this season.
Defense has been Rutgers’ biggest strength since Steve Pikiell has been in Piscataway. Last season, they ranked sixth in the country in adjusted defense per Kenpom. This put them first in the Big Ten by a significant margin. Omoruyi was a First-Team All-Defensive player in the conference and could be even better this season.
Another advantage for the Scarlet Knights is their home court. Jersey Mike’s Arena (commonly known as the RAC) is often considered one of the best arenas in the Big Ten. In the last four years, they are 56-14 at home. It truly is a tough environment to play in.
One problem that Rutgers will face this season will be three-point shooting. Last season, they ranked 279th in team three-point percentage. That was with Spencer, who shot over 43% from deep last season. Fernandes was also an excellent three-point shooter last year, but going up in competition may make it more difficult.
Front-court depth will be the other big issue for Rutgers. Besides Omoruyi, they don’t have any proven big men on the roster. Griffiths is a highly-rated freshman who should play a lot of minutes this season, but it is hard to say how impactful he will be.
The Verdict: Rutgers Will Return to March Madness This Season
The Scarlet Knights barely missed the tournament last season. While they may have lost a few of their starters from last year, they did find suitable replacements. Omoruyi is an All-Big Ten caliber player and will likely lead the team. Mag’s return should benefit the team, as his injury derailed last year’s season. Pikiell is also a phenomenal coach who makes his team play tough.