Rome wasn't built in a day, and Rutgers basketball certainly won't be turned around in one either. The Scarlet Knights first season in the Big Ten didn't exactly go well, as Eddie Jordan and company struggled to a dismal 10-22 finish. Throw in the fact that leading scorers Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack both graduated and it's easy to predict another tough season in 2015-'16.
Still, if you look close enough you can see a bit of light at the end of a very long tunnel. Rutgers has a a collection of returners contributors including Greg Lewis, Bishop Daniels and Mike Williams. More importantly, the Scarlet Knights have five new players, having added three recruits and two eligible transfers to their roster. With their lineup far from being set, let's take a look at each newcomer and see who will likely make the biggest contribution.
- Corey Sanders
A lot of Rutgers’ hopes for next season and the future sit on the shoulders of Sanders, a four-star recruit from Florida. With Mack having graduated, someone will have to fill the void at point guard, and Sanders will likely be that person. At 6’1" and 180 pounds, Sanders isn’t big but brings nearly everything else to the table. He’s a terrific athlete with great ball handling skills who can pass, get to the rim and create his own shot. And with most of the Scarlet Knights other top guards (Daniels, Williams, Omari Grier) better suited to play the two, Sanders will have a great chance to start right away.
That doesn’t mean things are guaranteed to go smoothly though. Jordan leaned too hard on Mack most of last season, and while it was sometimes out of necessity, he’ll have to avoid putting the same kind of pressure on a freshman. Still, Sanders is talented enough to play for a lot of teams in the Big Ten, and while he may struggle at times, expect him to start and play major minutes right away.
- DeShawn Freeman
While Sanders' arrival helps shore up the point guard position, Rutgers still has question marks at the three and four, with Junior Etou transferring and Jack having graduated. Enter Freeman, a tweener forward and Juco transfer who will be immediately eligible this season. At 6'6" and 210 pounds, Freeman has the size of a small forward but actually played more at the four at Hutchinson Community College, averaging 19.2 points and 9.2 rebounds last season.
Rebounding will obviously be a lot harder in the Big Ten, but Freeman has proved he is tough enough to play down low at times. With 6'8" sophomore forward D.J. Foreman also in the mix, it's more likely that Freeman will play the three with Foreman at the four if both players start. Things clearly won't be set in stone for a while, but expect Freeman to get a lot of time next season.
- Omari Grier
The Scarlet Knights other eligible new transfer, Grier is a 6'4", 180-pound shooting guard who spent the last two seasons at Bradley University. A solid scorer who averaged 9.2 points a game during his time at Bradley, Grier will be most coveted at Rutgers for his shooting. While the 31.8 percent he shot from three last season doesn't look impressive, it was still better than what most of the Scarlet Knights were able to manage. Seriously, the only Rutgers players to play regularly in 2014-'15 and shoot over 30 percent from behind the arc were Mack (32.4), Jack (31.3) and Etou (31.1), who are now all gone. Grier will have to battle Daniels and Williams for playing time, but he's an experienced player who brings (some) shooting ability to a lineup that desperately needs it. Expect him to get regular minutes off the bench.
- Jonathan Jean Laurent
A 6'6", 195 pound wing, Laurent is a versatile player who could also help fill the void at forward. He's not quite as physical as Freeman, but the Florida native is a well-rounded offensive player who can get to the basket, pass and play in transition. He needs to bulk up a little, and while it's hard to imagine him starting, he could definitely get some minutes as a sub. With much of Rutgers' bench in a state of flux entering the season, Laurent will probably get the chance to prove himself early on.
- Justin Goode
Besides Grier, the new Scarlet Knight with the best chance to help the team's shooting is Goode, a 6'3" shooting guard from Virginia. While he has a pedigree as a jump shooter, Goode is a solid all-around player who is also a good passer. Where does he stand as far as next year? It's hard to tell with Daniels, Williams and possibly Grier in front of him, but Goode will likely get to see the court at some point, even if it's in a small role.
Each of Rutgers five newcomers will probably play at some point, but Sanders and Freeman are the ones likely to start. Freeman may have more experience, but Sanders has the "it" factor that the Scarlet Knights need. That doesn't mean he'll definitely have a bigger impact next season, but I'd wager on him regardless.