In the weeks leading up to the 2016-’17 college basketball season, BTPowerhouse will be releasing its preview series breaking down each Big Ten team. These will come in a set of series previewing the overall team, the team’s backcourt, wings, and big men, and the team’s schedule. Each post will take a look at its top in-depth and give predictions on the upcoming season.
Today’s edition of the ‘BTPowerhouse Preview Series’ will focus on the backcourt for Rutgers. The guards may be the strong point of this Scarlet Knights team, but that is not saying much.
'BTPowerhouse Preview' - Rutgers Backcourt:
- 2015-’16 All-Big Ten Qualifiers: None
- Key Departures: Bishop Daniels, Omari Grier,
- Additions: Issa Thiam, Eugene Omoruyi
- Top Player: Corey Sanders
The guard play may have been the one highlight of Rutgers forgettable 2015-2016 season. The Scarlet Knights received 51 percent of their scoring from their three starting front court players. An injury to Junior transfer Deshawn Freeman left a gap on the wing. Moving forward, that could benefit Rutgers.
Two of the three starting back court players are returning for the Scarlet Knights. The most promising being Corey Sanders. A promising high school prospect, Sanders was the one bright spot last season. He is in no way a perfect player, and likely wouldn’t crack the starting lineup for many top 25 teams. However, Sanders could be an NBA player one day. That is something Rutgers doesn’t get often.
The other front court starter returning is 6’ 2” shooting guard Mike Williams. His biggest problem is being a volume shooter but not a volume scorer. Williams was eighth on the team in field goal percentage and third in three point percentage. This wouldn’t be a problem if Williams: A) Was not a starter and B) Did not rank second on the team in field goals attempted and first in three pointers shot. Williams is likely in no danger of losing his starting role after making strides statistically. Unfortunately this is because Rutgers has nobody to challenge Williams. The strides now need to come in performance for Williams who will need to buy into coach Pikiell’s offense in order to succeed.
The Scarlet Knights need a new wing. Graduated small forward Bishop Daniels was fourth on the team in scoring last season. Coach Pikiell does not have much in terms on resources to replace Daniels, but has room to improve at the position. Standing at 6’3”, Daniels provided little size or three point shooting ability. Deshawn Freeman is the most likely candidate to replace Daniels. Freeman suffered a leg injury that held him to only eight games last season. The 6’7” wing brings a different dynamic to the Scarlet Knights offense and will allow coach Pikiell to play a more aggressive defensive style.
The Scarlet Knights bench is paper thin. The back court bench players they do have, are all question marks. The departure of Omari Grier and Justin Goode leaves Rutgers with zero bench guards from last season. Both were above average in converting three pointers last season, something that will be difficult to replace with inexperience.
The third guard in the rotation will likely go to senior Nigel Johnson. After transfering to Rutgers last season, Johnson was forced to sit out the entire year. When he sees his first game action, it will likely be off the bench. Johnson showed an a vast leaping ability and an ability to finish at Kansas State. Best case scenerio, Johnson fits well in coach Pikiell’s offense and cracks the starting lineup, moving Mike Williams into a reserve roll.
With a limited number of scholarship freshman incoming, top recruit Issa Thiam may be asked to do more than he should. The 6’9” freshman will play on the wing in certain sets and projects as a stretch four in college. In all honesty, I don;t know much about the guy other than what I’ve read. From what I can tell, the big man can step outside and shoot, which will be a valuable asset.
If anything, coach Pikiell has some athleticism to work with in his first year. The offense will look similar to last season. The concept will be feeding Corey Sanders. Coach Pikiell wants to play an upbeat, fast offense. Sanders fits that mold but the lack of play making ability throughout the roster will make Rutgers easy to slow down. Sanders can only do so much and will do even less if Mike Williams continues to take up more shots than he needs to.