It is very hard to be as bad as Rutgers basketball was last season. The Scarlet Knights went 7-25 overall and 1-17 in the Big Ten. They finished 291st out of 351 teams in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency rankings; 316th in offensive efficiency and 223rd in defensive efficiency. With stats like that, they obviously didn’t sniff the NIT or any postseason play, with that outcome more or less guaranteed before January was even over with.
But it’s a new year, a new season and a new coach, so there’s cause for a spec of optimism in New Brunswick. Here at BTPowerhouse it’s time to evaluate the three biggest storylines for Rutgers basketball heading into the 2016-2017 season.
There’s A New Sheriff in Town
The Rutgers basketball program has been going through head coaches like plastic utensils. Steve Pikiell is now their 5th coach in the last 15 years. The Scarlet Knights have had no luck with coaches as of late, with Eddie Jordan going 29-68 overall in three seasons and Mike Rice getting fired before that for verbally and physically abusing the players.
But with Pikiell, Rutgers is getting a guy who has succeeded with lower level talent while still competing with some of the big boys in college basketball. From 2011-2016 Pikiell led Stony Brook to three American East titles, an NCAA Tournament bid, and a 117-47 record during that span.
Pikiell is starting to bring more local talent to Rutgers, which is essential for the future of the program. He also has experience developing talent as Stony Brook’s Jameel Warney is an absolute stud, coming off of a season where he averaged 19.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game.
Nowhere to Go but Up
When you’ve hit rock bottom in your conference, the only other thing that can happen is you get better… right? The Scarlet Knights were easily the worst team in the Big Ten, but they’ve got some young talent and also return their three leading scorers in Corey Sanders, Deshawn Freeman and Mike Williams.
This kind of offensive continuity is great for the team, especially with a fresh new coach. This way Pikiell can install his style of play while also inheriting the chemistry and cohesiveness that’s been developing. Instability does not breed progress or development, so the Rutgers program cannot afford to continue to be in constant flux. The Scarlet Knights won’t be winning anything of importance this season, but the most important thing they should strive for is gradual, steady improvement.
The Development of Corey Sanders
Sophomore Corey Sanders is the clear-cut best player the Scarlet Knights have and I’m sure the entire program breathed a gigantic sigh of relief when he withdrew his name from the NBA draft in May. Sanders, ranked by our site as the 17th best player in the Big Ten, led the team with 15.8 points and 4.3 assists per game.
Sanders is a formidable point guard with his efficient passing and excellent ball handling. Not only did he lead the team in assists, Sanders finished in the top ten in the conference for assists per game and assist percentage. But Sanders real skill is as a scoring guard. As a freshman he was in the top ten in the Big Ten in scoring and also shot an impressive 48% from two point range. One thing he should work on offensively, however, is limiting turnovers. Though he had 4.3 assists per game, he also had 3.1 turnovers as well.
With a season under his belt and another offseason to develop, Sanders will be a major force in the Big Ten in 2016-17. That being said, he still needs his coach and supporting cast to take a step forward as well if Rutgers wants to improve from last year’s dismal results. .