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Rutgers 2017-18 Preview: The Bigs, and Laying a Foundation

This is how you build up a program in Year Two.

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Northwestern
This year, the Rutgers frontcourt looks to take a step up.
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

In the weeks leading up to the 2017-’18 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 take a look at the Rutgers big men. CJ Gettys is gone, and while there’s no proven replacement, the Scarlett Knights have some intriguing pieces as they start their second year on the climb out of the Big Ten cellar.

BTPowerhouse Preview - Rutgers Frontcourt

2016-17 All-Big Ten Qualifiers: CJ Gettys (People’s Champion*)

Key Departures: Ibrahima Diallo (Transfer), CJ Gettys (Ascended to Asgard)

Key Additions: Myles Johnson, Mamadou Doucoure

Top Player: Up for Grabs

CJ Gettys may not have made an official All-Big Ten team, but the senior graduate transfer was one of the most likable players in the conference and he played no small part in helping Coach Pikiell change the culture in the Rutgers program. He gets the unofficial BT Powerhouse People’s Champion award.

And we should talk about Gettys, because he is a good demonstration of the interesting contrast between Year One of a rebuild and Year Two. In Year One, you try to patch whatever holes you can just so you can have a serviceable roster. That means bringing in transfers and hoping they can contribute like Gettys did. But in Year Two, the bleeding has been stanched and you start building the foundation for the future. That’s exactly what Steve Pikiell is doing, bringing three freshman (if you include walk-on Luke Nathan) and no transfers into the Rutgers frontcourt this coming season.

Starting Lineup

Ordinarily, this would be where I discussed the projected starters for Rutgers, then the bench players. But I’ll be honest, I have no idea who is going to start for the Scarlet Knights.

The two returners for Rutgers are Candido Sa and Shaquille Doorson. Sa played the most minutes last year, but Doorson put up better numbers in more limited minutes. (The exception was free throws, where Doorson shot an abysmal 20% from the line.) While Sa didn’t put up great shooting numbers last year, he has the ability to step outside and take jumpers, whereas the 7’0” Doorson is more of a traditional 5.

The two scholarship newcomers are freshman Myles Johnson and Mamadou Doucoure. Doucoure was ranked as a 4-star recruit by some services, and he was originally part of Rutgers’ 2018 recruiting class before reclassifying so that he could play this season. Johnson is a 3-star recruit from Long Beach California. The two freshmen, especially Doucoure, are more talented than Sa and Doorson on paper, but freshmen are still freshman and it takes longer for big men to get acclimated to the college game.

Bench Rotation

Not knowing who the starters are going to be is a good problem for Coach Pikiell. A program’s culture isn’t built so much through the games themselves as it is in the practice gym, and with starters minutes up for grabs the day-in-and-day-out competition at practice is likely to be that much more fierce.

There’s nothing like the specter of sitting on the bench to motivate a guy. And there’s something to be said for having the option to take a player out of the game when he makes a boneheaded decision. With two freshman who should see plenty of minutes, it’s a sure thing Rutgers fans will see their fair share of boneheaded decisions. But unlike in future years where boneheaded decisions served as an indicator of how deeply in the toilet Rutgers’ program was, this year, for the first time in a long time, they will be teaching opportunities for a future that looks reasonably bright.

Overall

This is Year Two of the rebuild. Last season Coach Pikiell was successful in establishing a better culture. This year, the goal will be to establish a successful process to serve as a foundation. And next year the goal will be successful outcomes. Big Ten writers picked Rutgers to finish 14th in the league again this year. Maybe so, but the slope for this program is upwards. Rutgers fans are going to enjoy watching their team this year.