With the college basketball season just 98 days away, it is time to start looking ahead to the 2022-2023 men’s basketball season. The Big Ten Conference as a whole has seen an enormous amount of turnover at a number of programs this year so much of fans’ interest will focus on what teams will shape up to from here.
With that in mind, today will be a look at the Rutgers Scarlet Knights who are one of the perfect examples of a squad featuring lots of question marks heading into the new season.
What is Rutgers ceiling in 2022-23?
In 2021-2022, Rutgers made the program’s first back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since 1975-1976. It was also just the second time RU has made back-to-back appearances in program history. However, much of that successful was in large part thanks to Ron Harper and Geo Baker. With those two gone, that leaves huge holes to fill in production on the court. Not just on offense, but defense and in the clutch moments late in games.
With that in mind, does Rutgers have what it takes to make the program’s first ever three-straight bid run for the NCAA Tournament? To that end, the schedule is a big part. The non-conference schedule offers plenty of win opportunities and Rutgers does get to play Minnesota, Northwestern, and Penn State twice along with a visit from Nebraska. All of that should hold the potential for a return trip should a few other conference wins materialize in there. However, more likely a NIT bid is the realistic minimum for this squad. Joe Lunardi does project the Scarlet Knights to return to the NCAA Tournament in 2023, however, and Andy Katz named the squad No. 5 in his Big Ten power rankings.
Who will step up?
Clifford Omoruyi will be a key producer on offense for Rutgers this year. As the leading returning scorer from last season (11.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg) and the No. 2 scorer last season, Omoruyi should be able to keep up the production this season down low and it will be badly needed.
A big jump is also expected from guard Paul Mulcahy. After a breakout junior season, the rising senior was the No. 4 scorer on the team last season with 9.0 ppg, along with 5.3 apg and 4.1 rpg. Mulcahy earned Honorable Mention All-Big Ten last season and was a key cog in relieving the burden on Baker at point to focus on his game elsewhere. In the absence of Baker and Harper, Mulcahy will have to step up his scoring or further improve his ability to feed teammates for Rutgers to sustain its recent success.
Finally, Caleb McConnell will also be more heavily relied upon by Rutgers this season. He demurred to Baker and Harper frequently on offense last season, which, while understandable, also is a big reason by the now fifth-year senior wasn’t flirting more closely with double-digit scoring last season. His 7.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, and 2.1 apg should be much higher this season, both for McConnell’s own benefit of being a go to scorer for the team and because that’s why Rutgers is likely to need out of him.
What are the key Games in 2022-23?
Rutgers will have an early road test on the season against the Miami (FL) Hurricanes on Nov. 30 before entering early Big Ten action. The Hurricanes finished ranked No. 41 in KenPom rankings last season and offer the first major test for the Scarlet Knights as a road game in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Other key non-conference matchups that will help determine Rutgers NET ranking come March will be home matchups against Seton Hall on Dec. 11 and Wake Forest on Dec. 17. In order to have a shot at the NCAA Tournament, Rutgers will need to get a win in at least one of these games and play competitively in the other two.
As for Big Ten play, the schedule is not yet out. However, the pairings are and RU will have a tough go with some of its home and away matchups. However, some of those games will prove pivotal for NCAA Tournament hopes and those include getting Michigan at home along with two shots at Ohio State and Michigan State.
The Spartans will be ripe for the picking in Piscataway, especially with lack of depth at center. That matchup may end up at Madison Square Garden based on preseason rumors, too. A sweep of Iowa could also be key to a tournament resume as well.
After that, it gets tough in selecting games that are winnable toss-ups versus more so viable upsets. Road games at Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana would fit the bill but are less of a given. Thus the above games mentioned seem the more likely matchups that will prove to be the make or break on a third straight NCAA Tournament bid come 2023.