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Rutgers roster review following Paul Mulcahy’s departure



Rutgers Scarlet Knights guard Derek Simpson (0) dribbles the ball around Penn State Nittany Lions guard/forward Seth Lundy (1) during the second half at Bryce Jordan Center. Rutgers defeated Penn State 59-56. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

With Paul Mulcahy following Cam Spencer out the door, Rutgers men’s basketball now has a clear view of the current roster. And now the clock is ticking to reload the roster. Rutgers now has to replace three starters from last season’s team and the fall semester begins in less than three months. They are also waiting on Mawot Mag’s return from injury. There are many questions with this team. While processing the news of Mulcahy leaving will take time, finding the right answers moving forward is what’s most important.

Here is the current scholarship breakdown for next season.

Frontcourt: Cliff Omoruyi, Mawot Mag, Antwone Woolfolk

Wing: Aundre Hyatt, Gavin Griffiths, Antonio Chol

Backcourt: Noah Fernandes, Derek Simpson, Jamichael Davis

There are four scholarships now available for next season. Rutgers also only has four veteran players with more than one season of college basketball experience. One of them, Mag, is recovering from an injury and unlikely to be ready when the season starts. Another, Fernandes, is new to the program. Omoruyi is now the longest tenured Scarlet Knight as he enters year four. Hyatt is the most experienced player on the roster, having played two seasons apiece for LSU and Rutgers, making the NCAA Tournament with both.

Simpson and Woolfolk showed promise last season. Rutgers needs both to take a significant step forward in their development this offseason. It’s typical for a player to make the biggest improvement from their freshman to sophomore seasons. RU needs that to happen in their cases. Simpson in particular has an opportunity to take the reigns of the offense to a large degree. He needs to improve his efficiency, particularly finishing at or near the rim, but his ability to create will be a weapon.

Gavin Griffiths arrives this weekend with high expectations and now greater opportunity to step in from day one. While Pikiell has shown restraint in working freshman into the rotation, his hand may be forced now to play Griffiths big minutes from the start. He could end up being the best offensive player on the roster. How he adjusts and develops on the defensive end is key to determining what his ceiling will be next season.

I think the core rotation as of now includes Omoruyi and Wolf inside, Hyatt as a hybrid between the 3 and 4, with Griffiths on the wing along with Simpson and Fernandes in the backcourt. That is a solid six man core group that will be bolstered by the eventual return of Mawot Mag. Better utilizing Cliff in space, Mag’s ability to get close to the level he played at last season, as well as Hyatt’s consistency are all important. However, it’s a thin rotation with a very low margin for error.

While Antonio Chol and Jamichael Davis both have a lot of potential, they cannot be counted on to be a regular contributor in the rotation next season. It’s possible they can develop into that role during the season, but Rutgers can’t rely on that happening.

The addition of Noah Fernandes in April is more critical now with the departures of Spencer and Mulcahy. He carried UMass offensively for multiple seasons and can step in to a big role immediately. Fernandes suffered a season ending injury in January, but he is a full go now. He has a tremendous opportunity now to impact Rutgers in a positive way next season. The importance of Fernandes cannot be overstated.

The needs are clear. Rutgers must add an impact guard that can play right away behind or alongside Simpson and Fernandes. The skill set of that guard addition will help determine how to fill things out. You may need size and a shooter still, so a wing could work. Or you may get a gunslinging guard and prefer to add a wing who can defend multiple positions. Rutgers could opt to grab a versatile defender who can be a complimentary piece offensively instead. It all depends on who they add first and what options are best available. They need a back up big man behind Cliff, Wolf and eventually Mag when he returns. I think Pikiell ultimately leaves the last scholarship open for a walk-on. Keep the focus on quality additions, not volume.

Finding three capable players at this late stage of the offseason will be an incredibly hard thing to do. However, the coaching staff is well prepared and is as capable to come through as any in such a difficult situation. The next few weeks are crucial in filling the sizable holes that now exist on the roster. The school year begins in less than three months. The program is headed overseas in two months. Summer workouts start next week. These are unique times. It is a blessing that the program will have extra practice time and play some exhibitions in August to figure things out once the roster is complete.

It’s been an offseason like no other. There is still a solid core on the roster. This is not a team in crisis. The reality of NIL and the transfer portal has just hit the program particularly hard. Responding to adversity and overcoming obstacles has been the true mantra of the Steve Pikiell era. There is no reason to doubt his ability to lead the program through this unprecedented offseason. However, his decisions on how to fill out the roster are now more critical than ever.

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  1. RU858

    June 9, 2023 at 2:18 pm

    Totally agree – Brian Fonseca’s “nightmare” clickbate is ridiculous.

    If Coach Pikiell learned anything from last year’s short-lived tournament experiences, it is that you cannot have enough depth. For this reason, I expect him to fill most/all of the 4 available scholarships from the transfer portal – even if it means someone with 1 year of eligibility remaining, regardless of natural position. Moving away from the lockdown defense identity, taking advantage of the speed of some of the new players should also help – and make it more difficult for competitors to game plan.

    Is it November yet?

    • InPikeWeTrust

      June 9, 2023 at 9:23 pm

      Yeah, Fonseca is pretty much a hack who is very quick to make “sky is falling” declarations. I’m sure he sleeps at night telling himself he is “Telling it how it is.” Problem with that rationalization is that the fact of the matter is Pike and staff continue to put a very competitive team on the court who never should be counted out. The lack of acknowledgement of this fact is pretty weak and very on-brand for I realize there’s an old adage that negativity sells but how many RU fans have they alienated and lost as readers over the years. That can’t be good for business.

      Now, I don’t want to pretend these recent developments have been good but there’s still much to look forward to. Simpson, Fernandes, Griffiths and Cliff could be an awfully exciting quartet on offense. Once Mag is back, he would complete a 5 that could perfectly compliment one another with their unique skill-sets. Plus, I’m super excited to see Wolf 2.0. Caleb was my guy all those years…now it’s Wolf.

      • InPikeWeTrust

        June 9, 2023 at 9:34 pm

        Not to beat a dead horse but I just read Carino’s article and the dichotomy between his and Fonseca’s couldn’t be greater. Jerry’s is spot-on in that he conveys how much of a gut-punch this news is but he also provides the necessary context of the realities of this new, wild era we have officially entered. At no point, does he tell the reader they should be in panic mode.

    • Aaron Breitman

      June 9, 2023 at 11:38 pm

      They’ll fill three spots and expect a Juco big at some point.

      • pj43

        June 10, 2023 at 2:08 pm

        I agree that it’s getting late to bring players in from the transfer portal, so JUCO appears to be the most likely avenue to fill spots. Mag seems to be the key here, i.e. how quickly he can return & how quickly he can recover his form. A 7 man core rotation is a must and the bare minimum, IMO, to compete in the Big Ten. Any new players, at this point, can only be expected to provide limited minutes while the core gets some rest. The good thing about all of this is that if anyone can scour the bushes & come up with serviceable bodies, it’s Pikiell.

  2. BataliBoli98

    June 9, 2023 at 10:12 pm

    I had Paul labeled as a valuable 6th man next year so it’s certainly not the end of the world as far as I am concerned but certainly a tough loss. The larger concern that I have is that if RU didn’t have the NIL money to keep Paul (assuming that is a the core of what is going on) then why should we think that RU will have the cash for at least three impact transfers? At this point, where are these guys going to come from and, sadly, where will RU find the money? As I read back over this post I can’t believe where the game has gone.

    • RU858

      June 9, 2023 at 11:19 pm

      I have a tough time seeing any NIL influence in Paul’s decision, shocked by the relatively high level of possible destinations proposed today by Fonseca – Kentucky??? Michigan??? Seton Hall??? Paul would likely thrive at a low-major program, with a bit less competition and pressure, fewer opportunities to lose his composure. I agree with Fonz that Norte Dame could be high on his wish list, unrelated to basketball.

      • Aaron Breitman

        June 9, 2023 at 11:34 pm

        Paul isn’t going to a low major LOL.

        Kansas, Gonzaga, West Virginia and Notre Dame are all involved along with Illinois. I haven’t confirmed Michigan.

        As I said in my podcast, his value has increased on the open market. NIL is definitely a factor in his decision to leave. Leaving on June 9 isn’t because of a change of environment for the sole sake of that. Do leave now with a limited time frame to make a decision is not ideal. But he has options.

        • InPikeWeTrust

          June 10, 2023 at 12:12 am

          At least these awful transfer situations are indications of how much Pike has upgraded the talent on this roster. Just look at the programs that pursued Cam and Paul.

          • RUinChiTown

            June 10, 2023 at 8:06 pm

            The NCAA has to end the “forever portal” for grad students. There does not appear to be a logical reason for this. IMHO it should be the same for all transfers. And now, sit-out a year for everyone — end the insanity (except for HC departure).

        • RU858

          June 11, 2023 at 12:45 pm

          You obviously have access to more, better information – one of the reasons we are here.

          While Paul does indeed have some impressive stats, the harsh reality is that there is ample video to show his strengths, as well as physical and mental weaknesses. I expect such programs to fully vet prospective transfers, just do not see how they could put him on the court – particularly in pressure situations.

          Perhaps a high major believes they can help Paul overcome the latter? Slim pickings in the transfer portal? If the latter, it does not bode well for Rutgers attempts to fill 4 spots.

  3. thevinman

    June 10, 2023 at 1:26 pm

    Definitely a lot of holes to fill. It will be interesting to see who coach Pikiell and his coaches bring in. One thing for sure is that our style of play will be different. We will see a lot of Simpson driving and dishing to Cliff.

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