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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