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More roster questions remain for Rutgers basketball as transfer portal deadline passes



Rutgers waits on the potential returns of Cliff Omoruyi and Paul Mulcahy. Photo credit Alex Martin/Journal and Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Rutgers men’s basketball cleared a major hurdle on Friday. The transfer portal deadline for players to enter and still be eligible for next season without having to sit out has now passed. While players can still enter the portal this offseason, they would have to sit out next season or petition the NCAA for a special waiver in order to play next season. Grad transfers are still able to transfer without penalty and remain eligible for next season.

At the same time, any player currently in the portal can transfer at any time and play next season if it’s their first time transferring. Any second time transfers would also need to petition the NCAA for a special waiver to play next season.

Rutgers fans can breath a sigh of relief that the core roster remains in place for next season. Of course, the unexpected is always possible but things are stabilized for now. While Dean Reiber, Oskar Palmquist and Jalen Miller transferred to other schools, all played limited roles last season. For a program having to fend off other high major schools more than ever in the NIL world, it’s impressive that head coach Steve Pikiell and they staff didn’t suffer any major defections.

Plenty of questions remain on how Pikiell and the coaching staff fill out the rest of the roster. the next few weeks will be key in finalizing the team for the 2023-2024 season. Having a the portal deadline behind them is a necessary step in doing so.

Here is a full review of the current roster as it stands and a look at some potential directions that Rutgers could explore in filling out the rest of the roster.

In the backcourt, Cam Spencer, Derek Simpson and Noah Fernandes form a strong core. In addition, 3-star point guard Jamichael Davis is still expected to sign soon. The only question with the backcourt is whether Paul Mulcahy will return next season. Rutgers has a good balance of experienced guards who can make shots along with athletic younger players who can dictate pace. Fernandes and Simpson gives RU weapons off the dribble who can create offense for themselves and their teammates. Spencer is an elite shot maker. If Mulcahy does return, Rutgers adds another experienced ball handler who is 4th all-time in assists in program history. I would expect Mulcahy to run the point again with Simpson and Fernandes taking some pressure off of him as well.

As for the frontcourt, there are plenty of questions and different ways that Pikiell and the staff can go from here.

Of course, the status of All-Big Ten center Cliff Omoruyi looms above all else. He is currently going through the NBA Draft evaluation process. He is competing at the NBA G League Elite Camp in Chicago this weekend along with Caleb McConnell.  The top performers at the camp will receive an invite to the NBA Draft Combine, which takes place from May 15-21. Adam Zagoria also reported that Omoruyi has worked out for both the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics so far. The deadline for early entrants to withdraw from the NBA Draft is May 31, so Rutgers will be have to wait another three weeks or so before knowing whether Cliff will return or not. The same can be said for Mulcahy, who has not had any reported interest on the NBA front and is still around the program.

While this is typical and a process that Pikiell has gone through every offseason. It seems logical that the program will add another frontcourt player from the transfer portal this offseason. However, their needs would differ depending on whether Cliff and Paul decide to return or leave.

If Omoruyi departs, Rutgers will be left with Mawot Mag, who is recovering from a torn ACL, and Antwone Woolfolk inside. While Wolf showed promise in his rookie season and hopefully can develop into a reliable contributor, the staff would need to add more experience along at the 5. While Mag is expected to be fully recovered at some point for next season, the timetable for when he will be ready to play is obviously a work in progress.

Aundre Hyatt announced he was coming back and provides much needed versatility. Hyatt appeared more comfortable on the perimeter last season, but is capable of playing inside as well. This is important if Mag misses significant time at the start of the season. Hyatt can rebound and defend against other 4’s. He started 17 games last season between the 3 and 4 spot. That’s a reason why Hyatt is better suited and more valuable as an option to fill multiple roles as the sixth man in my opinion. His ability to bring energy and spark the offense was more apparent when he came off the bench last season. He can also defend multiple positions. Having him available to shift matchups based on the opponent maximizes his value.

Top 40 recruit Gavin Griffiths and Antonio Chol are natural 3’s on the perimeter. Griffiths will add a lot offensively and is expected to play right away. However, if Hyatt is relied on more inside, Rutgers would be very inexperienced at the wing position. Griffiths has a chance to be a top shooter in the Big Ten immediately. How he is able to adjust defensively is the biggest unknow in regard to his ceiling next season. Chol is a project who is raw but can score in multiple ways. He cannot be counted on for major minutes yet but could develop and contribute more as the season progresses.

The question now is how will Rutgers ultimately fill out the roster now? If Cliff and Paul do return as well as Davis joining the fold as expected, two scholarships would still be open for next season.

We know that 4-star recruit Baye Ndongo is no longer coming. Two offensive minded players in Fernandes and Griffiths should be big additions. Both can be capable defenders but will need time to get comfortable playing in Pikiell’s defensive system.

If Cliff returns, does Wolf continue to back him up at the 5? Or does he shift to the 4 full-time or play both positions at times? If Cliff doesn’t return, does Wolf become the primary 5? Will Rutgers then bring in multiple players at the 4 and a backup 5? Will Hyatt play a 3/4 hybrid again or stick to one position? How much will Mag’s timetable to return from injury impact who they pursue?

Obviously, recruiting within the transfer portal is a must. However, who they now target and at what positions will be interesting to watch for. Of course, it will all depend on who they prefer and make a priority in the portal. I think based on what they have with Mag, Wolf, Hyatt and Griffiths, there is some flexibility in how they build depth and fill a spot. Rutgers could feasibly add transfers at the 3, 4 and 5 spot. If they choose to add just two players, then the versatility of Mag, Wolf and Hyatt allows the staff to adjust based on who they ultimately want to bring into the program.

The good news is that Rutgers does have roster flexibility and many key contributors returning. Now it’s about finding the right fits fill gaps. That might just mean one additional player if everyone else in question returns. Whether they do and who is added could dictate the playing style that Pikiell wants to play next season.. Improving offensively seems likely with more weapons already added. How the team evolves on that end while maintaining its defensive identity will likely be a priority.

Here is a current snapshot of the Rutgers roster as of now.

Frontcourt: Mawot Mag, Antwone Woolfolk

Wings: Aundre Hyatt, Gavin Griffiths, Antonio Chol

Backcourt: Cam Spencer, Noah Fernandes, Derek Simpson

*Cliff Omoruyi and Paul Mulcahy can potentially return*; *Jamichael Davis (expected to sign)*

To watch or listen to my podcast episode discussing the importance of the next few weeks including filling multiple openings on Steve Pikiell’s staff, click here.

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  1. FlaRef

    May 12, 2023 at 10:24 am

    Was a replacement named for Coach Hobbs?

  2. pj43

    May 12, 2023 at 3:49 pm

    As always, I appreciate all the work you put into this website, Aaron. For me, it’s much the same concern each season – front court depth. In my opinion, RU needs a center type player out of the portal for next season regardless of whether Cliff returns or not. For me, Cliff is not an NBA draft player at this stage of his development and would greatly benefit from another year of college ball at RU to further hone his defensive play and maybe become more offensively efficient. I agree his low post skills are incomplete at best. I’m very high on Woolfolk, but if Cliff doesn’t return, there’s no way RU survives the Big Ten gauntlet with Woolfolk, Mag (an open question remains as to effective he’ll be after his injury) and Hyatt. One last thought on PM. I’d love to see him back with a clear head and an attitude to just play with freedom and to hell with the rest. Don’t worry – be happy! He’s a wonderful young man and I think he’d benefit from a final year where he can just be Paul from high school days

  3. BataliBoli98

    May 12, 2023 at 4:59 pm

    Aaron, I wonder if there are any realistic big men still in the portal if Cliff does what I think that he likely will do and go pro. If not, then Pikiell will really need to do seek out a grad transfer or two. I think that it’s a mistake for RU to go into next season with Wolf as the starting 5. Assuming Mag starts on the injury list, Wolf is the ideal 4 playing alongside a proven 5. I really hope this works out because RU’s talent and depth at the 1, 2, and 3 spots is very impressive.

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