Rutgers men’s basketball opens 2023-2024 season on November 6. The new look Scarlet Knights will need its wings to produce on a consistent basis this season. With the intention to play faster, RU will be a bit different on both ends of the court. Here is a season preview for the Rutgers wings, which follows the backcourt preview as well as previewing the wings.
6’11” Cliff Omoruyi; 6’8″ Mawot Mag; 6’9″ Antwone Woolfolk; 6’11” Emmanuel Ogbole
Cliff Omoruyi is one of the best and most experienced centers in college basketball. His athleticism, rebounding and ability as a rim defender make him extremely valuable. Playing above the rim and moving well in open space are his strengths offensively. He brings a physical presence on the floor and is well respected by his teammates.
Mawot Mag blossomed last season before suffering a torn ACL in early February. His ability to defend multiple positions, play inside and out, as well as his fluidity in transition made him the ultimate glue guy last season. In addition, he brings a toughness and edge on the floor for Rutgers that was desperately missed after he was out last season. He has been a full go in practice but when he makes his season debut remains to be seen. Working Mag back into the rotation will be a process. No need to go to heavy with his workload early on. He’ll have some rust to shake off as well. However, the ceiling for this team is raised if Mag can eventually play near or at the level he was playing at before his injury.
Head coach Steve Pikiell said that Antwone Woolfolk is the most improved player on the roster. He flashed at times last season but having a first full offseason to focus on basketball should have a major impact on his game this winter.
Emmanuel Ogbole is super athletic and played well in one season of JUCO ball at Monroe College. However, he tore his ACL last March and is still working his way back. Because of that, it will be hard to expect or count on Ogbole being a contributor this season. I really like his upside long term and perhaps he can work his way into the rotation later in the season.
Rebounding should be a strength with Cliff, Mag and Wolf on the glass. They were all efficient last season with Omoruyi No. 126 nationally in offensive rebounding rate and No. 52 in defensive rebounding rate. With more guards who can penetrate this season, there could be more opportunities for the bigs on the offensive glass.
Cliff and Mag are the two best defenders on the team. Although there is come concen as to whether Rutgers as a whole can play at the same level defensively while playing more up tempo, they can rely on the duo to protect the rim and to disrupt shots on dribble penetration. Wolf has great footwork and if he can show progress as a defender, as well as the ability to hold up against 5’s, it would make the frontcourt even stronger.
The athleticism of this group is as good of any in the Big Ten. Omoruyi, Mag and Woolfolk can all run the floor well, execute in transition and play above the rim.
Health and depth are obvious one concerns, at least the first part of the season. How soon Mag returns and how long it takes him to get back into being a regular contributor remains to be seen. The key is having him back in the swing of things for January when its exclusively Big Ten play. That appears to be a realistic goal assuming he can return a good month or so before to get into game shape and find some rhythm. In addition, without Ogbole, Woolfolk is the only backup for Omoruyi. I think ultimately Wolf is best suited at the 4. The big question is whether he can defend Big Ten 5’s well enough for it not hurt Rutgers when Cliff is off the floor. Other than that, I think Wolf has a ton of upside.
If Rutgers does want to run more this season, having the bigs be proficient in making good outlet passes off of defensive rebounds is key to starting fast breaks. In addition, Cliff has been working on passing out of double teams in the halfcourt. Passing is a skill set the frontcourt needs to be able to be competent in this season or it could impact the pace of play that RU wants to be at.
Free throw shooting is another area of concern. Cliff shot 60.4% on 144 attempts last season while Wolf was just 9 of 20 for 45.0%. Mag was a good free throw shooter last season at 74.0% on 50 attempts. If Cliff can improve to the mid-60’s it would be significant. Woolfolk will get more attempts so any improvement would be a boost.
Cliff Omoruyi has gotten better every season. Last year, he became the first Rutgers player to lead the team in points, rebounds and blocks. His ceiling this season will be determined by whether he can be a better post player on the block in creating better scoring chances for himself and his teammates when passing out to the perimeter.
Mag was on a upward trajectory last season before the injury. How quickly he can return to form and potentially elevate his game even further will play a factor on how good Rutgers can be this season. Wolf will likely play both the 4 and 5 this season. Adding that versatility and if he could become a reliable rotation player would be a great development for Pikiell as well.
As a group, the frontcourt has a real chance to profit on the offensive glass and be efficient in scoring on second chance opportunities. Their defense will be the anchor for this team and their potential to excel in transition could raise the level of offensive production Rutgers can achieve.
Overall, there is a lot to like about the Rutgers frontcourt heading into the season. Getting healthy, staying healthy and managing foul trouble are obvious keys towards maximizing their production as a unit. If they can gel and be consistent contributors, Rutgers will pose problems in the paint for opponents in the Big Ten this season.
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