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Offseason to-do list keeps growing for Steve Pikiell



Photo Credit Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday, Steve Pikiell’s offseason to-do list just got longer and more complicated. With the departure of Cam Spencer, gone is the most efficient offensive player during Pikiell’s seven year tenure at Rutgers. Following a disappointing end to the 2022-2023 season, several roster spots remain open along with multiple staff positions to fill. It’s a critical stage for the direction of the program under Pikiell. As he steers the program forward through an ever changing college basketball landscape, let’s look at the many tasks Pikiell still needs to address as the offseason approaches Memorial Day.

Hire an Assistant Coach

It was reported that Karl Hobbs was leaving Rutgers for Georgia Tech on April 12. Pikiell typically takes his time in making such important decisions. Part of the delay was putting the search on hold prior to the initial transfer portal deadline. The process is now progressing and the sooner it gets completed, the better. How the candidate fits with Brandin Knight and TJ Thompson is obviously critical.

While Hobbs was the most senior of the group, Knight was the clear No. 1 the past few seasons. That dynamic isn’t changing anytime soon. Thompson has been a very good recruiter and likely moves up to the No. 2 role. Finding an assistant with an offensive pedigree and strong recruiting network should be priorities. Rutgers focuses on the New England prep circuit a lot so look for some connections there. Also Knight and Thompson are both more guard oriented, so someone who has coached bigs would be ideal.

Replace Tom Barrett

The former Director of External Operations returned to Sacred Heart as an assistant coach to work for head coach Anthony Latina, a long time friend of Pikiell. Leaving for a promotion is always a positive. Barrett handled a lot of operational things but also was a point person with analytics. It’s unclear if Pikiell plans to hire his replacement in a similar role or adapt the opening into a new role. Either way, whoever he does hire will be an important one. It could be a younger, up and coming candidate that can potentially grow long term within the program.

Complete Non-Conference Schedule

Rutgers is working hard to add a marquee non-conference game on the schedule, preferably on a neutral court. They’ve tried with several high majors but nothing has stuck yet. With road games at Seton Hall and Wake Forest, RU is also waiting on its Gavitt Games assignment. While speculation has grown that Georgetown at the RAC is the most likely scenario, these things can change. For NET purposes and strength of schedule, the top end of the slate needs to improve. Adding another high major opponent is a must, especially with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge now defunct.

I wouldn’t expect much difference with the rest of the non-conference schedule. It would be nice to see a quality mid-major at home and an upgrade in local competition. However, there won’t be any feast week tournament as an MTE against low major teams is in the works. While fans may bemoan the lack of a change in scheduling philosophy, you can point to Providence from last season as an example that shows avoiding bad losses with a few high end wins can get you into the NCAA Tournament field and still avoid Dayton. That being said, the low margin for error with the non-conference schedule could produce another roller coaster start to the season.

Create a contingency play while waiting for Paul Mulcahy and Cliff Omoruyi

The deadline for both veteran players to withdraw from the NBA Draft is May 31. While Cliff will likely go down to the wire, the chances of Mulcahy returning appear to be good. However, as we saw with Spencer, anything can happen at any time. I think it’s 50/50 on whether Cliff returns. He’ll likely have real money making pro options beyond getting drafted, which I discussed in detail earlier this week. It’s a huge decision for him and Rutgers. With Spencer now gone, Mulcahy is now more important than ever. If RU returns both players, the roster is much more experienced and stable. If they both leave, Pikiell would have five open scholarships to contend with heading into June. That would be a very difficult task to take on.

Fill Two Scholarships left by Ndongo and Spencer

Rutgers was already looking in the portal for big man options, but now you can add a guard to the shopping list as well. It’s an impossible task to convince a forward or center to seriously consider RU right now until Cliff makes a decision. Even though the spot is open because 4-star forward Baye Ndongo followed Hobbs to Georgia Tech, the dynamic is different in landing transfers. Finding a willing backup at the end of his career is like finding a needle in a haystack. However, the staff can focus on landing an impact guard right away.

While top options are mostly off the board due to the being so far into the offseason, there are players available who can help this team next season. More to come on potential targets, but obviously finding one along with setting the frontcourt are major priorities. While Rutgers does have three open scholarships as of now, targeting two additions is likely the plan for now. If Omoruyi does leave, opportunity will be easy to market but he’ll be hard to replace. To be continued.

Keep recruiting the class of 2024 commits and top target

Rutgers currently has the No. 2 recruiting class in the country for 2024. I covered in detail this week how well thought out the class as a whole is thought out. While three top 100 recruits in Lathan Sommerville (No. 94) , Dellquan Warren (No. 61), and Ace Bailey (No. 4) have tremendous individual potential, they fit well in that they have different skill sets. The possibility of landing Dylan Harper would elevate this class to another level. He’s not expected to decide until at least July at the earliest. Either way, Pikiell and the staff not only have to continue to pursue Harper, the No. 2 recruit in the nation, but also barricade their current commits from recruiting sharks before the early signing period in November.

Plan for August trip

Rutgers is headed to overseas in late summer to Senegal and Portugal, as first reported by Jerry Carino. The Scarlet Knights will play several exhibition games while taking in the local culture similar to the Spain trip in 2019. Pikiell gets ten in-season type practices before the trip. That’s valuable time for a program that is experiencing turnover and will have a different mix on the roster. While staffers are likely handling the legwork, but this is an important event that Pikiell is taking time to prepare for. It’s not only important to developing the team for next season, but it’s a great experience for his players and the entire program. He probably wasn’t expecting to have so much on his plate at this stage of the offseason. However, this trip provides a great opportunity to reset things and build chemistry right before the school year begins.

Develop returning players

While a head coach handles plenty of CEO level type issues while also getting paid like it, at the end of the day, player development is what many love to focus on the most. Pikiell loves it more than most and is a big reason why he prefers four year players, which are dying breed. However, with Derek Simpson, Antonio Chol, Antwone Woolfolk, Gavin Griffiths and Jamichael Davis, there is plenty of development work to be done this offseason. For a coach like Pikiell who is adapting to the changing environment in college basketball, this is a part of the job he enjoys and thrives in. Getting the freshmen and sophomores playing at a high level at the end of the summer versus where they begin is critical towards next season’s team depth.

There is no doubt that this offseason, Pikiell is earning his salary and recent contract extension. How he is able to manage all of these things over the next two months will be essential towards having a successful 2023-2024 season.

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  1. Henry Rutgers

    May 20, 2023 at 8:09 pm

    I swear the more articles you produce the better they get.

    • FlaRef

      May 21, 2023 at 8:33 am

      Great writing, enjoy the in-depth focus on RU sports you provide to the faithful!

      • Aaron Breitman

        May 21, 2023 at 10:48 pm

        Thank you for finding me after OTB and appreciate the kind words.

    • Aaron Breitman

      May 21, 2023 at 10:49 pm

      Thank you so much.

  2. RU Serious

    May 21, 2023 at 10:27 am

    Any update on Davis? This is such a bizarre situation with a no context around it.

  3. RU858

    May 21, 2023 at 3:45 pm

    Rutgers is extremely fortunate to have Coach Pikiell. I remain extremely confident that the program will be competitive in the B1G 2023-24, Jersey Mike’s will continue to be the most feared arena for visitors.

  4. InPikeWeTrust

    May 22, 2023 at 11:39 am

    This might be a year Pike maxes out his scholarships as opposed to leaving one open as he typically has chosen to do in the past. The transfer portal this late in the game, there will probably at least one swing and miss. I hope not but it’s going to be tough to not have one “Souf Mensah” type because of the lack of solid options. Should be fascinating how Pike navigates these stormy waters and bridges to the great 2024 Class.

  5. thevinman

    May 22, 2023 at 11:59 am

    Looks like being a D1 college basketball coach is getting a lot harder and more stressful. I doubt we see any more rigid disciplinarian coaches, some would say crazy, like Bobby Knight. Kids can now just leave if they are being hammered “for their own good”.

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