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Three questions for Rutgers-St. John’s exhibition

Saturday’s matchup will provide a valuable test for the Scarlet Knights.



Photo credit Aaron Breitman

Rutgers will face St. John’s  in an exhibition game on Saturday, October 21 benefitting the Dick Vitale Pediatric Cancer Research Fund at the V Foundation. Tip-off is at 2:00 p.m. in Jamaica, New York at Carnesecca Arena. It’s a tremendous preseason test for both programs. Here are three questions this matchup can help Rutgers answer ahead of the season beginning in just over two weeks.

Can Cliff Omoruyi become an elite big man?

Don’t get me wrong, Cliff Omoruyi is already very good. Last season, Omoruyi became the first player to lead Rutgers in scoring, rebounding and blocks since the great Keith Hughes did it 32 years prior. Cliff averaged a team high 13.5 points on 51.5% shooting along with 9.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in 30.3 minutes per game last season. In Big Ten play, Cliff was third in league action with 9.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks. He was named an All-Big Ten Defensive Team selection along with being named Second Team All-Big Ten by the media and Third Team All-Big Ten by the coaches. The former 4-star recruit was 22nd nationally with a 9.1% block rate and 1st in Big Ten play at 9.4%. He was also 52nd nationally with a 24.5% defensive rebounding rate and 126th with an 11.5% offensive rebounding rate.

The preseason All-Big Ten selection is even more important for Rutgers this season. He brings balance on the court with his physical presence, rim defending ability and emphatic dunking. His athleticism is elite and he’s been nothing but an unselfish player his entire career.

The question this season is whether Cliff can make the leap to becoming a truly dominant and elite player? Can he be more dynamic offensively, be even more efficient on the glass and become a reliable passer in finding shooters on the perimeter?

Saturday will provide an immediate test as Omoruyi will go head to head with St. John’s star Joel Soriano. Both players are 6’11” and were named second team selections in their respective leagues last season. In fact, Soriano was named the Big East’s Most Improved Player last season. Rick Pitino spoke this week about Soriano being in better shape this season and is counting on him for major production. The Johnnies big man will surely want to make a positive impression to his new coach. Expect a high level battle between Soriano and Omoruyi in this exhibition. How Cliff performs against arguably the best center he’ll face this winter not named Zach Edey will give a indication of his ceiling for the season ahead.

Will it be a track meet or a car crash?

It’s no secret that Rutgers wants to play fast this season. Pitino wants the Johnnies to play even faster, comparing their desirable pace “like a ping pong game”. He mentioned turnovers being an issue in playing an up tempo style. Steve Pikiell has expressed concerns about how Rutgers will handle the faster pace from a defensive perspective. Both teams will be playing a new style for the first time on Saturday. It’s likely going to lead to some sloppy play. Whether Rutgers adapts and adjusts well or not against a fellow high major in its first opportunity to play fast, it’s an invaluable experience to get in the preseason.

RU is expected to utilize the full court press this season and they could profit on Saturday against the Johnnies. Playing under control and limiting their own mistakes is obviously key. That will largely be the responsibility of lead guards Noah Fernandes and Derek Simpson. How they handle pressure from the Johnnies and how they keep the team on the floor together is crucial. Fernandes in particular has a lot of experience and his poise will be hugely important this season. Simpson has raised expectations and could flourish playing in a more open style. Seeing how both perform on Saturday will be telling ahead of the season getting underway.

How deep is Rutgers actually?

Pikiell said of his team earlier in the preseason that “I like our depth this year. We haven’t had this in past seasons. Every guy can come in and help us in different ways.” At Big Ten Media Day, Pikiell said “I like the fact we can go 11 or 12 players deep this year. We really didn’t have that kind of depth the last couple of years so when we got an injury, it hurt us.”

On the other side, Pitino said this week that “Against Rutgers, we’ll play ten people. And will probably sub by units. Try to make the units balanced with as far as experience playing with young players.”

Being an exhibition, it makes sense to get as many players some action as possible. It will mark the debut for freshmen Gavin Griffiths and Jamichael Davis, along with transfers Austin Williams and Fernandes.

How Pikiell utilizes his rotation and lineups will likely be more experimental than what he’ll employ against Princeton. It’s important to do so, especially in playing a faster paced style. What will be interesting to watch for is certain personnel combinations such as Cliff and Antwone Woolfolk playing together as well as big and small lineups.

How much balance Rutgers gets production wise will be a key takeaway.

The important thing to remember is that it’s just one exhibition game. No matter what happens, positive or negative, it’s a benefit for the program to get some valuable run against a projected top half Big East team.

Ticket Info

You can purchase tickets for the Rutgers- St. John’s charity exhibition at Carnesecca Arena on Saturday, October 21 here. Available tickets are limited. Admission is first-come, first-serve in the respective levels. The exhibition game will not be streamed not televised or on the radio. Check The Scarlet Faithful for postgame coverage.

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The Scarlet Faithful is a comprehensive site dedicated to covering Rutgers Athletics owned and operated by co-founder Aaron Breitman. He has been a fan of Rutgers sports since the 1980’s, is a 2000 graduate of Rutgers College and has covered Rutgers athletics since 2015. Aaron is a credentialed media member for the athletic department and a voting member for Big Ten basketball. The Scarlet Faithful provides original content with articles, podcasts and video analysis on a daily basis.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. BataliBoli98

    October 20, 2023 at 9:48 pm

    Couldn’t agree more on all of these. I am also looking at will RU continue what we saw overseas by taking a lot more 3s than in prior years. Go RU!

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