Mamadou Doucoure Commits

Rutgers picked up its first commitment for the incredibly important 2018 class today, when 4-star Power Forward Mamadou Doucoure announced that he was becoming a Scarlet Knight.

Doucoure currently plays at Our Savior New American School (NY) and is listed at 6’9, 220 lbs. He also had offers from UConn, Creighton, Georgia Tech, Oregon, Pittsburgh, Seton Hall and St. John’s.

Andrew Slater broke the news earlier this morning…

This is a major addition. Doucoure had some top-tier teams interested and chose Rutgers. In his initial interview with 247 Sports, he mentioned how much love he felt from the Rutgers staff, specifically Steve Pikiell and Brandin Knight. They made sure he was a top priority throughout the process and were rewarded for their efforts.

But my favorite quote from that article comes from Doucoure’s high school coach Eric Jaklitsch, “There is no doubt in the metropolitan area that everyone has been impressed with the coaching and development going on at Rutgers.”

Wow. When was the last time we heard praise like that from a local high school coach?

The 2018 class is vitally important for RU. The current top four bigs in the rotation will all be gone (Gettys, Freeman, Sa, Doorson) so we’ll need to reload the front line. Luckily, it’s shaping up to be a really talented class, especially in the metro area. And Pike and his staff, in a very short time period, have already shown they can get it done on the recruiting trail.

There’s still more work to do, but for now, let’s just enjoy the early Christmas present.

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Recap: Rutgers at Miami

The Scarlet Knights fought hard but couldn’t keep up with Miami on Wednesday night, resulting in our first loss of the season (6-1).

The Miami lead was only 6 points at the half, but Rutgers went ice cold early in the second half, going 8 minutes without scoring a point. That allowed the Hurricanes to extend it to a 21 point gap with 11 minutes left to play.

The Knights continued to fight through the rough patch, and cut the lead to 10 at one point, using a healthy dose of their full-court press. But it wasn’t enough, and Miami finished off a 73-61 win.

Here are the key takeaways for me:

  • Killed on the glass – This was a complete 180 from what we’ve seen through the first 6 games. Rutgers entered with gaudy team rebounding numbers, but Miami dominated the boards in this one. The final margin was 44-32, and honestly, I was surprised to see it was that close. We looked a step too slow and our box-outs left a lot to be desired. Miami was easily the most athletic team we’ve faced so far and they made us pay for the mistakes.
  • Shooting woes – The final numbers weren’t pretty. 36% from the field, 20% from 3-point land. But as I highlighted in the game preview, that’s what Miami does to opponents. Rutgers’ shooting actually improved quite a bit in the last 9 minutes, but it was too little too late. It’s very hard to win a road game when the numbers are that poor. The ball movement was good, the looks were there, we just couldn’t capitalize tonight.
  • Effort to the end – I don’t want to overstate this because I’m not big on moral victories, but I appreciated the fight the guys had all the way to the end. Being down 21 points on the road midway through the second half is not an easy position to be in, but they continued to work on the defensive end. The full-court pressure was effective and forced a few turnovers. I would bet this is something we use more moving forward. Overall, not a great night from a shooting standpoint or even a fundamentals standpoint, but we never gave up.

Next up — vs. Morgan State on Saturday night at the RAC

Preview: Rutgers at Miami

On Wednesday night, Rutgers (6-0) travels to Miami (4-2) as part of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. This is only the second game away from the RAC for the Knights, and will also provide their stiffest test so far.

The Hurricanes started the season with 4 straight wins, but stumbled a bit at the AdvoCare Invitational Tournament, losing their last two games to Iowa State and Florida. In both of those losses, Miami scored only 56 points, well below their 2015-16 scoring average of 75.2 points.

For Rutgers, this is an opportunity to prove themselves on a big stage. They already picked up their first road win since 2014 earlier this month (beating DePaul 66-59), but this is clearly a step up in competition.

Here’s what I’ll be looking for on Wednesday:

  • Defense, defense, defense – Both of these teams have been terrific on the defensive end of the floor. Miami is currently 12th in the nation in scoring defense (58.7 ppg), while Rutgers is ranked 37th (62.5 ppg). In addition, Miami is holding opponents to only 37.4% from the field (28th in the nation). Rutgers is not far behind, holding opponents to 37.7% (36th best). Who blinks first?
  • Matchup in the paint – Miami will be able to throw more size at us than any team we’ve seen so far. Deshawn Freeman has been excellent recently, and was just named NJ Hoops Player of the Week. CJ Gettys is averaging 9 points and 6 rebounds this season. Candido Sa is averaging 5 rebounds and 2+ blocks per contest. That’s all great, but we’ve had a significant size advantage in every game. So how will our bigs respond to the challenge that the Canes provide?
  • Handling the environment – On paper, this is probably the toughest game on our non-conference schedule. This is the type of game that we lose by 25+ last year. But that’s last year. This version of the Scarlet Knights seems much more prepared to handle a difficult environment. Win or lose, I’m expecting us to compete, hustle and defend for 40 minutes. Considering where we were last season, that would be a huge step forward and a great sign for the future.

Recap: Rutgers vs. Hartford

If you read the game preview post for this one, you’ll remember I highlighted three areas that we needed to focus on – field goal defense, reducing turnovers, and rebounding. Let’s just say Rutgers went 0 for 3 in those areas. Fortunately though, we were still able to get a win, thanks to a late run and some tremendous defense down the stretch.

Here are the key takeaways from a hard-fought game:

  • Deshawn Freeman is a star – Simply put, the Knights don’t come close to winning this game without Freeman. After posting 13 points and 15 rebounds against North Texas on Wednesday, Freeman was even better in this one, finishing with 26 points and 10 rebounds. I thought he brought great energy and it was obvious that his play was igniting his teammates and the crowd. Just an all-around excellent performance from our captain.
  • The atmosphere at the RAC – Without question, the loudest I’ve heard the RAC in a long time. And not just during the late run. The crowd was into the game throughout, praising the defensive effort, applauding hustle plays, and doing everything they could to make Hartford uncomfortable towards the end. The student section was, not surprisingly, a little light (afternoon game right after a holiday), but the fans who were there definitely made an impact. If we can rock the RAC like that consistently, it will be a huge advantage moving forward.
  • Resiliency – This is the first time this season that Rutgers faced a deficit in the last 5 minutes, and they rose to the challenge. Down 70-57 with 5:02 left, the Knights responded with a 20-5 run to grab the win, capped off by a CJ Gettys put-back with 6 seconds remaining. With only one day to prepare, Rutgers struggled defensively to keep up with hot-shooting Hartford. But they never gave up, and managed to regain their footing just in time. If there were any doubts about this team buying in, they were put to rest today.

As an added bonus, here is that closing sequence one more time. Enjoy.

Next Up – at Miami on Wednesday night in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge

Preview: Rutgers vs. Hartford

Quick turnaround for Rutgers (5-0) as they get back in action against Hartford (1-4) on Friday afternoon. This is shaping up to be a classic trap game for the Knights, who face Miami on Wednesday in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

So the question is, will Rutgers be able to stay focused on the task at hand and improve to 6-0?

Here’s what I’ll be looking for:

  • Field goal defense – Rutgers ranks 23rd in the nation in Field Goal Defense, allowing opponents to only shoot 35.8% so far. Hartford ranks 282nd in the nation in Field Goal Percentage (40.9%). On paper, Rutgers should be able to handle this team defensively. But stranger things have happened.
  • Reducing the turnovers – One of the areas that has been problematic for us this season has been turnovers, with an average of 13 per game. At times in the first half against North Texas, the offense looked confused and out of sync. We’ve been lucky to overcome such issues so far, but this needs to be cleaned up before we get into the heart of the schedule.
  • Increasing our rebounding margin –  Another major statistical advantage for Rutgers. Currently, the Knights are 3rd in the nation with a 19.8 rebound margin over their opponents. Hartford is at the opposite end of the spectrum: 334th in the nation with a -9.8 rebound margin. Like several of our opponents so far, they also don’t have a rotation player taller than 6’8″. We need to use our size to our advantage and take care of business on the boards.

As I said in the preview for North Texas, the team’s job this week is to avoid any letdowns. We already put one game in the win column. We need to do the same on Friday afternoon against Hartford.

Recap: Rutgers vs. North Texas

The Scarlet Knights (5-0) stayed perfect on Wednesday night, defeating North Texas (1-3) by a score of 66-53.

The first half was slow and plodding, with both teams getting off to an ice cold start. But as has been the case often this year, Rutgers surged in the second half and pulled away for a comfortable win.

Here are the most important takeaways:

  • Master of Adjustments – I don’t know what Pike is telling his guys in the locker room, but whatever it is, it’s working. This was the third game in a row that’s been tight going to the break, and each time we’ve taken over the game and extended the lead in the second half. This time, it was a 18-2 Rutgers run midway through the second half that did the damage.
  • Overcoming a poor shooting night – You want a positive sign from a fairly sloppy game? How about Rutgers shooting 37% from the field and 15% from 3-point range and still winning by double-digits? Luckily, the best ways to overcome poor shooting are the two biggest strengths of this team – defense and rebounding. Rutgers was excellent in both areas again tonight, holding North Texas to 33% from the field and winning the rebounding battle 53-28. Even more impressive, the Knights were able to defend without fouling, giving North Texas only 6 free throw attempts overall.
  • The Captain breaks out – Deshawn Freeman was one of the few bright spots on last year’s team, but struggled to establish himself in the game against Niagara. Not tonight. He posted 13 points and 15 rebounds in 28 minutes and was the best player on the floor for extended stretches. This was his third double-double on the season.

Next Up – Hartford on Friday afternoon at the RAC

Preview: Rutgers vs. North Texas

The Scarlet Knights (4-0) are off to their best start since 2000 and return to the RAC to take on North Texas (1-2) on Wednesday night. There seems to be a genuine buzz building around RU early on in the season, and on Sunday, Steve Pikiell became the first coach to begin his tenure with 4 consecutive wins.

Rutgers will face a quick turnaround after this game, as they face Hartford on Friday afternoon at the RAC. But for now, the only focus is North Texas.

Here’s what I’m looking for:

  • Corey Sanders return – In case you’ve forgotten, Corey was ejected after a second technical foul against Niagara. In the postgame press conference, it was obvious that Pike was not happy with the way Corey handled himself on the court. Personally, I didn’t see much in either technical, but I agree that Corey has to use a little more restraint. Especially considering that he was suspended last year for multiple games. I think he understands that now and is ready to move forward, and I expect a big game from him on Wednesday.
  • More exceptional bench play – The reserves were incredible against Niagara, running up a 42-3 advantage in bench points. I would think that Nigel Johnson eventually breaks into the starting lineup, and maybe that even happens for this game. Even if he does though, there is still plenty of talent available to spell the starters. Candido Sa and Mike Williams, in particular, have both been excellent so far.
  • Fast start – I know, I know. This was one of my keys for last game too. But I think it’s even more important here with the quick turnaround afterwards. North Texas is currently ranked at #287 by KenPom, while Rutgers has moved up to #151. North Texas also lost to Drexel by 21, just one week after Rutgers beat Drexel by 21. These are positive signs for RU. Nothing is ever guaranteed, but I’d love to see us come out of the gates fast and put this one away early.

As great as it is to be 4-0, I’m sure Steve Pikiell is doing everything he can to keep the players grounded and playing as a team. The focus for this week has to be avoiding any letdowns and adding two more W’s.

That starts tomorrow night at the RAC.