Last night marked the triumphant return of MidKnight Madness at the RAC. So with the unofficial start to the season underway (practice actually began last week), it’s time to look at the top storylines for Rutgers entering the 2016-17 season.
Finally Some Height
The RU team that steps on the floor this season will look shockingly different from the last few years in terms of physical stature. For the first time in a long time, we have solid size and depth up front. In fact, we’re the biggest team in the conference. CJ Gettys and Shaquille Doorson are both 7-footers, and having that extra bulk certainly can’t hurt during conference play.
The Corey Sanders Show
By all accounts, Corey Sanders had a very solid freshman season for a team that struggled. In fact, he led all Big Ten freshmen in points (15.9), assists (4.3), and steals (1.8). And his near triple-double performance in a 3OT loss to Illinois — 39 points, 12 assists, 8 rebounds — was one of the highlights of the season.
However, he was also suspended for two weeks due to a violation of team rules.
So what can we expect this year under a new coaching staff? First off, I’d like to see his assists come up a bit (5+), especially now that he has more help around him. It’s his time to run the show and get his teammates going.
Also, while the steal numbers were impressive, there’s a sense that as a team, we were too focused on jumping passing lanes last season (and often getting burned) rather than staying home and playing sound defense. I think Corey takes a big leap forward defensively with the new staff emphasizing that part of the game.
New Sheriff in Town
Back in March, Rutgers hired Steve Pikiell as Head Coach. And in only a short amount of time, he’s already starting to put his stamp on this team. His tireless recruiting efforts have resulted in some big offseason additions, including Candido Sa and Issa Thiam. Coach Pikiell has also made it a point to focus on conditioning, and even dropped the classic (but somewhat frightening) quote, “They couldn’t even do a one-hour workout the first time,” when responding to a question about player conditioning when he took the job.
It seems like we’re headed in the right direction. The players are buying in, working hard, and getting their bodies ready for a rigorous Big Ten schedule. Coach Pikiell is a man with a plan. Even the Athletic Department is finally investing in the program.
Behind the scenes, we’re making all the right moves. The next step is to show progress on the court.