Tagged: Steve Pikiell

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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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.

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.

Rutgers Earns AP Top 25 Vote

College basketball’s Associated Press Top 25 poll was released today, and with it came some surprising news…

Apparently, Rutgers fans aren’t the only ones who have been impressed with Steve Pikiell and the Scarlet Knights this season.

The lone vote came from Scott Wolf, who covers the USC Trojans for the Los Angeles Daily News. Wolf had Rutgers ranked at #25 in his poll.

Recap: Rutgers vs. Niagara

Rutgers (4-0) used a dominating bench performance to take down Niagara (0-4) this afternoon by a score of 78-65. The win helped them reach 4-0 for the first time since 2000.

The game had its share of chippiness, and Corey Sanders was ejected after receiving his second technical midway through the second half. But the Knights persevered and picked up their fourth consecutive win to open the season. Steve Pikiell also became the first coach in school history to begin his tenure 4-0.

Here are the most important takeaways:

  • Interchangeable parts – This is easily the deepest team we’ve had in a long time, and that depth had a major impact on this game. Our bench outscored Niagara’s bench 42-3, with Nigel Johnson’s 20 points leading the way. Candido Sa, Mike Williams, and Eugene Omoruyi also played well on both ends of the floor. Most importantly, when Corey Sanders was ejected, we didn’t skip a beat. Huge plus.
  • Block party at the RAC – Steve Pikiell hangs his hat on defense, and the team defense was suffocating today. In total, Rutgers accounted for 11 blocks. Candido Sa led the way with 4, while CJ Gettys added 3, but that doesn’t even begin to describe all the shots altered on the way to the rim. Niagara shot just 31% on the day, but only 23% from 2-point territory. Had it not been for their hot 3-point shooting (50%), this game would have been a blowout.
  • Another big run to take control – At the 14:53 mark of the second half, Marvin Prochet hit a 3 to give Niagara a 42-41 lead. Over the next 5 minutes of game action, Rutgers went on a 16-0 run which effectively put the game on ice. This has been another common theme of the young season, and it’s nice to see the team fighting through adversity and imposing their will.
  • Weird day for the officials – Usually, I don’t harp on the officiating, but this was a weird one. In the first half, only 11 total fouls were called (6 on Niagara, 5 on Rutgers). The refs seemed to want to let the players play. Perfect officiating, in my opinion. But at the start of the second half, they began calling a MUCH tighter game, including touch fouls on the perimeter. And I’m really not sure what happened on the second Corey Sanders technical. It looked like he mumbled to himself (probably disputing the call) and the ref gave him the quick hook. It didn’t impact the game, but again, just a strange performance from the officiating crew.

Preview: Rutgers at DePaul

Rutgers (2-0) travels to DePaul (1-0) Thursday night for a Gavitt Games matchup with the Blue Demons. This will be the first road game for the Scarlet Knights and should provide some insight about how the season will unfold.

DePaul finished last season at 9-22 and is projected to be in the Big East cellar again this year. However, Rutgers has traditionally struggled away from home, and in years past, has been known to stumble in the out-of-conference part of the schedule.

Here’s what I’m looking for on Thursday night:

  • Control the painted area – This is the exact opposite of the situation Rutgers usually finds itself in. We actually have a significant size advantage for once. DePaul’s biggest rotation player is 6’7″, Rutgers boasts two 7-footers. I would expect us to attack that mismatch with the offense consistently running through the low post, primarily CJ Gettys, Candido Sa, and Deshawn Freeman. And we have to win the rebounding battle on both ends of the floor.
  • Bounce back game from Corey Sanders – After struggling on Sunday against Drexel, I’m expecting Corey to try to get his shot going early on in this one. An inside-out offensive attack should put him in good positions, so it’s up to him to make them count, whether it’s by hitting open jumpers or driving to the rim. His defensive performance may be even more important, though, as DePaul’s offense will run through its two big guards, Billy Garrett, Jr. and Eli Cain. Steve Pikiell talked a lot in the offseason about Corey’s defensive potential. Now he gets his first true test.
  • Under 40, Under 30 – Steve Pikiell’s defensive mantra. The goal is to hold the opponent to under 40% shooting from the field, and under 30% from 3-point range. They were able to pull it off against Drexel, as the Dragons shot 38% and 29%, respectively. If Rutgers can do it again, this should be a double-digit win.

Coming into the season, this game appeared to be a toss-up. However, after seeing our progress in the first two games (albeit against light competition), this has moved firmly into the “Should Win” category for me, even on the road.

DePaul is a small team, which means they shouldn’t get many second chances offensively. If we can close out on their guards and force them into tough looks, we’ll be in great shape.

This is a true barometer game to see how far the team has come in just a short time under Steve Pikiell. Win it, and we go to 3-0 for the first time since 2008.

Media Day Recap

Media Day for the Rutgers men’s basketball team went on as scheduled today, although it was slightly overshadowed by the earlier groundbreaking ceremony for the new RWJBarnabas Health Athletic Performance Center.

However, when Steve Pikiell finally made it to the podium, he spoke in depth about the upcoming season, including the work ethic of his team, the style they want to play, and even how the starting lineup is shaping up. He was poised and confident as he stood in front of the media members, and seemed very upbeat about the current state of the program.

Here is the full video from the press conference:

One of the things impresses me most about Steve Pikiell is his candor. He’s not afraid to tell the players (or the media) that they were in terrible shape for college athletes. He knows that we need to shoot the ball better. It’s a work in progress, but we’re making strides.

From a player’s perspective, you know what you’re going to get. Best defender on the team? You’re starting. Best rebounder? You’re starting. Work hard and learn in practice? You’ll earn your playing time. Simply put, he’s building an identity for Rutgers basketball and creating a competitive culture that hasn’t existed around here for a long time.

With just 10 days to the start of the regular season, we’ll soon be able to get a real sense for this version of the Scarlet Knights. And after hearing the coach today, I’m excited to see how far we’ve come.