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Big Ten men’s basketball preview: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Can Rutgers take the next step after making the tournament last season?

NCAA Basketball: Lehigh at Rutgers Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Head coach: Steve Pikiell (sixth season)
2020-21 record: 16-12 (10-10)
Season finish: NCAA tournament second round

What comes back

The Rutgers are bringing back two of their top players in forward Ron Harper Jr. and guard Geo Baker. Harper and Baker were two of the three Scarlet Knights to average double-digit scoring last season, with Harper leading the team at 14.9 points per game and Baker averaging 10.4 points per game. Harper also averaged 5.9 rebounds per game, and Baker averaged 3.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.2 steals per contest.

Other key returners for the Scarlet Knights are guards Caleb McConnell and Paul Mulcahy and center Cliff Omoruyi. LSU transfer Aundre Hyatt should play big minutes off the bench for Rutgers, and San Jose State transfer Ralph Agee will provide some depth in the rotation. Other returning players to provide depth are Jaden Jones, Dean Reiber, Mawot Mag and Oskar Palmquist

What was lost

The Scarlet Knights lost a solid amount of production to the transfer portal, and will have to look hard to find the replacements elsewhere. Starting point guard from last season Jacob Young is likely the biggest loss, as he took his talents to Eugene to play for Oregon. Young was the other Rutgers starter to average double digits on the season. Young averaged 14.1 points, 3.4 assists and 1.7 steals per game for Rutgers.

Former big man and center Myles Johnson is also starting a new chapter at UCLA after averaging 8.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per game last season for Rutgers. Johnson also averaged 2.4 blocks and 1.1 steals on the defensive end. Guard Montez Mathis transferred to St. Johns after averaging 8.3 points and 2.8 rebounds per game for Rutgers. All in all, three of the Rutgers’ top five scorers from last season transferred to different schools this offseason.

Anytime a team loses that kind of production it is hard to replace, but Rutgers is in a particularly interesting spot because they did not bring in a whole lot to replace it. Two transfers and one recruit in three-star point guard Jalen Miller will have to help the returning cast win some games.

Against Ohio State in the Chris Holtmann era

Rutgers and Ohio State have not played each other that often in the program’s history, but when they have it has been mostly Ohio State. Before 2015, the team two teams had only played one time, and it was a Rutgers victory in 1978. Since Chris Holtmann arrived in Columbus, Ohio State has pretty much dominated Rutgers, winning six of the seven matchups.

The Buckeyes have won four of the seven matchups by double digits, and the one Rutgers win was by just three points on one of the Ohio State’s worst shooting days of the 2018-19 season.

Season prediction

Rutgers is another team that is hard to pin down with what the ceiling and floor of its roster is. Harper and Baker are two solid and productive players to have back, and Cliff Omoruyi is a center that Pikiell and his staff believe can be a solid replacement to Myles Johnson.

Rutgers has played one game, opening their season against Lehigh on Wednesday night. The Scarlet Knights won in overtime, 73-70, and it was not the start that would inspire confidence in this team.

Ron Harper Jr. was great, scoring 14 points and adding 10 rebounds, two assists, four steals and two blocks with no turnovers in 38 minutes. Geo Baker struggled, shooting just 4-for-15 in the contest. Omoruyi was great as well, recording 16 points and nine rebounds in 24 minutes of play. The bench production was lacking, as Aundre Hyatt recorded eight of their 14 bench points.

It seems this season that Rutgers will go as Harper, Baker and Omoruyi go. Their success can determine what the Scarlet Knights do, especially come time for conference play.