New-look Rutgers is hoping to get back to the NCAA Tournament after missing a bid with a late slide

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Steve Pikiell is preparing for his eighth basketball season at Rutgers, and this one has the potential to be unlike any other.

The Scarlet Knights are embracing change. The roster has undergone significant transformations, the style of play remains uncertain, and the future of the program heading into another Big Ten season is unpredictable.

“We’re incredibly excited. We’ve added some highly talented newcomers through the transfer portal. Our freshman class is very promising,” Pikiell said. “We’re eagerly anticipating another outstanding year.”

Last season held promise for the Scarlet Knights, who had a 16-7 record and were on the brink of their third consecutive NCAA berth. Unfortunately, a 3-7 slump marred their chances, resulting in a 19-15 overall record, including a 10-10 record in the Big Ten. They settled for an NIT bid but were eliminated in the first round by Hofstra.

While center Cliff Omoruyi and forward Mawot Mag return to the team, guards Paul Mulcahy and Cam Spencer have transferred, and the two-time conference defensive player of the year, Caleb McConnell, has exhausted his eligibility.

However, Pikiell has effectively replaced them with a recruiting class and transfer group that could make this the most athletic and fastest team Rutgers has had in recent memory.

The incoming freshmen are led by Gavin Griffiths, a 6-foot-8 shooting guard who is one of the highest-rated recruits in the school’s history, and Jamichael Davis, a quick point guard. Joining them are transfers, including point guard Noah Fernandes from Massachusetts. They are all expected to make significant contributions.

Rutgers’ Cliff Omoruyi (5) dunks against Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis (23) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big Ten Conference tournament, Thursday, March 11, 2021, in Indianapolis. Rutgers begins their season Nov. 6 at home against Princeton. Credit: AP/Darron Cummings

In addition to Omoruyi and Mag, who is recovering from ACL surgery, guards Derek Simpson and returning forwards Aundre Hyatt, Antoine Woolfolk, Antonio Chol, and Oskar Palmqvist will also see playing time.


Throughout his coaching career at Stony Brook and Rutgers, Pikiell has emphasized a defensive-focused approach and a half-court offense that capitalizes on the 3-pointer.

However, with the newfound speed and talent of his team, Pikiell has been experimenting with an uptempo style during practice sessions, implementing a 14-second shot clock to increase the tempo. While this style didn’t yield favorable results in the first half of a recent exhibition against Rick Pitino’s St. John’s, Rutgers outperformed them in the second half when they switched to a half-court defense.

Whether Pikiell chooses to stick with the uptempo, pressing style or reverts to his tried-and-true half-court approach remains to be seen. He may incorporate elements of both strategies into the team’s gameplay.


Omoruyi declared for the NBA Draft in March but ultimately decided to return to Rutgers to complete his degree.

Last season, the Nigerian center averaged 13.2 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting 50% from the field. His 72 blocks ranked 15th in the nation and third in the Big Ten. Omoruyi reached double figures in scoring 26 times and double-digit rebounds 17 times.

He became the first Rutgers player since 1990-91 to lead the team in scoring, rebounding, and blocked shots.


Following last season, the Scarlet Knights experienced significant departures. The team’s defense will feel the loss of McConnell, and Mulcahy (9.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists) transferred to Washington while guard Cam Spencer (13.2 points) joined national champion UConn.

Bench contributors Dean Reiber transferred to Charlotte, and Jalen Miller chose Oral Roberts through the transfer portal.


Pikiell managed to secure a highly touted recruit in Griffiths, who is ranked between No. 20 and No. 30 nationally, making him one of the most highly regarded recruits to join the program. The only player with a higher ranking was guard Mike Rosario from St. Anthony in 2008.

Griffiths, a Connecticut native, averaged 24 points per game last season while playing in New England.

Fernandes led his team in scoring last season, averaging 13.4 points and 4.1 assists per game with a 45.2% shooting accuracy from 3-point range. Unfortunately, an ankle injury limited him to 11 games at Massachusetts.

Davis had an impressive final season in high school with averages of 22 points and 12 rebounds.

Center Emmanuel Ogbole, a junior college transfer, may not be fully ready until January due to his recovery from knee surgery. Jeremiah Williams, a forward from Iowa State, is unlikely to receive a waiver to play this season.


Rutgers allowed an average of 61.1 points per game last season, and with Omoruyi and Mag on the team, there is no reason to believe their defensive strength will falter. The season commences on November 6 with a game against Princeton in Trenton, New Jersey. Wake Forest, Mississippi State, Georgetown, and Seton Hall are also part of their non-conference schedule.


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