Rutgers Basketball Needs to Toughen Up and Dominate the Inside Game

Piscataway – Aundre Hyatt has enough experience to understand that the college basketball season is an unpredictable journey. In the past, Rutgers opened its Big Ten campaign with a victory over Indiana only to end up exiting the NIT in the first round. Similarly, in a previous season, they opened league action with a significant loss at Illinois and eventually reached the NCAA Tournament.

Having gone through these roller-coaster experiences, Hyatt put Saturday’s 76-58 conference-opening loss to Illinois into the right perspective.  

“We don’t have to panic – it was one game,” the postgrad wing said. “But we got destroyed on the boards. We do have to get more physical.”

The Illini’s 55-27 advantage on the glass was an embarrassment for a program that prides itself on physicality. How did this happen?

Kudos to an impressive Illinois squad, but part of the problem is intractable for Rutgers.

“Their guards were a lot bigger than us, so that made it easier for them to crack down,” Hyatt said.

Rutgers’ best laid plans for its backcourt were disrupted when two starting guards from last season, 6-foot-6 Paul Mulcahy and 6-foot-4 Cam Spencer, unexpectedly left during the late spring, leaving smaller backcourt mates in the spotlight.

Transferring is common in college hoops, but the timing of these departures caused a considerable setback for Rutgers.

With the current lineup, Rutgers should focus on maximizing the potential of its players, particularly the 6-foot-11 senior Cliff Omoruyi, who needs to step up his performance after the recent disappointing defeat against Illinois.

It’s imperative for Rutgers to reevaluate and adapt its strategy to compensate for the team’s shortcomings, especially in preparation for upcoming games against Wake Forest and Seton Hall.

“It is on the coaches and on me to figure this out,” Pikiell said. “I didn’t have these guys where they needed to be, and I need to look at my approach.”

This early setback offers a valuable learning experience for Rutgers, highlighting the need to prioritize toughness before it’s too late.

“It’s only one game,” Hyatt said. “But they were the more physical team tonight. We’ve got to get that fixed.”

Jerry Carino has covered the New Jersey sports scene since 1996 and the college basketball beat since 2003. He is an Associated Press Top 25 voter. Contact him at  [email protected].


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