Coming into the 2018 Big Ten Tournament, no one gave Rutgers an ounce of respect. They were making their fourth consecutive appearance as the 14th seed in the tournament since they became the 14th team in the conference. That right there doesn’t deserve a lot of respect by itself.
Corey Sanders has dominated this game for Rutgers.
His top highlight was this monster dunk after a takeaway in the first half.#B1GTourney pic.twitter.com/Vxgni0lA1r
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) March 2, 2018
In the span of three days, that changed in a huge way for Steve Pikiell and company after they knocked off Minnesota, Indiana, and then gave Purdue all it could handle in a game that came down to the final minute, a game in which Rutgers dominated a substantial portion of.
What earned them respect? Well, the shotmaking ability of their talented backcourt led by junior Corey Sanders and freshman Geo Baker had a lot to do with that. This tandem was borderline unstoppable against the top competition in the conference after playing a bit of hot and cold over the course of the season. Now for Rutgers, the main thing is to continue to build on this new-found respect and success and not take a step backward, as this team has done numerous times over the course of its 27-year drought from the NCAA Tournament.
Departing from the team is a trio of seniors, two of which came from the JuCo ranks and one who was the heart and soul of the program through some of its toughest days.
DeShawn Freeman, who will leave the biggest impact, started most of his career on the banks and was a double-double machine over his two-plus years in a Rutgers uniform. Mike Williams, the Brooklyn native gave everything he had to the team, displaying grit, scrappiness, and an all-around love to compete, he brought energy to the floor every time he touched it and made those who support him proud with every bounce of the ball. Candido Sa, a JuCo transfer who originally came from Portugal was a serviceable role player for the Scarlet Knights. He will be replaced by the talent coming in but he did have some strong moments during his two-year career.
Incoming for Rutgers is a very strong recruiting class plus two players who were already on the roster but sat out all season. The two guys already here are Peter Kiss and Myles Johnson. Kiss, a redshirt sophomore played his freshman year at Quinnipiac where he averaged over 12 points per contest for a below average Bobcat team. He looks to be a very big contributor to the team as soon as next year and depending on his role, he could be thrust into the starting lineup. Johnson, a freshman from California spent his first year on campus refining his skills and body to get it up to speed to play at a high level. Since arriving he has lost over 25 pounds and has been said to be dominating in the post by coach Pikiell during their practices through the ladder half of the season. He could push for significant minutes, which will likely be decided over the summer as the team gears back up for another season.
There are also three recruits making their way to Rutgers who will look to make an immediate impact on the Banks. Montez Mathis spearheads that charge as a consensus top 100 recruit and a player who has been playing at a very high level of high school basketball before he gets to college. Mathis should push for 20-plus minutes a game next season, and if Corey Sanders were not to return, there is a big possibility he could start alongside Geo Baker in the backcourt. The second heralded recruit for Pikiell was Shaq Carter. Carter is ranked as a top 10 junior college players and will likely slot into the starting power forward role for the Scarlet Knights. The final player that is coming in is Ron Harper, Jr. who is the son of former NBA champion Ron Harper.
These new incomers with the nucleus that was seen on display this week bode well for the Scarlet Knights as they look to dig out of the last place in the big ten. The key to this team success could be the decision that is made by Corey Sanders. If he stays this team will look to be a good team and if he leaves it might not be as good as hoped. Pikiell regardless has this team trending in the right direction.