Corey Sanders is the headline maker in this group, and is seen as a legitimate impact player. The 6’2″ Floridian is a point guard and should be given the ball immediately for this team, assuming much the same responsibilties as Mack had a season ago…run the offense but also get your own shots. He’s got great quickness, which should help him pick up points as he gets into the lane and draws contact. He’s also seen as a guy who can be a high level defender down the line, once he adjusts to this level of play. Sanders isn’t seen as a great playmaker yet, so that aspect of his game will be a work in progress, but just having the ability to generate offense himself provides a big boost to a team desperately in need of guys who can score.
6’6″ forward Kejuan Johnson also has a chance to play a lot of minutes immediately. Rutgers likes his physicality and defensive potential first and foremost. Johnson is one of those guys who was highly ranked early in his career and then fell off some over time as others caught up to him physically but sometimes that can work out if a kid has the right approach and works to remake himself (see Nigel Hayes as a prime example of this). I would expect he’ll play a lot and might even be capable of pushing for a starting role, depending upon how fast his adjustment happens.
At the beginning of this month, RU added another small forward in 6’6″ Jonathan Laurent. They won out over Georgia, Georgia Tech and Alabama for his services. He’s seen as another guy who can improve both Rutgers’ team athleticism as well as its skill level, as he’s reportedly a solid perimeter shooter. Again, I would think he has a shot to earn minutes early on if he can make a quick adjustment to the speed and physicality of the college game.
Rutgers has also added Kansas State transfer Nigel Johnson, a 6’1″ guard who scored better than 5 ppg for the Wildcats last year as a freshman. He will have to sit out this upcoming season but he takes one of the two remaining scholarship slots Jordan had to work with.
OVERALL – You can sort of begin to see what Eddie Jordan is trying to do with his roster. I think in general, you see an emphasis on athleticism. That’s not a bad way to go, as it allows you to land some kids who aren’t polished enough or sure enough developmental bets for the big boys to take, and if you get it right and hit the developmental jackpot you can end up with a gem. It’s sort of a 180 from what a guy like John Beilein does, where I think ball skills tend to trump all. Jordan’s approach seems roughly similar to the one that Richard Pitino is taking at Minnesota, except Pitino has a little easier time recruiting to his program. Get athletes and get some athletes with size, and hope that you can turn them into effective basketball players in time.
Sanders was a huge get for them and it gives RU a chance to be occasionally competitive, because he should be able to provide at least some of the things Mack did. Unfortunately, Sanders probably will have some of the same efficiency issues Mack was plagued by, but the good news there is that he may mature out of that eventually. For now, he gives RU a dynamic guy you can give the ball to and expect that he can generate some offense on his own.
One thing Rutgers will be able to do is throw some big bodies on the court. Their posts are mostly raw and likely won’t put up great numbers in terms of production but at least physically, they’ve got a chance to compete in a Big Ten suddenly flush with higher caliber big men. They’re mostly young as well, so Jordan may be able to grow these guys into an effective group over time. Lewis’ experience will be a key for getting the most out of their big men this year, though, as the young guys likely need more time to mature.
My guess is that Jordan is going to hope that his mostly young team can use their athleticism and size to round into a decent defensive team by the time conference play comes along. I have a hard time envisioning significant improvement at the offensive end, because they lost 3 of their top 4 scorers. So, I think it’ll have to come in the “win ugly” areas. If Rutgers can harness that youth into a decent defensive unit and become better on the glass, they might be able to carve out a couple more wins than they got last season, but it’s going to be tough. This is a long term project for Jordan. It is tough to rebuild any program but especially one where things have been down for so long and where you’re also suddenly thrown into a conference like the Big Ten. The good news is that he put together what can objectively be called a decent, solid recruiting class. The bad news is that it’s still on the lower end of what the conference teams did in that area (at least in terms of perception), so he needs some breaks to fall his way to elevate this thing. I think they’re a safe bet pick for last in the conference at this point.