2016-17 Season Preview: Rutgers Scarlett Knights

Speed isn't everything.

Last year, Rutgers was the 9th-fastest team that played in a power conference, and the fastest in the Big Ten. That tempo was not so much purposeful as it was a combination of permissive defense and a turnover-prone offense, as—

—OK, I'm not going to write that lazy preview. The lazy thing to do here is to pick something, anything, that Rutgers was outside the 25th and 75th percentile lanes on, and wrap a story around the fact that This Thing Was Not Good For Rutgers. The 279 kenpom ranking provides all sorts of cherrypicking ammunition for your lazy writer, and while writing thoughtfully about Rutgers basketball borders on morbid, I'm going to give it the ol' college try.

You don't need me to tell you that Rutgers was not very good last year. Pick a metric, it will be record-setting and shocking. It's a reasonable argument that Rutgers only had 3 or 4 players on the roster last year that were high-major quality. Recruiting must turn around, attendance must pick up (Rhode Island and Charlotte drew bigger crowds), and the athletic department must be extremely patient. Incoming head coach Steve Pikiell is no stranger to massive turnaround projects. When he took over at Stony Brook in 2005, the team was still very bad as it recently transitioned to Division I. Over his first three seasons, the team won a total of 20 games, playing in a low-major conference. But Pikiell eventually turned the team around, winning 119 games over the final 5 seasons of his tenure. That tenure included four conference championships and the team's first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.

That credibility might be more important than anything else Pikiell has going for him, because the last time Rutgers was a decent team was four coaches ago. This is going to take time, and RU frankly just has to trust that it hired the right guy. The on-court results aren't really going to matter for at least a couple more seasons.

And that's too bad, for at least the reason that Corey Sanders is a really special player. Despite being just a freshman and surrounded by teammates that were largely overmatched, Sanders was able to be the go-to scorer and facilitator despite the narrow focus defenses had on stopping him.

It's not that Sanders is a ballhog—for one, he had the third-highest assist rate in conference play last season, which is no small feat considering his teammates' relative ability to convert passes into assists. Additionally, "ballhog" implies that someone is spending more than their fair share of time with the ball in their hands, which is not something I'm sure was possible with Sanders last year. Ideally, you'd have the ball in his hands as much as possible.

This isn't to say Sanders cannot improve. His outside shooting was poor last year, and you would think that a player that drove the paint and attacked the rim as much as he did last year would end up at the free throw line more. Even so, he's a tremendous player that surely heard a number of pitches to transfer once it was clear Eddie Jordan was not coming back.

The Robin to Sanders' Batman act is junior Mike Williams, who is potentially Rutgers' only credible threat from the outside. The Scarlett Knights are also hoping sophomore forward Jonathan Laurent can make a leap, and that someone in the recruiting class can step up. By the way, I'm not being dismissive of the rest of Rutgers' roster, it's just that everyone in the rotation outside those three players transferred or graduated. My hunch is that it's no coincidence that the only returning players are those most likely to become at least average players in the Big Ten. There's some housecleaning at work.

Still, that's going to be a longer project, but not one that's foreign to Pikiell. A lot of patience is going to be expected from this fanbase. But I suspect they're used to that.