Optimism abounds as the Rutgers basketball team prepares to host Lehigh in its season opener Wednesday night.
The Scarlet Knights are coming off a 16-12 season that culminated in their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1991 and first NCAA tourney win since 1983.
“There are some really good things happening here. We have a nice blend,” sixth-year coach Steve Pikiell said. “They have awesome chemistry. We have our obstacles as always. The league is tremendously difficult.”
Rutgers returns its top two players, senior guard Geo Baker and junior small forward Ron Harper Jr. Baker averaged 10.4 points and 3.2 assists per game last season while Harper averaged 14.9 points per game and earned All-Big Ten honors.
“Geo and I knew that we wanted to play with each other again and we knew we wanted to give it one more shot,” Harper said after the pair decided not to enter the NBA draft and instead return to campus.
The Scarlet Knights added frontcourt transfers Aundre Hyatt from LSU and Ralph Agee form San Jose State to join sophomore center Clifford Omoruyi.
Transfers go both ways, however, and Rutgers saw three of its top five scorers — guards Jacob Young and Montez Mathis and center Myles Johnson — leave the program.
Lehigh travels to Rutgers with four starters and most of the roster from a team that finished 4-11 a year ago.
“We’ve got enough guys now who have played college basketball,” long-time coach Brett Reed said. “They have seen a variety of different seasons and I think they’re really focused and ready to attack this year.”
Among the returnees is senior guard Marques Wilson, who averaged 15.3 points per game last season. He was named to the Patriot League preseason all-league team.
Other returnees include senior center Nic Lynch (12.1 points per game) and junior guard Evan Taylor (8.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game). Taylor averaged 10.9 points and 8.8 rebounds over the team’s final 10 games.
The Mountain Hawks also return six reserves who accounted for 25 points per game last season.
“I’m seeing a lot of cohesiveness,” Taylor said. “It feels great to get right back at it with a lot of our old teammates.”
–Field Level Media