Rutgers basketball: 5 pressing preseason questions for 2022-23

It feels like more than a page is turning for Rutgers basketball. A new chapter is underway as full-scale practices begin this week in the post-Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr. era. Here are five preseason questions about the Scarlet Knights as head coach Steve Pikiell enters his seventh campaign with hopes of returning to the NCAA Tournament.

1. Is Cliff Omoruyi ready to be the man?

All signs point toward the 6-foot-11 junior center becoming a double-double machine. He's dominant around the rim, and look for his range to increase to the 12- to 15-foot range as the offense runs through him. If Omoruyi takes the next step defensively -- he was out of position at times last season -- the Scarlet Knights could have a first-team All-Big Ten player for the first time. NBA personnel will be scouting him regularly this winter.

Rutgers basketball player #11 Cliff Omoruyi during a practice at RWJ Barnabas Health Athletic Performance Center in Piscataway, NJ on Friday October 15, 2021.
Rutgers basketball player #11 Cliff Omoruyi during a practice at RWJ Barnabas Health Athletic Performance Center in Piscataway, NJ on Friday October 15, 2021.

2. Who is taking a shot with the game on the line?

Baker and Harper Jr. were willing and capable closers. There’s a belief within the program that postgrad guard Caleb McConnell will flourish offensively after deferring to his former classmates throughout his career. Sharpshooting guard Cam Spencer is a wild card here. For the Loyola-Maryland transfer to be successful, the Scarlet Knights’ offense must get him open looks. If the ball movement is crisp, he could be a valuable weapon.

Dec 9, 2021; Piscataway, New Jersey, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights guard Caleb McConnell (22) signals during a game against the Purdue Boilermakers during the second half at Jersey Mike's Arena. Mandatory Credit: Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 9, 2021; Piscataway, New Jersey, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights guard Caleb McConnell (22) signals during a game against the Purdue Boilermakers during the second half at Jersey Mike's Arena. Mandatory Credit: Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports

3. Are the hard hats coming back out?

Much to Pikiell’s chagrin, Rutgers’ rebounding was mediocre the past two seasons (ranking 10th in the Big Ten last season and eighth the year before). Defensively they were solid in 2021-22 (ranking fifth in the league), but got picked apart in both postseason games last March. Pikiell believes this group can be better in both phases; with a dearth of proven scorers returning, it needs to be.

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4. Will the depth be good enough?

Pikiell prefers to deploy a deep rotation. By the end of last season, he’d shortened it dramatically by his standards in part due to inconsistency from the subs. Instead of hitting the transfer portal hard, however, Pikiell placed a bet on their development. Dean Reiber, Mawot Mag, Audre Hyatt and Jalen Miller don’t have to be stars. They do have to produce more for the Scarlet Knights to remain NCAA-caliber.

5. How quickly will Derek Simpson emerge?

You read it here first: The explosive freshman guard out of Lenape High School eventually will be the face of the program, the latest under-the-radar gem discovered by this staff. But there’s a learning curve, Rutgers is deep in the backcourt, and Simpson will have to earn his way up the rotation’s ladder. Keep a close eye on his progress.

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 jcarino@gannettnj.com.

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Rutgers basketball: 5 preseason questions for 2022-23