Rutgers basketball is a phenomenon. 10 years ago if basketball fans heard the Scarlet Knights were playing, they would laugh and change the channel. Despite becoming more competitive in the Big Ten over the last 3 years, skeptics still would question Rutgers’ talent. Finally, this season, the narrative has changed. People from other fanbases get excited to watch this Jersey team rock their opponents at their trapezoid of terror: Jersey Mike’s Arena (PKA The RAC).
Even more impressive, Rutgers basketball has been able to secure some monumental road wins, something they have struggled with in years prior. So far, the biggest win this year was beating Purdue on the road, 65-64, and Michigan State at MSG, 61-55. No one used to think the Scarlet Knights had a chance, but their grit and team chemistry is carrying them comfortably through the intensity of the Big Ten conference schedule.
What makes this team so special? The Scarlet Knights have had some amazing recruits come in, but the most impressive part of the team is what head coach Steve Pikiell has done to develop the guys he has had on his roster. If you follow March Madness, you would know that Rutgers made it in the last 2 years. It would have been 3 if covid had not spoiled their chances in 2020.
That being said, there have been some remarkable players who have greatly impacted the program. Ron Harper Jr, Geo Baker, and Miles Johnson are some of those great athletes. They helped to elevate a program that no one thought would be possibleagain. The fans are grateful for their dedication and were heartbroken when they saw them play for the last time during these March Madness games.
Even though those losses were felt amongst the team and fans, Steve Pikiell has done a tremendous job at filling the holes. He not only plugged them but has improved them. Paul Mulcahy is still on the roster, a smart point guard that leads his team confidently and with determination. Caleb McConnell, is a star defender, Big Ten DPOY, and sneaky stealer on the court. There also have been some new additions. Transferring from Loyola Maryland, Cam Spencer has made his presence felt outside the paint. Knocking down crucial points to lead the Scarlet Knights to success.
A name you might be less familiar with but has been making an incredible impact so far this season is Aundre Hyatt. He joined RU ahead of the 2021-22 season after three seasons with LSU. This year has been huge for his collegiate career, averaging 9.4 ppg and 4.2 rebounds.
Hyatt began this season as a starter, but forward Mawot Mag took over that role mid-December. Their skills were comparable, but Mag is bigger and brought a crucial defensive element to the squad. As a result, Hyatt served as a great sixth man. However, Hyatt’s starting bench days were short-lived, as Mawot Mag, unfortunately, suffered a season-ending ACL injury during their heart-racing game against Michigan State at the Garden on February 4th. Rutgers basketball and fans alike are devastated for Mag, as he is a crucial component of their unstoppable defense.
While this is a huge loss for the Scarlet Knights, it is also an even greater opportunity for Aundre Hyatt to step up and prove himself. He is an experienced player who plays with confidence. AH brings energy to the court, and that is often was the Scarlet Knights need when competing against their tenacious opponents. For instance, in their win at home against Penn State, Hyatt went on an 8-0 run to wake his team up in the second half. When he starts to get cooking, it rubs off on his teammates. These next weeks before March will be a telling sign if Hyatt, and his teammates, can fill the holes they need to find success.
Over the next few games, you should see a significant increase in Hyatt’s minutes, and hopefully, this will influence his offensive production to become more consistent. Coach Pikiell is confident in Hyatt’s skills, so watching how the game plan unfolds will be exciting for all.