Sam Hellman / Scarlet Report

Rutgers Evolves from "Punching Bag Status" in Steve Pikiell's First Season

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rutgers starting guards Mike Williams and Corey Sanders have newfound confidence after Saturday's win over Illinois. After Rutgers was far from competitive in last season's Big Ten tournament, business picks up tomorrow against Ohio State.

Rutgers heard every criticism possible during a painful 2015-16 season, but turned it into fuel. Still a serious underdog to make noise in the 2017 Big Ten tournament, Rutgers transformed itself into a team that deserves to be taken seriously.

“Last year, we were pretty much a punching bag,” said captain Mike Williams. “Everybody was happy to play us. Now, this year, you have Rutgers on the schedule and you're thinking twice about it. We're one of those teams that you can't sleep on. … Illinois had a chance to have an NCAA berth and we just ruined their season a little bit.”

Rutgers, via coaching change, transformed from proverbial punching bag in 2016 to a team that plans to punch back in its return to the Big Ten tournament.

While Williams discussed NCAA tournament aspirations in his last trip to the nation's capital, the vision in March is about being Big Ten spoilers. Rutgers (14-17, 3-15) has its highest win total since it left the Big East in Mike Rice's final season.

http://www.scout.com/college/rutgers/story/1717493-media-day-no-more-for...

Steve Pikiell's three Big Ten wins are also the highest for the program.

“I don't think any team just takes us lightly,” said sophomore point guard Corey Sanders. “Last year, they probably knew that we were a 'dub' on the schedule. This year, they know they have to play hard. They have to out-tough us. They have to out-something us to win a game. That's what I like about it. We're just going to keep fighting and showing these teams we can win.”

Sanders leads Rutgers in scoring (13.0), assists per game (3.3), steals per game (1.35) and minutes per game (30.4). The pride of Lakeland, Fla., heads into the Verizon Center as an honorable mention on the All-Big Ten team.

“It's a good arena to play in but I'm just focused on winning,” Sanders said. “I don't really care where we're playing. I don't care if we're in Florida or whatever. I just want to win. That's my goal is going in and winning.”

Rutgers tips off in game two at the Verizon Center against Ohio State. Since Rutgers lost a close contest in Columbus – Sanders fouled out and Ohio State logged a four-point play in the final minute – the players describe a different team.

Rutgers brought more swagger in the final weeks of the season with DeShawn Freeman's last-second heroics as the highlight.

“My confidence is high,” Williams said. “I think everyone's confidence is high down to the walk-ons. Jake Dadika came out and had some really productive minutes. Everybody is contributing. If we played like that from the beginning, there's no reason why we couldn't have 19 or 20 wins right now. Going into the Big Ten tournament, it's zero-zero. It's a new season.”


Scarlet Report Top Stories

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Rutgers heard every criticism possible during a painful 2015-16 season, but turned it into fuel. Still a serious underdog to make noise in the 2017 Big Ten tournament, Rutgers transformed itself into a team that deserves to be taken seriously.

\n

“Last year, we were pretty much a punching bag,” said captain Mike Williams. “Everybody was happy to play us. Now, this year, you have Rutgers on the schedule and you're thinking twice about it. We're one of those teams that you can't sleep on. … Illinois had a chance to have an NCAA berth and we just ruined their season a little bit.”

\n

Rutgers, via coaching change, transformed from proverbial punching bag in 2016 to a team that plans to punch back in its return to the Big Ten tournament.

\n

While Williams discussed NCAA tournament aspirations in his last trip to the nation's capital, the vision in March is about being Big Ten spoilers. Rutgers (14-17, 3-15) has its highest win total since it left the Big East in Mike Rice's final season.

\n

http://www.scout.com/college/rutgers/story/1717493-media-day-no-more-for...

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Steve Pikiell's three Big Ten wins are also the highest for the program.

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“I don't think any team just takes us lightly,” said sophomore point guard Corey Sanders. “Last year, they probably knew that we were a 'dub' on the schedule. This year, they know they have to play hard. They have to out-tough us. They have to out-something us to win a game. That's what I like about it. We're just going to keep fighting and showing these teams we can win.”

\n

Sanders leads Rutgers in scoring (13.0), assists per game (3.3), steals per game (1.35) and minutes per game (30.4). The pride of Lakeland, Fla., heads into the Verizon Center as an honorable mention on the All-Big Ten team.

\n

“It's a good arena to play in but I'm just focused on winning,” Sanders said. “I don't really care where we're playing. I don't care if we're in Florida or whatever. I just want to win. That's my goal is going in and winning.”

\n

Rutgers tips off in game two at the Verizon Center against Ohio State. Since Rutgers lost a close contest in Columbus – Sanders fouled out and Ohio State logged a four-point play in the final minute – the players describe a different team.

\n

Rutgers brought more swagger in the final weeks of the season with DeShawn Freeman's last-second heroics as the highlight.

\n

\n

“My confidence is high,” Williams said. “I think everyone's confidence is high down to the walk-ons. Jake Dadika came out and had some really productive minutes. Everybody is contributing. If we played like that from the beginning, there's no reason why we couldn't have 19 or 20 wins right now. Going into the Big Ten tournament, it's zero-zero. It's a new season.”

","mobileBody":"

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Rutgers heard every criticism possible during a painful 2015-16 season, but turned it into fuel. Still a serious underdog to make noise in the 2017 Big Ten tournament, Rutgers transformed itself into a team that deserves to be taken seriously.

“Last year, we were pretty much a punching bag,” said captain Mike Williams. “Everybody was happy to play us. Now, this year, you have Rutgers on the schedule and you're thinking twice about it. We're one of those teams that you can't sleep on. … Illinois had a chance to have an NCAA berth and we just ruined their season a little bit.”

Rutgers, via coaching change, transformed from proverbial punching bag in 2016 to a team that plans to punch back in its return to the Big Ten tournament.

While Williams discussed NCAA tournament aspirations in his last trip to the nation's capital, the vision in March is about being Big Ten spoilers. Rutgers (14-17, 3-15) has its highest win total since it left the Big East in Mike Rice's final season.

http://www.scout.com/college/rutgers/story/1717493-media-day-no-more-for...

Steve Pikiell's three Big Ten wins are also the highest for the program.

“I don't think any team just takes us lightly,” said sophomore point guard Corey Sanders. “Last year, they probably knew that we were a 'dub' on the schedule. This year, they know they have to play hard. They have to out-tough us. They have to out-something us to win a game. That's what I like about it. We're just going to keep fighting and showing these teams we can win.”

Sanders leads Rutgers in scoring (13.0), assists per game (3.3), steals per game (1.35) and minutes per game (30.4). The pride of Lakeland, Fla., heads into the Verizon Center as an honorable mention on the All-Big Ten team.

“It's a good arena to play in but I'm just focused on winning,” Sanders said. “I don't really care where we're playing. I don't care if we're in Florida or whatever. I just want to win. That's my goal is going in and winning.”

Rutgers tips off in game two at the Verizon Center against Ohio State. Since Rutgers lost a close contest in Columbus – Sanders fouled out and Ohio State logged a four-point play in the final minute – the players describe a different team.

Rutgers brought more swagger in the final weeks of the season with DeShawn Freeman's last-second heroics as the highlight.

“My confidence is high,” Williams said. “I think everyone's confidence is high down to the walk-ons. Jake Dadika came out and had some really productive minutes. Everybody is contributing. If we played like that from the beginning, there's no reason why we couldn't have 19 or 20 wins right now. Going into the Big Ten tournament, it's zero-zero. It's a new season.”

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