How To Watch & Listen
Rutgers (11-7; 0-5) At Indiana (11-6; 1-3)
Where: Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana (17,222 Capacity)
Tip-off: Sunday, January 15th at 12:00 p.m. ET
TV: BTN - Jeff Levering and Shon Morris
Radio: WCTC 1450 AM & WOR 710 AM - Chris Carlin & Joe Boylan
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #141; Indiana #28;
KenPom Prediction: Indiana 79 Rutgers 64 ; Rutgers is given a 9% chance to win.
Series History: Indiana leads the all-time series 4-0. This will be their fourth meeting as Big Ten foes, with Rutgers losing by single digits twice.
Tom Crean is in his 9th season at Indiana and the defending Big Ten champions are loaded with talent. However, they’ve lost four of their last five games and have struggled on defense this season. They own big wins over Kansas and North Carolina, but also lost to Fort Wayne. In conference play, they’re just 1-2 at home with a win over Illinois and losses to Nebraska and Wisconsin. Earlier this week, they lost on the road to Maryland. It’s been a disappointing start in the Big Ten, as the Hoosiers were one of the teams talked about in the preseason as being a favorite to win the conference title.
Indiana has 10 players who average 10+ minutes per game and have the highest adjusted offensive efficiency in the Big Ten. They average 85 points a game and as a team are shooting 50% from the field, including 40% from three-point range. They are the definition of an elite offense. Indiana’s only issue is they do have a very high turnover rate and give it away 15 times a game.
They are also 6th in the country in rebounds per game, one spot behind Rutgers, with seven players grabbing 3+ boards per contest. They are also highly proficient on the offensive glass and have the 4th highest percentage in the country.
The Hoosiers are led by junior guard James Blackmon Jr, who is scoring 17.8 points per game and is shooting 50% from the field, including 45% from behind the arc. He also adds just over 5 rebounds and 2 assists per game. He has been on fire in his past two contests, averaging 23.5 points on 16 of 27 shooting from the floor for 59%, while knocking down 9 of 17 three-point attempts for 53%. Corey Sanders will likely draw the assignment.
Three other Indiana players score over 11 points per game: guard Robert Johnson (13.9), forward Thomas Bryant (11.8), and forward OG Anunoby (11.4). Bryant is also the leading rebounder and shot blocker for the Hoosiers, as he pulls down 7.2 boards and swats 1.7 shots per contest.
Indiana averages 24 attempts from three-point range per game and Blackmon Jr, Bryant and Johnson are all shooting 42% or better from deep. Other long range threats include guards Josh Newkirk and Curtis Jones, who are shooting 38% & 37% respectively.
Keys To The Game
Defend The Three
This game could easily turn into a repeat of what happened on the road earlier this month at Michigan State. The Spartans made 11 of 22 three-point attempts in a 28 point victory over the Scarlet Knights. Indiana is even more dangerous from behind the arc. However, Rutgers has done a very good job in defending the three in their other four Big Ten losses. The only team to shoot above 30% was Penn State at 32%, which is still a solid defensive result. If Rutgers can continue to guard the perimeter and be aware of where the shooters are, it will go along way towards them being competitive in this game.
While Rutgers did edge out Northwestern on the offensive glass in their last game, they finished with a minus-8 rebounding margin overall in the loss. Indiana is a much better team on the boards than Northwestern is, so Rutgers will have their work cut out for them. It’s even more crucial considering the one strength for Rutgers on offense has been with rebounding. If they get dominated on the glass early, it could break their will and lead to a 30+ point loss. On the flip side, Rutgers can make a statement by crashing the boards, which would prove they came to battle. This will be key to watch for, especially in the first ten minutes of the game.
While Rutgers did a much better job protecting the basketball in the Northwestern game, as they committed just 9 turnovers, they must be even better against the Hoosiers. Believe it or not, Indiana is actually worse at turning the ball over than Rutgers, as well as not being efficient in forcing takeaways against their opponents as well. Ball control and poise from Rutgers on offense is a must. They cannot waste possessions, nor can they afford to give Indiana any easy baskets off of turnovers. On defense, Rutgers had gotten relatively strong on the ball defense from their guards in conference play. It is a necessity for Corey Sanders, Nigel Johnson and Mike Williams to generate some steals and bring consistent consistent pressure in this game.
The Bench Must Stand Up
There is no sugar coating how unlikely it will be for Rutgers to win this game on the road against a more highly skilled team in Indiana. However, they have zero chance if they don’t get multiple contributions from players coming off the bench. Head coach Steve Pikiell has been giving 11 players a shot to make an impact in games, but has also used a quick hook for anyone he doesn’t think is ready to play or able to make an impact. The best player by far off the bench of late has been athletic big man Ibrahima Diallo, something that was inconceivable before the Seton Hall game. While he isn’t an impact scorer, his ability to defend and rebound against Big Ten competition has been a nice surprise. That needs to continue in this game
Unfortunately, Rutgers has gotten little help from Candido Sa, Issa Thiam, and Shaq Doorson in conference play. Former starter Jonathan Laurent had his best game in a long time against Iowa, but was awful against Northwestern. Of anyone though, Rutgers desperately needs production from Mike Williams. He has been sick of late and has struggled to make an impact the past few games. If he can regain his form that he has displayed the majority of the season, it will give Rutgers a huge lift. If multiple players can give this team solid contributions off the bench, it will go a long way in keeping this game competitive.
Weather The Storm
Indiana is struggling and they will look to bury Rutgers from the beginning in this game. If the starters don’t come out ready to play from the opening tip, they will fall immediately into a deficit that will be unrecoverable. They aren’t built to come from behind by large margins, as Rutgers is doesn’t have any consistent shooting threats from three-point range. If they can avoid extended runs from Indiana by crashing the boards, limiting turnovers, and making shots near the rim, the longer they hang around, the more confidence they will have. I know it’s unlikely they will be able to sustain that effort for 40 minutes, but it’s important they exhibit that type of result for some portion of this game. A 40 point loss that mirrors a bludgeoning is not what this team’s psyche needs right now. The same could be said for the fan base as well, to be honest.
In The Bonus
Rutgers has no chance if they can’t score tomorrow against a high powered offense in Indiana. I believe they can battle Indiana on the defensive end, but they won’t be able to sustain their high intensity if shots aren’t falling. Getting to the foul line early and often is a must. However, Rutgers needs to focus and take advantage of those opportunities, as well as layups or shots near the rim. We all saw how brick after brick against Northwestern destroyed the defensive will of this team. It was similar to how during football season, the offense and special teams broke the will of the Rutgers defense by their inefficiency and mistakes.
Shooting the lights out tomorrow shouldn’t be expected, as Rutgers simply doesn’t have the cumulative talent to do so. However, Indiana is a pro-style college basketball team and is losing of late because they’re inconsistent and haven't played well defensively of late. If Rutgers can execute their game plan and capitalize on high percentage looks, I’m telling you they have a chance, however small, to give the Hoosiers a true battle on the road. Don’t expect it and keep expectations low, but remember any positive momentum Rutgers can bring home will be important, ahead of a five day break before Nebraska heads to the RAC.