How To Watch & Listen
#14 Rutgers (14-17; 3-15) v. #11 Ohio State (17-14; 7-11)
Where: Verizon Center, Washington D.C.
Tip-off: Wednesday, March 8th at 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: BTN - Kevin Kugler, play-by-play; Shon Morris analyst; Mike Hall, courtside reporter
Radio: WCTC 1450 AM & WOR 710 AM - Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #131; Ohio State #70
KenPom Prediction: Ohio State 71 Rutgers 65; Rutgers is given a 30% chance of winning.
Series History: Ohio State leads the all-time series 4-1, including a 70-64 win in February.
Big Ten Tournament History: Rutgers is 0-2 in Big Ten Tournament play. They lost to Minnesota 80-68 in 2015 and Nebraska 89-72 in 2016. They were the 14th seed both times.
Fun Fact: At least one team from the opening round has advanced to the quarterfinals on day 3 of the Big Ten Tournament the past two years, including two last season.
Ohio State head coach Thad Matta on Rutgers
“Obviously we had a hard-fought battle here (in Columbus) with Rutgers & we were fortunate to get that one.”
“Our focus is strictly focused on Rutgers and making sure we get things corrected that we need to get corrected from game one.”
“They're a team that has had moments of playing some great basketball.”
“We have to get ourselves ready to compete at the highest level, that's for sure.''
Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell on preparing for Ohio State
“I think any time you've played a team and we were in the game on the road, you learn from it. You learn from some of the things you did well, you learn from the things you didn't do well. But they're different and we're a little bit different, too, from that last time that we played. Hopefully we'll play with some great energy, and coming off a win which we desperately needed, hopefully we can go down there with a positive vibe.''
Rutgers guard Mike Williams on team confidence after Illinois win
“It gives us great confidence. All year we have been playing these teams so hard and losing by one or two possessions. Against Illinois, we finally put it all together and played a full 40 minutes. I feel like we can beat anybody if we play together like we did today.”
Rutgers guard Corey Sanders on road ahead in Big Ten Tournament
“I’m just confident in my team to win games and I think we are all confident we can win games if we play right. I’m not too big headed about this win (Illinois), but it feels good to win before we go on to the Big Ten Tournament. We are just going to keep working and try to win more games there.”
About Ohio State
Ohio State fans are not pleased with Thad Matta’s team finishing in 11th place and most likely missing the NCAA Tournament for the second season in a row, after making consecutive trips the previous seven years. They have beaten Wisconsin, Michigan State, Michigan, and Minnesota this season, so when they are playing well, they can beat any team. However, they have lost four of their last six games, including to Nebraska. This past weekend, they lost a shootout at Indiana, falling 96-92.
According to KenPom, the Buckeyes have the 5th best offensive efficiency rating in Big Ten play, while their defensive efficiency rating is 13th. They finished in the top half of the conference in all three shooting percentage categories. They are a solid rebounding team on both ends of the floor, but they struggle with turnovers, while not forcing many on defense. They play mostly man to man defense, with a little zone mixed in.
Pikiell on Ohio State
“They have a lot of good players. Loving always scares me. Thompson killed us I thought in that first game and Williams was great too. It’s not just one guy, it’s the collection of all their players. We have to do a great job of making it difficult for them to score. We aren’t the greatest scoring team obviously, so our defense has to be on point with all of their players, as they all cause different problems for us. They’re very capable at a lot of positions. They have a lot of answers that they can put on the floor on any given day, so we need to be prepared for all of them.”
Jae’Sean Tate - He leads the Buckeyes in scoring at 14.2 points and is second in rebounds with 6.4 per game. Tate shoots an impressive 54% from the field, but a dismal 58% from the free throw line, where he has taken 21% of his team’s attempts from the charity stripe.
JaQuan Lyle - He played at less than 100% in the first meeting against Rutgers and for several other games this season. He still averaged a solid line of 11.6 points, 4.7 assists, 3.1 rebounds, and 1.1 steals in 30 games. He also leads the team in shooting 42% from three-point range, but is third in attempts with 79. More on him in a bit.
Marc Loving - He is the most consistent player on the team and has scored in double figures in eight of the last nine games. His season averages consist of 12.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.9 assists. He takes the most three-pointers of anyone on the roster with 147 attempts and is making 39% of them, second best on the team.
Trevor Thompson - As dangerous as the three players just mentioned are, no one scares me more in this game than Thompson. He caused serious problems in the paint in the first game and was a real force defensively. He averages 10.7 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.5 blocks per game. He has picked up 4 or more fouls in five of his last six games, fouling out in two of them.
Kam Williams - The junior guard has struggled since he scored a season high 23 points against Rutgers in the last meeting. While he averages 9.5 points and has made 37% from three-point range on 131 attempts, he has scored just 28 points total in his last six games combined.
The three conference wins for Rutgers this season have come against the three lowest rated offensive teams in the Big Ten, aside from themselves. Ohio State is rated 5th in the Big Ten. However, Rutgers did hold the Buckeyes to 70 points in their first meeting, their sixth lowest scoring total in conference play this season.
Keys To The Game
Corey Sanders v. JaQuan Lyle
This will be the fourth meeting between the two talented sophomore point guards. Lyle had a triple-double in their first meeting last season, while Corey has outplayed him the past two times. In Lyle’s defense, he was battling through an ankle injury when these teams played back in February. However, he seems back to his normal self now, as he has averaged 17 points, 3 assists, and 3 rebounds in his past three games. Here is what Pikiell said of Lyle:
“I think he is a really good player and when he plays at a high level, which he is capable of, they are very difficult team to beat. The first time we played them, he wasn’t at his strongest and I expect a great Lyle. He is a playmaker and makes guys around him better. He is a major boost for them when he has it going and we have to do a great job of making sure he doesn’t have one of those games.”
While Lyle is bigger than Sanders at 6’5”, he has had some trouble containing Corey from driving into the paint and attacking the rim every time they’ve played against each other. The ball will be in their hands more than any two players in this game and the outcome could likely be decided by which one performs better. As much as we focus on the offense of Sanders, his defense in this game may be the difference.
Win Turnover Battle
In their past 7 games, Rutgers has only committed 68 turnovers total for an average of just 9.7 per contest. In their first 24 games of the season, the Scarlet Knights turned it over at an average of 14.4 per game. That is dramatic improvement and something coach Pikiell emphasized in the Big Ten conference call on Monday:
“Turnovers have been a huge thing and that was hurting our defense too. Obviously it was hurting our offense. We were turning the ball over and allowing other teams to score off of our turnovers, so it was hurting both ends of the floor. I think we’ve done a good job in that (of late).”
This stretch of taking care of the basketball so much better started against Ohio State, when Rutgers turned it over 11 times, while forcing 15 Buckeye turnovers. It was a big reason they were tied with a minute to go in Columbus. If Rutgers wants to win this time around, they must hold a solid edge in takeaways and capitalize on them by scoring in transition. If they can’t generate fast break points and are forced to operate in the halfcourt most of the game, it will make it harder for Rutgers to keep up the pace scoring wise.
Start Fast In Both Halves
For most of the season, Rutgers has been plagued by slow starts in both halves of games. They have every reason to be loose for this game, while Ohio State is dealing with disappointment from the fan base for failing to meet expectations. They realistically have too few wins to be even serious NIT contenders, which is a big step back for this program. Rutgers needs to build off of their win over Illinois on Saturday and be aggressive, coming out with energy from the opening tip. Ditto for the second half. They can’t afford to fall behind by double digits, despite the fact they came back against the Buckeyes down 12 early in the 2nd half in February. If they can establish momentum early in both halves, it will give them a big lift.
The Buckeyes have the top free throw rate in Big Ten play and have key players Lyle, Loving, and Thompson all shooting 74% from the line, each having more than 100 attempts on the season. They went to the charity stripe 25 times in the first meeting and made 76% of them. On the other hand, Rutgers was just 10 of 18 for 56% and it cost them a late lead in a close game. The good news is Rutgers is shooting 74% in their past three games and shot a season best 85% on 11 of 13 attempts in the win over Illinois. Whichever team that can shoot better from the line will have a big edge in the game.
Pikiell v. Matta
Ohio State coach Thad Matta has been a very successful coach in his career and this could be his first of thirteen seasons he won’t achieve 20 wins in a season at the school. Pikiell took a big step up in the Big Ten conference this season, but he has proven himself more than capable of holding his own with his game plans in conference play, as well as his in-game moves. Elimination games always amplify coaching decisions and this matchup between these two leaders will be fascinating to watch. Remember, Pikiell has a ton of tournament experience from his time at Stony Brook and won’t be intimidated in the slightest on this stage.
In The Bonus
On the face of it, Ohio State could potentially make the NIT, if they win three or four games in the Big Ten Tournament, while Rutgers has nothing to play for, other than extending their season by a day or two. In reality, Ohio State is looking at a disappointing season regardless, while Rutgers could cap off a successful first year under Pikiell with the program’s first conference tournament win since joining the Big Ten. It would also give them 15 wins, which would tie for the most in a season since the program’s last winning campaign in 2006. This game is also a huge opportunity for Rutgers to gain more respect within the Big Ten, with all of the conference team fan bases following the results this week in DC. At a minimum, I expect them to play hard in this game and they have nothing to lose, which makes them dangerous. I’ll close with my favorite quote from Pikiell:
“We’ve just gotten better with our whole roster. I know our record doesn’t indicate that, but as you guys know that follow us closely, we’ve improved. We’ve improved and one of these days we are going to put it all together too in a game. Hopefully, our best basketball is yet to be played.”
I believe...do you?