How To Watch & Listen
Ohio State (14-4; 5-0) At Rutgers (11-7; 1-4)
Where: The RAC (capacity 8,000)
Tip-off: Sunday, January 14th at 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: BTN - Brandon Gaudin and Jon Crispin
Radio: WCTC 1450 AM, WOR 710 AM, Sirius 135, XM 195 - Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #119; Ohio State #20
(Note: Rutgers improved 12 spots since the 4 point loss to #4 Michigan State)
KenPom Prediction: Ohio State 71 Rutgers 64; Rutgers has an 27% chance to win
Vegas Line: Ohio State -6
SB Nation Ohio State site: Land Grant Holy Land
About Ohio State
This is a far different opponent from the one that Rutgers took down in the Big Ten Tournament last March. The Buckeyes are the hottest team in the Big Ten and have won eight of its last nine games, with the only loss coming to the defending national champions, North Carolina. They are on the cusp of the top of the Big Ten standings at 5-0 in league play, one less conference win than Purdue. They just had an impressive two game home stand where they crushed former #1 Michigan State by 16 points last weekend and Maryland by 22 points this past Thursday. Ohio State’s average margin of victory in five Big Ten wins is 16.6 points.
The Buckeyes are in the top 30 of KenPom for both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency ratings. They lead the Big Ten in offensive turnover percentage at just 14.1% and are shooting the lights out in league play, including 47.3% from three-point range. For the season, Chris Holtmann’s team is shooting solidly across the board with 49.6% from the floor, 37.8% from three-point range, and 72.7% from the free throw line.
Keita Bates-Diop is having a tremendous season and is making a strong push for Big Ten Player of the Year. Freshman big man Caleb Wesson has the highest offensive rating on the team. Kam Williams and C.J. Jackson are averaging close to a combined 4 of 8 from three-point range per game (Rutgers averages making 5 of 16 three’s per game). Jea’Sean Tate has elevated his game as a senior playing under Holtmann. The bench has seen multiple players step up at times, including Michigan grad transfer Andrew Dakich, who hit some big shots in the win over Maryland. They can beat its opponents in many ways and if teams fall asleep for a stretch, it will be over before they recover.
Here are per game statistical averages for key players on Ohio State:
6’7” junior forward Keita Bates-Diop - 20.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 1.3 assists, 1.2 steals
6’1” junior guard C.J. Jackson - 13.6 points, 4.3 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 1.0 steal
6’4” senior forward Jae’Sean Tate - 12.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steal
6’9” freshman forward Kaleb Wesson - 11.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists
6’2” senior guard Kam Williams - 8.3 points, 1.7 rebounds
Know Your Three-Point Shooters:
Andrew Dakich - 10 of 14 for 71.4%
Kam Williams - 27 of 57 for 47.4%
C.J. Jackson - 37 of 84 for 44.0%
Keita Bates-Diop - 39 of 93 for 41.9%
Rutgers is ranked fifth in Division I in both offensive rebounding (14.6) and overall rebounding (42.4). They are also eleventh in both scoring defense (61.7 ppg) and FG% defense (38.3%).
UPDATE: Senior captain Mike Williams is out indefinitely with an ankle injury.
Pregame Quotes From Steve Pikiell
On what you get from a game like Michigan State:
“Hopefully, confidence. You’re playing the best team in the league in a tough environment. That was what I was most excited for. It’s an all-in environment — students are on the floor, you can’t hear anything. We were able to execute, we made free throws, a step for us. To out-rebound the best rebounding team in the country is a positive, and we played extremely hard. We have to every night and it gives us a chance if we do those things. Hopefully it helps us prepare. Ohio State and Purdue are the only two undefeated teams in the league and the schedule doesn’t seem to get any easier. Hopefully those experiences help us going forward.”
On Izzo complimenting the physicality of Rutgers:
“They’re the most physical team in the country so if you don’t match that, the game’s over. He gave us that compliment but I say that about his team all the time. Those guys are strong and physical and hit you and rebound and all those things. Hopefully we matched their physicality but we have a long way to go in that department. On how the team is midway through the season: We’ve played the toughest schedule in the conference, going into Ohio State is going to make it even tougher. I like the fact we’re able to take care of the ball, that’s a huge improvement from last year. I think we’ve shown signs on the defensive end. I don’t think we’re as good as we need to be. Because of our offensive deficiencies, we have to be great. I think we’ve mixed in a lot more defenses so we’re a lot more versatile that way with our defense and some of the different adjustments we can make … we’re a program that’s one step forward, one step back unfortunately. I’d like to be a program that’s two steps forward all the time but that’s not where we are right now. Again, playing our toughest part of our schedule early on in the season here so we’ve gone through a lot of wars. Hopefully that’ll prepare us for more success down the road.”
On Ohio State’s improvement from last year:
“They’ve got a new coach and I think he’s done an unbelievable job. They’ve got great chemistry, you can see they play well together. (Keita Bates) Diop is as good of a player as there is in the league. He’s in the top 10 in almost 10 different categories. He leads the league in scoring, he’s rebounding, he’s 6-foot-7, he’s a matchup nightmare, they all go to him, they know he’s the guy. They play really well on the defensive end … they got (Jae’sean) Tate who is a matchup problem, at the point they got two shooters in Jackson and Williams that cause many problems from the perimeter. They’re leading the league in field goal percentage, 55.1 percent as a team. They have really bought in, their coach has done a great job and they’re playing at the highest level against really good teams in our league.”
Keys To Victory
40 Minutes Of Defense
Rutgers can’t afford to fall behind early on in the game as a result of poor defense. It’s almost always the case that it takes the Scarlet Knights a few minutes to start up on offense, so a lackluster effort defensively would spell disaster. It happened against Michigan State, which essentially cost them the game. Rutgers played the Spartans exceptionally tough on Wednesday, but suffered a 4 point defeat in overtime in the first three minutes of the game when they fell behind 9-0 right at the start.
In front of the home faithful in what is hopefully the RAC at close or at full capacity, Rutgers needs to come out focused and play physical on the defensive end from the start. The Scarlet Knights are at their best when they generate points off of their defense. It helps them get out in transition and use their athleticism to finish near the rim, as opposed to struggling in the halfcourt due to a lack of shooters. The confidence and mojo of this team thrives on strong defensive play, something that has always been the preferred style of its coach. They need to own it in this game to win.
Prevent Big Runs
Ohio State has been killing its opponents with extended runs of dominance that is putting the game out of reach. They are athletic, can score in bunches, and play strong defense. It’s easy to fall prey to their ability to string together runs of 12-2 or more, something Rutgers desperately needs to prevent from happening. This is especially true at the start of the second half in league play, as the Buckeyes have been winning by dominating that portion of the game. In its past two games, they extended a 12 point lead to Maryland up to 19 less than three minutes in as well as extending a 12 point lead on Michigan State that ballooned to 20 before the under-16 timeout. The Scarlet Knights need to be sharp and not allow for any letdowns, in order to keep the game as tight as possible for as long as possible.
Layups & Second Chance Points
The best offense for Rutgers is scoring in transition or finishing on putbacks off of the offensive glass. They lack shooters and are ranked last in the Big Ten in offensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage, as well as thirteenth in two-point and three-point shooting percentages. For as poor a shooting team as the Scarlet Knights are, they need to be resourceful with high percentage scoring opportunities. They need to be relentless on the offensive glass in this contest, which they must take advantage of by converting second chance opportunities. To upset a team as hot as Ohio State, you must make layups and need to produce putbacks off of misses. Rutgers needs to capitalize on both in this game to end the Buckeyes hot streak.
The Buckeyes don't force a lot of turnovers, but are they are tops in the Big Ten in not giving it away. However, Ohio State is limited with ball handlers and Rutgers may pressure them more so than they are used to. As I said, Rutgers gets going off of its defense and if they can put the Buckeyes on their heels a little bit by being disruptive in forcing turnovers and mistakes, they’ll have a chance to assert control at times in this game. In the win over Wisconsin two Friday’s ago, Rutgers committed just 6 turnovers, while the Badgers coughed it up 14 times. It led to a +7 advantage in points off of turnovers. It was a major reason for the 4 point victory and something that Rutgers hopes to replicate in this game.
Make Free Throws Count
Rutgers is shooting an abysmal 62.1% from the free throw line this season. However, they’ve shot well during certain contests against top competition. The latest example was making 13 of 15 attempts on Wednesday against Michigan State, keeping them in the game. For underdogs to pull off an upset, they need to take advantage of its opportunities from the charity stripe. The guards of Rutgers need to attack the rim and the bigs need to be assertive in being strong in the paint. Getting to the line could help to compensate going against a top 70 defense with opponents two-point shooting percentage. Making those opportunities count at the line are crucial to Rutgers having a chance to pull the upset.
In The Bonus
Rutgers is almost through an extremely difficult stretch as the opening third of its Big Ten schedule is close to being completed. They played two top five teams in the country in Michigan State and Purdue three times combined, as well as catching Minnesota at its peak before its decline. Now they get an Ohio State team playing as well as any team in the country. The Scarlet Knights should have confidence after beating Wisconsin and playing the Spartans as well as they did. It’s important to keep forward momentum going and if they can feed off of the home crowd’s energy, then it will give them a boost against the Buckeyes. Rutgers enters a much more manageable schedule starting next week and this is a great test for them. It’s also an opportunity to continue to change perception, both nationally and within the conference, by proving with its play on the court that this program is moving up the ladder of the Big Ten.
Parting Words From Pikiell:
“They (Ohio State) pose many problems for us and hopefully the RAC is rocking. We need our crowd, fans, students, the Riot Squad, everyone to come out and make it a tough place to play and that would really help.”