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Enjoying the Build: 4 Thoughts on Northwestern

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers defeated Northwestern tonight 59-56. A big road win, and Pikiell’s second Big Ten road win of the year. Four Thoughts:

A Different Team With Eugene: Rutgers dropped the first game when they couldn’t get defensive stops late, leading to wide open 3 pointers. But Eugene Omoruyi can change all that. He’s so good defensively that he can switch from power forward to wing and even to shooting guard and disrupt. This kind of disruption makes it tough to game plan against Rutgers because you get so many different looks. The closeouts on three point shots were there for the most part as well, until the frantic final minute. But Eugene calmly knocked down two free throws to help seal the victory (or, rather, extend the lead).

Rebounding Was Huge: The Scarlet Knights dominated inside as Aaron pointed out in his piece. Shaq Doorson was huge (those alley-oops are amazing). But the rebounding was so big. The Scarlet Knights outrebounded Northwestern 44-30, but only allowed the Wildcats 5 offensive rebounds. That means they were almost always one-and-done on the offensive end. Just helped Rutgers muck up the tempo even more.

Ron Harper Jr. Gets Into the Spotlight: Each game a different freshman has shined and tonight it was Harper. I just looked at the box score and was stunned to see Harper only had 7 points. Montez Mathis had 12, but Harper Jr really helped change the game. The burly wing can shoot it from outside, or—my new favorite move—back in his defender and then spin and take it to the rim. Harper was able to draw a ton of fouls that way and really put pressure on Northwestern on the defensive end.

Run Your Offense: Rutgers missed a lot of free throws, yes—but that’s not why they almost lost this game. Rutgers almost lost this game because their offense isn’t good enough to stop running it. When the Scarlet Knights went up 8, they opted to slow the ball down and let Geo Baker try to get to the rim and get fouled. Except he wasn’t able to. Northwestern really locked down on defense during that stretch because Rutgers didn’t run any plays and didn’t push tempo. They are at their best pushing tempo. All those misses, allowed for Vic Law to get hot and drag the Wildcats back into the game.

BONUS THINKING THOUGHT THING—Another Sell Out Opportunity: So, now Saturday is pretty big, huh? There is clear progress on the banks this year and now another ranked team comes into the RAC—Iowa, who just beat Northwestern on a buzzer beater. So far, in front of sell out crowds, Rutgers hasn’t put up much of a fight. But this is another chance and you got to the think the Scarlet Knights are going to be flying high. Iowa doesn’t defend much, but man can that score. It will be an intriguing match-up Saturday at 6. If you have tickets, get there early and be loud.