No. 17/21 Iowa (19-5; 8-5) At Rutgers (12-12; 5-9)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: The RAC in Piscataway, New Jersey (8,000) SOLD OUT
Tip-off: Saturday, February 16th at 6:00 p.m. ET
TV: FS1 - Brian Custer & Jim Spanarkel
Radio: Live Listen - WCTC 1450 AM/WOR 710 AM/Sirius 99/XM 202 - Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM - Justin Sontupe & Jake Ostrove
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #87; Iowa #27
(Rutgers has moved up 5 spots since the win over Northwestern)
KenPom Prediction: Iowa 76 Rutgers 72; Rutgers has a 37% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Iowa -4
Series History: Iowa leads all-time 5-1, but Rutgers won the last meeting 80-64 last January at the RAC.
SB Nation Iowa site: Black Heart Gold Pants
Head coach Fran McCaffery is in his ninth season at Iowa and has his team clicking right now, as the come into Saturday night’s game winners in eight of its last ten outings, including three in a row. They produced four victories over KenPom Top 100 teams in non-conference play and beat first place Michigan by 15 points at home on February 1st.
They are a fascinating team in the sense that they are one of the best offensive units in all of college basketball, but are severely lacking on the defensive end. The problem with Iowa is they basically dare you to outscore them, which is far easier said than done.
For the season, Iowa averages 81.6 points per game and is shooting 47.4% from the field, 38.0% from three-point range, and 75.2% from the free throw line. They are the highest scoring team in Big Ten play, averaging 77.8 points per game. The Hawkeyes have the third most efficient offense in league action at 111.1 and are ranked first in three-point shooting (38.9%) and free throw shooting (75.7%), second in effective field goal percentage (52.6%), free throw rate (36.8%), and tempo (70.0%).
Defensively is a different story. They are last in scoring defense (76.5 ppg) as well as defensive efficiency (109.2). However, they are sixth in three-point defense in league play, holding opponents to 32.3% from behind the arc, as well as free throw rate (30.1%).
Iowa will be a major challenge due to the fact that their offensive attack is so well balanced. They play at a fast pace and have five players who average around 10 or more points per context, all of whom have each scored 20+ points in a game multiple times this season. That type of balance puts a lot of pressure on opposing defenses because there are so many options to keep track of. Rutgers will need its best defensive effort of the season to win.
6’6” freshman Joe Wieskamp - 11.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.0 assist, 1.0 steal
6’1” junior Jordan Bohannon - 11.1 points, 3.4 assists, 2.1 rebounds
6’5” junior Isaiah Moss - 9.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists
6’5” freshman Connor McCaffery - 4.9 points, 3.1 assists, 1.8 rebounds
6’9” junior Tyler Cook - 16.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists
6’11” sophomore Luke Garza - 13.8 points, 4.7 rebounds
6’7” senior Nicholas Baer - 6.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.1 blocks
6’9” junior Ryan Kriener - 5.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.0 assist
Mamadou Doucoure remains out indefinitely with a back issue.
Notes: Rutgers is averaging 67.6 points per game this season and are shooting 41.2% from the floor, 31.4% from three-point range, and 63.1% from the free throw line.
Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery
On the opponent: “Rutgers is impressive because Steve Pikiell has had a chance to build it. They always had some good players, but now they just have more of them. They have depth, and the ability to overcome one guy having an off night. They have a good guard (Geo Baker) and a good front court guy (Eugene Omoruyi) to go along with some good, young athletic guys that can play in transition, play fast, and defend.”
Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell
On the opponent: “Iowa is a unique team with how good they are offensively. They shoot the three really well. They are a great free throw shooting team and they get to the line the most in the league. They are deep offensively, a very skilled basketball team. They have so many ways that they can beat you on that end. We have to play great basketball in order to beat a top 20 team that’s elite offensively. There were some good things that came from that Northwestern win. It was good to get contributions from everybody, we have a deep bench and we use that to our advantage. Hopefully there is some carryover to the Iowa game.”
On keeping the team grounded after wins: “That’s something that I always struggle with because I can’t control any of that stuff. But we try to get the guys to have blinders on. We’re playing Iowa, a top-20 team, and we have ranked teams all over the place. It’s just one game at a time, and we don’t have time for any of the ‘what we’ve done in the past’ storylines. It’s Iowa, it’s the best offensive team in the league and one of the best in the country. So we’re locked into the game plan, and not focused on all that other stuff because it really doesn’t matter. We just try to get them into that mindframe. Geo’s been great. He was the maestro the other day leading the team.’’
On the defense of Geo Baker: “His defense in the last two games has been outstanding. I love when he defends because we are like a different basketball team.”
On the resiliency of this team & development of the younger players: “I think all of those guys are getting better and better. They are getting more confidence. The other day our defense was outstanding. I think the more they play, the more comfortable they are. I think Gene, Geo and Shaq (Doorson) are so important because they are the veterans who have been through a lot more. They know how hard this league is. Winning streaks, losing streaks, its the best league in the country. I try not to get them caught up in any of that stuff. Play one game. The last game doesn’t matter. They’ve been good with that and the younger guys are going through things for the first time. I think our veterans are helping them through it. Iowa has had a whole week to prepare for us. We have to be locked in.”
Rutgers Guard Geo Baker
On the matchup against Iowa: “We can’t really make any mistakes on the defensive end against Iowa. And I think we’re ready for that challenge. It’s going to be exciting. It’s sold-out, it’s going to be a great atmosphere, so it’s going to be fun.”
On the team needing to stay focused: “Especially because we’re a really young team we try not to get too caught up on how Rutgers has done in the past. We all came here to do something bigger. I think the reality of it is we haven’t really done anything yet. That’s just our mindset. We want to continue to keep getting better and work our way up.’’
On guarding the perimeter: “We are really stressing attention to detail. They have a lot of really good shooters on their team. We can’t be late on closeouts.”
On what the players did for coach Pikiell in the wake of his mother’s passing: “It’s just a family atmosphere. The biggest thing is we are all here for each other. We all appreciate what he has done for us as players. We were really upset about not being able to get that win in Illinois. We really felt like we let him down. I text him right after saying we will get the rest (of games) for you. That’s how I feel and I meant that when I said it.”
Keys To Victory
Limit The Three & Identify Multiple Shooters
Iowa is most dangerous on the perimeter as they have three shooters averaging over 40% from three point range: Joe Wieskamp at 45.3% on 95 attempts; Isaiah Moss at 45.2% on 84 attempts; Jordan Bohannon at 40.6% on 133 attempts. The Hawkeyes are almost unbeatable when they make 36% or better from behind the arc in a game, as they are 6-1 in Big Ten play when doing so and 12-1 overall. Rather than worrying about one player, Rutgers needs to focus on contesting every shot around the perimeter and be able to find the shooters when getting back on defense in transition. Iowa is so dangerous and can go on a big run in a blink of an eye due to their ability to shoot from deep. They average over eight three-pointers per game and the defense of Rutgers can’t afford to take any possessions off, because Iowa will lull you to sleep and make you pay dearly. The backcourt of Rutgers does have length and the ability to get into passing lanes that could bother the Hawkeyes.
Dominate The Boards
Rutgers has a +55 rebounding margin in its past seven games during a stretch they’ve gone 4-3 and lost a heartbreaker in overtime. They have become one of the best in the Big Ten on the glass on both ends of the floor this season. I wrote about how it’s been a total team effort on the glass here. Limiting second chance opportunities for Iowa, who look to kick it back out to open shooters along the perimeter off of offensive rebounds, is so important in this game. On the other end, Rutgers needs to maximize second chance scoring chances on any missed shots. Keeping up scoring wise with Iowa won’t be easy, so getting looks and converting near the rim after misses will be key. Keep in mind Iowa had a -11 rebounding margin against Northwestern in its last game, three days before Rutgers bodied the Wildcats for a +14 rebounding margin against them. The Scarlet Knights need to dominate on the glass in this matchup.
Dominate Points In The Paint
Iowa is allowing opponents to shoot 53.6% from two-point range this season overall and even worse in Big Ten play at 55.8%. As we know, shooting is not a strength of Rutgers, who are shooting just 45.3% from two-point range, which ranks 12th in league play. However, the Scarlet Knights have shown recent improvement in this area, as they’ve made 50% or better from inside the arc in three of its last four games. The matchup against Iowa gives them a great opportunity to continue that trend and expect them to continue to attack the rim. They’ve looked to run in transition more often of late and that has led to better production in the paint as well. This team has learned what works for them and it will come down to execution. They still miss too many shots near the rim, or bunnies in hoops slang, so it would be nice to see this not be an issue on Saturday night.
Free Throws: Get To The Line Often & Convert
We know that Rutgers won’t be able to keep up with Iowa from behind the arc, which makes their ability to get to the free throw line and convert all the more important. The last time Rutgers played at the RAC they shot 12 of 16 for 75% from the charity stripe against Michigan. That type of efficiency is a must if they want to stay in this game. Iowa is actually more proficient than Rutgers in getting to the free throw line and are tops in the league in making them, so the margin for error is even less than usual in this game.
Play Within Themselves
Rutgers will be playing at the RAC in front of the fourth sellout this season. They’ve lost the three previous games with a capacity crowd at home all by double digits and an average of 12.3 points. They also lost by 19 points to St. John’s in the third game of the season when the RAC was almost full. However, this team has thrived at the RAC in come from behind victories over Ohio State and Nebraska, while going on a wild 22-0 run to throttle Indiana as well. Which Rutgers team will show up under the lights at the RAC, no one knows. Iowa has played against Rutgers on the banks twice since Steve Pikiell has been head coach. The Hawkeyes blew them out in 2017 by 20 points and Rutgers returned the favor with a stunning 16 point rout last season. This is a huge matchup and test for an inexperienced team that is getting better by the game. After two consecutive road games and even more confidence, I expect Rutgers to be ready for the occasion. They need to ride the emotion of the home crowd, but also play under control and stay focused on executing the game plan.
Appropriate Music Selection
Last month I began a new feature incorporating an appropriate Pearl Jam song to the current state of the team in each game preview. I decided to vary selections more so in order to have a more diverse catalog to choose from. For the Iowa game, I chose Keep On Rockin In The Free World by Neil Young. And yes, I’m bringing Pearl Jam back, as they’ve collaborated with “Uncle Neil” for years and I love when they play this song together. While I know this tune has political undertones, I’m using it for the spirit that Rutgers needs on Saturday.
This team continues to grow their confidence and are developing as a group in a way that is raising eyebrows across the Big Ten. This is their chance to make another statement and gain its best conference win of the season against Iowa. The one intriguing thing to keep in the back of your mind is this team has yet to put together a complete game on both ends of the floor in Big Ten play. Their best peformance of the season is still to come in my opinion and it would be perfect timing if it came in this game. Play loose, let it all hang out, and let the chips fall where they may. Keep on rockin in the free world and rock the RAC old school style!