Rutgers (14-15; 7-12) At Indiana (16-14; 7-12)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana
Tip-off: Sunday, March 10th at 12:00 p.m. ET (Daylight Savings - spring forward an hour)
Radio: Live Listen - WCTC 1450 AM/WOR 710 AM - Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #71; Indiana #43
(Rutgers moved back 1 spot after the loss to Penn State)
KenPom Prediction: Indiana 68 Rutgers 61 ; Rutgers has a 26% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Indiana -7.5
Series History: Indiana leads 6-2 all-time, but Rutgers has won the last two meetings, including a 66-58 victory in late January at the RAC.
SB Nation Indiana site: Crimson Quarry
Head coach Archie Miller was almost run out of town in just his second season just about two weeks ago after the Hoosiers lost a stretch of 12 of 13 Big Ten games. They were shorthanded for a significant period of time, as big man De’Ron Davis has missed five games and point guard Rob Phinisee missed three games, both due to injuries. In addition, Devonte Green missed four games earlier in the season with an injury, while being suspended for three games in the middle of Big Ten play.
While Phinisee scored just 3 points in 28 minutes against Rutgers in the first meeting, the freshman is playing very well right now. Davis and Green did not play at the RAC. There is no doubt having all three players back together has made the Hoosiers a deeper and better team, as they enter Sunday’s contest on a three game winning steak and are legitimately on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, making this rematch hugely important for them.
Indiana features two of the most talented players in the Big Ten in Freshman of the Year favorite Romeo Langford and senior big man Juwan Morgan. When this team plays to its potential, they can beat anyone, as proven by sweeping its season series against Michigan State.
Indiana is averaging 70.8 points per game and is shooting 45.7% from the field, 31.2% from three-point range, and 65.5% from the free throw line. The Hoosiers are 12-4 this season when scoring 70+ points.
In Big Ten play, Indiana’s efficiency ratings are in the bottom half of the conference, as they are 13th on offense (97.1) and 9th on defense (103.6). They do come into Wednesday’s game with the fourth best free throw rate (the ratio of foul shots to field goal attempts) in the Big Ten (33.5%), but are making just 67.0% from the line in league play, which is 12th best. Indiana is shooting three’s worse than any other team in Big Ten play, making just 27.7%. On the defensive end, the Hoosiers are ranked third in defensive block rate (12.1%) but are just 11th in defending opponents from three-point range (34.5%)
6’6” freshman Romeo Langford - 16.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists
6’3” junior Devonte Green - 7.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.2 steals
6’4” sophomore Aljami Durham - 7.7 points, 1.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists
6’1” freshman Rob Phinisee - 7.0 points, 2.9 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 1.1 steals
6’8” senior Juwan Morgan - 14.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.6 blocks, 1.2 steals
6’7” sophomore Justin Smith - 8.8 points, 4.5 rebounds
6’10” junior De’Ron Davis - 5.2 points, 2.4 rebounds
Rutgers Notes: The Scarlet Knights are averaging 68.0 points per game this season and are shooting 41.6% from the floor, 31.4% from three-point range, and 62.6% from the free throw line. They own 8 quadrant 1 & 2 wins this season. KenPom has RU as the most improved high major program, based on moving up 78 spots in those efficiency rankings since the beginning of this season. In Big Ten play, Rutgers is ranked 11th in both offensive (98.4) and defensive efficiency (105.6).
Keys To Victory
The first meeting between these teams was over five weeks ago and both teams have improved. Indiana is a far more complete team with Devonte Green back from suspension and De’Ron Davis back from injury. Even during their extended losing streak, they were mostly competitive and lost a lot of close games. Now they have legitimate NCAA Tournament hopes and need to win the rematch against Rutgers to help their candidacy.
For Rutgers, there are a lot of things that can be achieved with a win in this game, most notably an opening round bye in next week’s Big Ten Tournament and a .500 regular season record. Achieving both would mark significant progress for the program this year. However, it will take as strong a performance as this team put together a week ago at Iowa to beat Indiana this time around. After losing a heartbreaker at home to Penn State, Rutgers needs to regroup both physically and mentally in order to be ready for Sunday.
In the first meeting, Indiana stars Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan combined for 35 points, but were only 12 of 32 from the field combined. Both were in foul trouble throughout the game and Indiana only shot 35% on the night. It’s going to be very difficult to replicate those types of stats, but there is no question Rutgers will need strong post defense once again against the Hoosiers. They had a +13 rebounding margin in the first meeting, as well as an 34-22 advantage with points in the paint. With Davis back, he will certainly be a factor inside. For Rutgers, Shaq Carter posted 8 points and 7 rebounds in that game, but he really hasn’t been close to being the same type of factor ever since. Getting a spark from him would be timely.
Bench production has been a strong suit for Rutgers in conference play, but they were outplayed Wednesday against Penn State. They need a big bounce back on Sunday if the Scarlet Knights want to have a chance to win. Myles Johnson and Caleb McConnell were big factors on Wednesday and need to be once again Sunday versus the Hoosiers. McConnell’s length could cause problems for Indiana’s point guard Rob Phinisee, who had 17 points, 5 assists, and zero turnovers in the win over Illinois on Thursday, handling their pack line defense with ease. Perhaps Montez Mathis will start on him instead of Geo Baker, but Pikiell likes to rotate assignments at times to wear opposing players down and McConnell has a size advantage. All three Rutgers guards will need to play well defensively in what will be a hostile environment. Some added scoring punch off the bench from Peter Kiss would be key as well. Johnson needs to give Rutgers some inside scoring and has been fantastic on the offensive glass all season.
While Indiana hasn’t been a good three-point shooting team this season, they still have the potential to do damage from behind the arc. During their three-game winning streak, the Hoosiers are shooting 22 for 64 for 34.4%, which is solid and they’ve made at least 6 shots from behind the arc in each game. Rutgers has only done that three times in its last eight games and as I feared, forced too many from deep against Penn State after having its best performance of the season (11 of 23) the game before at Iowa. Rutgers can’t allow the Hoosiers to get going behind the arc on Sunday or it will be very difficult to keep up. Aljami Durham and Devonte Green are the two main threats and are shooting 37% and 38% respectively.
On the flip side, Rutgers needs to attack the rim on the offensive end, share the basketball and not settle for contested jumpers or out of rhythm shots. In addition, getting to the rim and forcing contact will hopefully replicate foul trouble for Morgan and Langford like in the first game. Of course, making foul shots is a must as well and certainly not a strength of Rutgers, even though this team has shown the ability to make big shots from the line at times this season.
Perhaps most importantly, Rutgers must come out strong on the road in what will now be a raucous environment on senior night and with NCAA hope alive for the Hoosiers. The Scarlet Knights fell behind by 10 points late in the first half of the first meeting and can’t afford for that to happen again. They came back behind a 22-0 run spread over both halves, but Rutgers can’t expect to put together that type of result on the road. They need to start fast and avoid playing from behind for most of the game. The farther into the game they lead, the more pressure it will put on Indiana.
What does need to travel is toughness. When this team is confident and playing hard, they have willed themselves to win games they weren’t expected to. You can be sure that this team is upset about its loss on Wednesday in what was an emotional roller coaster of a game. They need to channel it into playing inspired basketball in this contest.
Rutgers plays its best with their backs against the wall when no one expecting them to win. That’s exactly the type of situation they are in on Sunday. It’s been a tough week with the 1-point loss on Wednesday and then with the news Friday night that Issa Thiam was arrested and is now suspended indefinitely. It’s a true test for a young team to see how they will respond to this much adversity.
They were by far the tougher team than Indiana the past two times they played and Rutgers won both. They’ll need to be once again to win. I’m saying it now, expect close calls to go against the visitors in Scarlet and save your voice by not screaming at the television. This team needs to not let it affect them and be tougher by continuing to fight through it.
The last point I’ll make is an optimistic one. The three best shooting performances from Rutgers in Big Ten play this season were all on the road: Iowa (50.8%), Illinois (50.7%) and Wisconsin (46.6%). The Scarlet Knights amazingly beat Indiana in the first meeting only shooting 41.1% from the floor and they certainly won’t win this time around with such a low percentage. Perhaps they can find their shot once again on the road and give the Hoosiers a run for their postseason lives on its homecourt on Sunday.
Appropriate Music Selection
For this game, I chose All My Life by the Foo Fighters. One of my favorite bands and this song is spirited and about getting close to the finish line and having the prize snatched away from you just at the end. Rutgers is right there on the final day of the regular season. Win and finish as high as 8th place in the Big Ten along with an opening round bye in the conference tournament next week. Lose and finish as worse as 12th place as well as guaranteed to play in the opening round. Even with a loss, significant progress has occurred this, but a win would signal even more. Either way, I hope this team comes out swinging with their best shot.