No. 25 Rutgers (16-5; 7-3) vs. Michigan (12-8; 3-6)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: Madison Square Garden (19,812) in New York City
Tip-off: Saturday, February 1 at 4:30 p.m. ET.
TV: BTN - Kevin Kugler and Andy Katz
Stream: Fox Sports App
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers 25th: Michigan 27th; Rutgers moved up 1 spot since Tuesday’s win over Purdue. Michigan moved up 3 spots after Tuesday’s win over Nebraska.
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 107.5 (76th) Defense 89.6 (9th); Michigan - Offense 111.9 (28th) Defense 94.3 (52nd)
KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 68 Michigan 67. Rutgers is given a 51% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Michigan -1
Series History: Michigan leads the all-time series 11-0, including last season’s 77-65 victory at the RAC. The Wolverines also have beaten RU in the 1976 Final Four and 2004 NIT Final.
SB Nation’s Michigan Site: Maize N Brew
Michigan - 7’1” senior Jon Teske (13.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, 1.2 steals, 53.0% FG); 6’7” junior Isaiah Livers (13.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 50.0% 3-pt); 6’0” senior Zavier Simpson (12.8 points, 8.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds); 6’1” junior Eli Brooks (11.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steal, 38.3% 3-pt FG); 6’8” freshman Franz Wagner (10.6 points, 4.6 rebounds1.3 steals); 6’0” sophomore David DeJulius (7.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 36.2% 3-pt FG); 6’8” sophomore Brandon Johns Jr. (5.7 points, 4.3 rebounds); 6’11” sophomore Colin Castleton (3.4 points, 2.7 rebounds, 53.3% FG)
Italics - questionable
Rutgers - 6’6” sophomore Ron Harper Jr. (12.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.1 steals); 6’4” junior Geo Baker (10.1 points, 3.6 assists, 2.3 rebounds, 1.4 steals); 6’6” senior Akwasi Yeboah (9.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 37.5% 3-pt FG); 6’10” sophomore Myles Johnson (9.1 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 68.0% FG); 6’2” junior Jacob Young (8.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists); 6’7” sophomore Caleb McConnell (8.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.0 steal, 35.0% 3-pt FG); 6’4” sophomore Montez Mathis (7.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.0 steals); ; 6’9” senior Shaq Carter (3.7 points, 2.4 rebounds, 57.1% FG); 6’6” freshman Paul Mulcahy (3.5 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 56.6% FG)
Michigan Scouting Report
First year head coach Juwan Howard started his Michigan tenure off with an impressive 7-0 record that included victories over Creighton, Iowa State, North Carolina, and Gonzaga. However, they’ve gone just 5-8 since and have struggled mightily with Isaiah Livers out with a groin injury. He missed a month and returned last Saturday against Illinois, but left the game re-injuring his groin. His status is day to day but it’s unclear whether he’ll play against Rutgers.
UM lost four straight Big Ten games in a row before winning its first road game of the season at Nebraska on Tuesday.
Michigan started the season as a great shooting team, but have struggled ever since. In the last seven games, the Wolverines have shot just 26.8% from three-point range and are only 12th in Big Ten play overall from behind the arc. However, they lead conference action from two-point range at 54.8%. The Wolverines are averaging 76.7 points per game and are shooting 46.9% from the field, 34.2% from three-point range, and are shooting 70.7% from the foul line.
Point guard Zavier Simpson’s was suspended for Michigan’s last game but Howard indicated to the media on Friday that Simpson did practice with the team this week. Later, he was announced as active and ready to play on Saturdays He is a very good floor general on the offensive end and ball movement is much better with him on the court. The Wolverines need good spacing to get the shots they prefer, which Simpson helps with his ability to penetrate and dish to the open shooter.
Overall, Michigan is not a strong offensive rebounding team (252nd in DI; 10th in B1G) and they don’t turn opponents over much (311th D1; 8th B1G). They play at an average tempo and rely on good shooting to win games. They are 3rd in Big Ten play in offensive efficiency and just 13th in defensive efficiency.
As a team, Rutgers averages 71.6 points per game and is shooting 45.9% from the floor, 30.9% from three-point range, and 64.6% from the free throw line......The Scarlet Knights are 13th nationally in field goal percentage defense (37.6%), 15th in scoring defense (60.8), 21st in total rebounding (40.4), 23rd in rebound margin (+6.8), 32nd in scoring margin (+10.8) and 35th in blocks (4.7)......Rutgers is undefeated this season at the RAC (15-0), as well as when they score 15 or more fast break points (9-0).......RU has an RPI ranking of 19th and a NET ranking of 21st, which is used by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee to help determine the field of 68 at the end of the season....Rutgers is currently 8th in Big Ten play in offensive efficiency and 3rd in defensive efficiency.........The Scarlet Knights’ remaining schedule ranks 3rd nationally in difficulty per ESPN’s BPI.
Coach Pikiell Pregame Presser
Random but notable fact
Rutgers is 5-0 in Big Ten play when Caleb McConnell scores in double digits.
Keys To Victory
Clean The Glass
Rutgers needs to be aggressive on the boards in this game. They need to limit the Wolverines to one shot possessions and reduce the risk of allowing open three’s on kick-outs after rebounds. Michigan struggles in transition defense and the Scarlet Knights are 9-0 when scoring 15 or more fast break points this season. Getting out on the break off of defensive rebounds will test Michigan and potentially wear them down in the second half. The size of the Rutgers backcourt is considerably bigger than Michigan and they need to exploit that fact on the glass.
On the offensive end, the more Rutgers can win hustle points off of second chance points, the harder they are to beat. Four of the past five games, Rutgers has had a negative rebounding margin and lost the battle on the offensive glass. Yet they still went 3-2, but it wasn’t easy. Michigan is not a very physical team and RU needs to bring the battle to them. The matchup of Myles Johnson vs. Jon Teske will be interesting to watch on the blocks as well. Whichever big gets into foul trouble will be an edge for the other team.
Contest every Michigan Shot
Rotations need to be on point and especially with Simpson playing, Rutgers needs to be able to limit creases in the lane for him to get into the paint and cause damage. He is a great passer and finisher near the rim. Closing out on three-point attempts and also recognizing where the best shooters are on the floor at all times is a must. The more Rutgers can make Michigan work in their halfcourt offense and force them into contested looks, the more likely they are to struggle.
On the ball defending is crucial. While Rutgers rarely employs a true fullcourt press, the player defending the point guard has begun picking them up from the entry pass on the other end more often, which is slowing down the ball handler and forcing opponents to start their offense farther away from the rim then preferred once they cross halfcourt. This type of detail is what has helped the Rutgers defense wear teams down. Montez Mathis guarding Simpson might just be the biggest key to this game. Michigan plays with basic offensive principles and doesn’t make many in-game adjustments, so Rutgers need to bring their “A” game on defense and impose their will.
Limit Turnovers but be in attack mode
In addition to the defense needing to be on point, Rutgers needs to make sure they don’t waste offensive possessions against a team that has the scoring potential of Michigan. Also, turnovers can lead to easy baskets and ultimately, prolonged runs. Rutgers needs to be smart with the basketball and continue to make the extra pass in the halfcourt. They continue to get better with its transition offense and the less they have to run back on defense off of turnovers, the more hop they’ll likely have when they start their own breaks.
Although missed jump shots aren’t turnovers, another reason Rutgers needs to attack the basket and not settle for long shots is it makes them more vulnerable against a guard like Simpson who can get his team out in transition in a hurry. Also, Michigan has the second worst defensive free throw rate in Big Ten play, which means Rutgers needs its guards and wings to drive and draw fouls, in order to take advantage at the foul line and increase its scoring potential.
Foul shooting an obvious concern for Rutgers at 64.6% this season. However, Ron Harper Jr., Geo Baker, Akwasi Yeboah & Caleb McConnell shooting a combined 75.8% from the line & each above 74% individually. Those four typically on the floor at the end helps in close games. #RHoops— Aaron Breitman (@aaron_breitman) January 29, 2020
It’s not clear whether Livers will play, but if he doesn’t, Rutgers will have a depth advantage. The Wolverines’ rotation would likely be just 6-7 players getting most of the minutes and that could be a problem for them. That’s why it’s so important for the Scarlet Knights to bring relentless defensive pressure. Coupled with the multiple lineups head coach Steve Pikiell can utilize, it can certainly wear down Michigan. It’s also really important that Shaq Carter, Geo Baker, Jacob Young, and Paul Mulcahy bring a lot of energy when they first take the court as a group 6-7 minutes into the game, which is how Pikiell has been substituting at the start of games.
The atmosphere at the Garden will likely be frenetic at the start and whichever team can gather itself in the early going has the chance to establish control of the game. Rutgers will likely need some bench scoring to win this game, with Baker and Young the best candidates to provide that. Young, in particular, is an x-factor. He had 5 turnovers against Purdue and played seldomly in the second half. Expect him to come out focused and looking to have a big game on the big stage at the Garden. If he can play within himself and stay under controlI think he could create a lot of problems for Michigan and be in line for a big day. His defense on Simpson when Mathis is out of the game will be crucial as well.
Seize The Moment
This is going to be a challenging game for Rutgers for several reasons. It’s a very important game, as each one is becoming more so after the other at this stage, but it’s also a showcase game for the conference. All eyes will on them. They are facing a big name program they’ve never beaten, who will have some confidence after winning its first road game this season and their point guard back.
Michigan is already needing to play a bit like their backs are against the wall and Rutgers is still adjusting to being the hunted after long being the hunter. Although they are close to home at the Garden and Rutgers fans will be vocal, they need to channel their emotions and bring focused energy to the court in a big game away from the RAC. It’s a mental transition now that Rutgers isn’t a surprise team anymore and opponents will start adjusting to what they do well. Playing together and being connected on both ends of the floor are so important in maintaining success moving forward. Their strength is in their depth and production they get from everyone on the floor. It needs to continue against a very talented but beatable Michigan team.
Appropriate Music Selection
For the twenty-second game of the season, I’m featuring Pearl Jam’s cover of Driven To Tears by The Police. They played this version the last time I saw them at the Garden. As much as I associate the Garden with basketball, I do with Pearl Jam as well. My first show seeing them was at the Garden in 1998 and I’ve seen them there many times since. The floorboards have shaken several times I’ve been in attendance and it’s quite the experience. The last time was in 2016 and the great Sting walked on stage to sing his song with Eddie and the band. It’s one of my favorite moments ever seeing them live.
As for this game, I hope both fan bases are driven to tears. Michigan fans walking out of the Garden stunned after a damaging loss to a program they’ve never lost to over many decades. The other, Rutgers fans crying tears of joy as a special season continues to get even better. A win tomorrow doesn’t make up for losses on two national stages dating back 40+ years, but you have to start somewhere. A win tomorrow keeps Rutgers no worse than a game out of first place in the Big Ten and an opportunity to sweep the Wolverines at the RAC in a couple of weeks. May the Garden floor shake once more.