No. 11 Rutgers (6-0; 2-0) at No. 23 Ohio State (6-1; 0-1)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: Value Center Arena in Columbus, Ohio
Tip-off: Wednesday, December 23 at 4:30 p.m. ET
TV: BTN - Dave Revsine and Stephen Bardo
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers is 17th, which is one spot higher since a 3 point win over Illinois; Ohio State is 20th, which is four spots higher after a 7 point win over UCLA.
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 110.1 (23rd) Defense 89.6 (15th); Ohio State - Offense 112.9 (8th) Defense 92.7 (45th)
KenPom Prediction: Ohio State 71 Rutgers 69; Rutgers is given a 43% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Ohio State -1
Series History: Ohio State leads all-time 8-3 and won the last meeting 72-66 on February 12, 2020 in Columbus. It was the only time the two teams played each other last season.
Ohio State SB Nation Site: Land Grant Holy Land
Ohio State - 6’3” Duane Washington Jr. (14.4 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 34.7% 3-pt FG, 95.2% FT); 6’7” E.J. Liddell (14.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 1.2 blocks, 53.1% FG, 81.8% FT); 6’7” Justice Sueing (12.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 35.3% 3-pt FG); 6’1” C.J. Walker (11.7 points, 4.4 assists, 3.0 rebounds, 1.0 steal, 97.3% FT); 6’8” Zed Key (7.1 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 55.2% FG); 6’8” Kyle Young (5.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.0 assist); 6’6” Justin Ahrens (5.6 points, 1.1 rebounds, 52.0% 3-pt FG); 6’5” Musa Jallow (5.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists)
Rutgers - 6’6” junior Ron Harper Jr. (24.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 60.0% FG, 52.5% 3-pt FG); 6’2” senior Jacob Young (16.5 points, 5.7 assists, 2.7 steals, 2.3 rebounds, 42.9% 3-pt FG); 6’4” junior Montez Mathis (14.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.3 steals); 6’10” redshirt junior Myles Johnson (8.7 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.7 blocks, 1.3 assists, 62.9% FG); 6’4” Geo Baker (7.0 points, 3.0 assists, 1.7 rebounds); 6’6” sophomore Paul Mulcahy (6.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.0 assists)
Mawot Mag (ankle sprain) and Cliff Omoruyi (knee sprain) will miss Wednesday’s game. Jerry Carino reported on Tuesday that Omoruyi “will be reevaluated next week, with his return timetable predicated on how fast of a healer he is” and Mag “is expected to be sidelined for at least another week.” That leaves Rutgers with only a core rotation of six players against the Buckeyes.
About Ohio State
Chris Holtmann is in his fourth season at OSU and has them off to a 6-1 start with wins over UCLA and Notre Dame. The lone loss was 7 point defeat to Purdue to open Big Ten play in a game they were missing then leading scorer E.J. Liddell. The Buckeyes play a core eight man rotation and have a display a lot of versatility with different lineups. They aren’t particularly big with none of the key players standing taller than 6’8”, but the majority of the rotation can play and guard multiple positions. They’ve dealt with some minor injuries this season, but should have their full compliment of key players for this game.
Ohio State hasn’t shot particularly well this season, as they average just 44.0% from the floor and 33.6% from three-point range. However, they are an excellent free throw shooting team as they have made 77.0% of their 174 attempts. They also are efficient in getting to the line with the 30th best free throw rate (43.3%) nationally.
The Buckeyes have the 7th best turnover rate in the country at just 13.8% and have the 41st best offensive rebounding rate nationally at 34.7%. However they are susceptible to opponents making them pay on the offensive glass (31.7% opponent offensive rebounding rate; 251st) and have allowed opponents to shoot 37.8% from three-point range (268th). They are defending well inside, holding foes to just 42.0% shooting from two-point range (26th).
Keys To Victory
Take care of the basketball
Both teams have limited turnovers this season, but it’s really important for Rutgers to not get sloppy on the road in a game that six players will be relied heavily on due to Mag and Omoruyi out. The last ten minutes of the game will be key for RU to maximize possessions and avoid failing to get shots off. Jacob Young has been a dynamic playmaker but is still prone to turning it over when he attacks the rim under pressure. Geo Baker wasn’t hitting shots against Illinois, but his 5 assists and just 1 turnover was a big contribution. His steady hand will be needed in this game, as will the ball movement to get open looks and make OSU work hard in their halfcourt defense.
Rutgers can run effectively on the break while Ohio State prefers to slow it down. They currently have an adjusted tempo rating of 67.2, which is just 326th nationally. The Scarlet Knights have the speed to create issues and put the Buckeyes back on their heels with their ability to push the pace. Young will be key in doing this, as will RU’s ability to convert in transition. Montez Mathis needs to look to attack the rim on the break, while Baker and Ron Harper Jr. have the potential to land haymakers from behind the arc. If Rutgers gets lured into a halfcourt game with the score ending in the 60’s, it will be more difficult to win.
Look for Pikiell to play a small ball lineup at times to counter certain Ohio State lineups, especially if Johnson is in foul trouble, rather than rely on having to dig deep off the bench with Mamadou Doucoure, Oskar Palmquist and Dean Reiber. However, if other Rutgers players get into foul trouble, Pikiell will be limited in his options and have his hand forced to play them more than he probably prefers to. How the backcourt defends will be key in being aggressive but not reckless. The other issue with foul trouble is that Ohio State is lethal from the line and will make Rutgers pay, especially if they get into the bonus early in either half. Guards Duane Washington Jr. (20 of 21) and C.J. Walker (36 of 37) have missed a whopping two free throws in 58 combined attempts this season. That’s incredible efficiency from the charity stripe. If Rutgers is trailing late in the game, they have to avoid fouling these two or it will be lights out. That will be extremely difficult though as the ball will be in their hands, so the moral of the story is RU needs the lead as the game enters crunch time.
As I mentioned above, OSU is a strong rebounding team on the offensive end, but are susceptible on the other end. Rutgers has been strong on both ends with an offensive rebounding rate of 34.0% (53rd) and opponents have just a 25.8% offensive rebounding rate (96th). Myles Johnson could dominate on the glass on both ends if he can play big minutes, as he enters this contest in the top 40 of all players nationally in offensive and defensive rebounding rates. However, how guys like Paul Mulcahy and Mathis rebound will likely determine if Rutgers can hold a true advantage on the boards. OSU has been very tough on opponents scoring inside, so converting on second chance scoring opportunities is a must for RU in this game.
All the trappings for a letdown are present for this game. Rutgers has done a great job playing with a chip on their shoulder and not buying into the hype this season, but this will be their biggest challenge so far. They come into the game with their highest national ranking in 44 years. The Scarlet Knights are down two rotation players and are playing an afternoon game on the road on just two days rest right before they get an extended break for Christmas. Pikiell has said the players will have a chance to go home and see their families for the first time since being on campus since June. The Buckeyes are a nationally ranked, versatile squad and a loss wouldn’t be a bad one by any means. However, it’s going to take extreme focus, consistent execution and a strong defensive effort from the opening tip on from Rutgers to win this game.
Appropriate Music Selection
For the seventh game of the season, I’m featuring “Lust For Life” by Iggy Po, which was co-written by David Bowie. Rutgers is going to have to dig deep to gut out a win in Columbus and this song came to mind. Lyrics include “‘Cause we’re the masters of our own fate. We’re the captains of our own souls” and “a lust for life, and a lust for life, keeps us alive, keeps us alive.”
Rutgers is as motivated a team as there is and they’ll need every bit of effort they can muster to come through on Wednesday. They no doubt want to have a Merry Christmas and avoid a loss, but it won’t be easy in this game. They need that lust to prove the doubters wrong to carry them through.