Rutgers (17-7; 8-5) at Ohio State (15-8; 5-7)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: Value City Arena (18,809) in Columbus, Ohio
Tip-off: Wednesday, February 12 at 7:00 p.m. ET.
TV: BTN - Kevin Kugler and Shon Morris
Stream: Fox Sports App
Radio: Live Listen - Rutgers Sports Properties Radio Network (WCTC 1450 AM/WOR 710 AM/XM 83/Sirius 83; Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers 33rd: Ohio State 12th; Rutgers moved back five spots since the win over Northwestern. Ohio State fell one spot after its loss to Wisconsin.
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 106.6 (92nd) Defense 89.5 (10th); Ohio State - Offense 112.6 (23rd) Defense 91.3 (17th)
KenPom Prediction: Ohio State 67 Rutgers 61. RU is given a 29% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Ohio’s State -5.5
Series History: Ohio State leads the all-time series 7-3 and they split last season’s home and home series.
SB Nation’s Ohio State Site: Land Grant Holy Land
Ohio State - 6’9 junior Kaleb Wesson (14.0 points, 9.6 points, 2.1 assists, 1.1 blocks, 39.7 3-pt FG%); 6’3” sophomore Duane Washington Jr. (10.9 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 39.4 3-pt FG%); 6’6” senior Andre Wesson (8.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 46.7 3-pt FG%); 6’1” junior C.J. Walker (7.6 points, 3.1 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 35.6 3-pt FG%); 6’8” junior Kyle Young (7.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 61.2 FG%); 6’6” freshman E.J. Liddell (6.2 points, 3.4 rebounds); 6’3” sophomore Luther Muhammad (6.0 points, 1.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists); 6’5” sophomore Kyle Ahrens (3.4 points, 1.4 rebounds, 40.9 3-pt FG%)
Rutgers - 6’6” sophomore Ron Harper Jr. (11.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists); 6’6” senior Akwasi Yeboah (10.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, 38.8 3-pt FG%); 6’4” junior Geo Baker (10.0 points, 3.6 assists, 2.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals); 6’10” sophomore Myles Johnson (8.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 63.2 FG%); 6’2” junior Jacob Young (8.3 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists); 6’7” sophomore Caleb McConnell (8.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists); 6’4” sophomore Montez Mathis (7.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.0 steals); 6’9” senior Shaq Carter (3.8 points, 2.4 rebounds, 58.7% FG); 6’6” freshman Paul Mulcahy (3.5 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 53.1% FG)
Ohio State Scouting Report
Head coach Chris Holtmann is in his third season with the Buckeyes after back to back 20 win campaigns and second round appearances in the NCAA Tournament. This season, the Buckeyes started 11-1 with wins over Villanova, North Carolina, and Kentucky. They were ranked in the top 5 in all of national polls and held the top KenPom ranking in the country for a period of time. However, OSU suffered a stretch in January when they lost six of seven games.
In addition, third leading scorer D.J. Carton took a leave of absence from the team due to mental health reasons at the end of last month. The Buckeyes did win three in a row before a road loss at Wisconsin on Sunday.
Ohio State averages 71.6 points per game and is shooting 45.0% from the floor, 37.9% from three-point range, and 72.7% from the free throw line. They are fourth in offensive efficiency in Big Ten play and ninth in defensive efficiency. While they are a good shooting team, they also struggle to defend the three, as opponents a league best 37.5% from behind the arc.
As a team, Rutgers averages 70.6 points per game and is shooting 44.6% from the floor, 29.5% from three-point range, and 64.3% from the free throw line......The Scarlet Knights are 8th nationally in rebounding (41.17), 14th in field goal percentage defense (38.0%), 15th in rebound margin (+7.3), 16th in scoring defense (61.4), 31st in blocks (4.8) and 44th in scoring margin (9.2).......Rutgers is undefeated this season at the RAC (16-0), as well as when they score 15 or more fast break points (9-0).......RU has an RPI ranking of 32nd and a NET ranking of 31st, 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 10th in Big Ten play in offensive efficiency and 3rd in defensive efficiency.........The Scarlet Knights’ remaining schedule ranks 1st nationally in difficulty per ESPN’s BPI.
Keys To Victory
Minimize Damage from Three
OSU is 13-1 when they shoot 36% or better from three-point range, which includes a 5-1 mark in conference play when they do, but 0-6 when they don’t. They are a dangerous team from behind the arc as six players regularly shoot three’s and four of them are averaging 39% or better. Rutgers has struggled defending the three lately, as they’ve allowed opponents in the past three games to make 40.6% from deep for 9+ makes per contest. They’ll need an all hands on deck approach to guarding the arc and contesting everything. Surprisingly the Buckeyes are just 11th in two-point shooting in conference play. Rutgers is 4th in defending two-point shooting, so it’s possible the Buckeyes will be in a feast or famine scenario depending on how well they shoot from three-point range in this game.
Get Kaleb Wesson in foul trouble
Another stat that jumps off the screen is that OSU is 8-2 when big man Kaleb Wesson gets a double-double. He dominated against Rutgers last season, scoring 45 points on 16 of 26 shooting in two games. However, he is foul prone and in Sunday’s loss to Wisconsin, he picked up two first half fouls. The Badgers outscored the Buckeyes by 10 points in the six minutes he was on the bench and fell into a hole they could never get out of. He was also never able to get into a rhythm and was held to just 8 points and 6 rebounds in the game.
Wesson does like to play with his back away from the basket and is second on the team in three-point attempts, so his game has evolved. Containing him on the offensive end and attacking him on the defensive end is something Myles Johnson and Shaq Carter need to be successful at doing or Rutgers will likely be playing uphill the entire game.
Ohio State has the second to worst turnover rate in Big Ten play at 18.9%, while Rutgers is 9th at 16.2%. Both teams force turnovers on the defensive end, as RU is 4th at 17.2% while Buckeyes are 6th at 16.8%. Whoever take better care of the basketball will have an edge in this game. For Rutgers, taking advantage of turnovers by converting them into fast break points is crucial to winning this game. Likewise, they can’t afford to waste possessions and allow easy baskets by throwing the ball away.
Avoid Scoring Droughts
A key to winning on the road is to not allow the home team any significant scoring run that can put you in a double digit deficit. It almost happened to Rutgers against Maryland, as they trailed by 8 points in both halves. They were able to fight back both times, but that takes a lot out of a team and they ultimately faltered at the end. A fast start to both halves is key tonight and they can not afford any extended scoreless droughts on the offensive end.
They also can’t let OSU bleed them to a slow death on the free throw line, where they are third in free throw rate and fourth in shooting percentage from the charity stripe in Big Ten play. On the flip side, if RU gets into the bonus, they need to convert 1 and 1’s. They closer the free throw margin is in terms of made shots, the better chance Rutgers will have. Lastly, they can’t be afraid to take three’s when they are open, as the Buckeyes struggle defending the deep ball. Rutgers has been hesitant lately and passed up some open looks against Northwestern, but to win on the road they need to at least make a few in this game. The opportunity to do that will be there.
Good Looks Down The Stretch
Rutgers has been much more competitive on the road this season, but they’ve lost close games to Illinois, Iowa, and Maryland due to a lack of execution on the offensive end in the final minutes. It’s certainly something the coaching staff has preached to this team and obviously having Geo Baker playing more like himself would be a positive factor tonight. Expect more isolation plays if it’s a one possession game down the stretch, with Geo and Ron Harper Jr. reading and reacting to the defense. At the end of the day they have to make shots, but getting good looks has been the challenge for Rutgers and something they need to figure out if they want to pull the upset in Columbus. Depending on the flow of the game, giving Jacob Young an opportunity to create off the dribble could be a good option as well.
Appropriate Music Selection
For the twenty-fifth game of the season, I’m featuring Optimistic by Radiohead. I really believe this is the game Rutgers will breakthrough on the road. It’s obviously a dangerous game in the sense that if the Buckeyes get going from deep it could actually be the biggest margin of defeat in conference play that Rutgers suffers this season. However, things have a way of leveling out and they are due. I also think the fact that basically every player on Ohio State is a deep threat will keep RU focused on contesting everything.
The line in the song “You can try the best you can. The best you can is good enough” rings true. This is as winnable a road game as Rutgers has left and they need to have the mindset they can control the outcome by how they play down the stretch. They’ve been painfully close against three ranked opponents on the road already so that should help their confidence. It’s just a matter of getting over that hump. Coming off of the dramatic come from behind victory over Northwestern and Geo Baker back to his old self, I expect a great performance and close win tonight.