Update: Tournament has been cancelled!
Big Ten Tournament Second Round
No. 8 Rutgers (20-11; 11-9) vs. No. 9 Michigan (19-12; 10-10)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse (17,923) in Indianapolis, Indiana
Tip-off: Thursday, March 12 at 12:00 p.m. ET.
TV: BTN - Brian Anderson, Shon Morris and Andy Katz
Stream: Fox Sports App
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers 27th: Michigan 15th; Rutgers stayed even since Saturday’s win at Purdue. Michigan dropped 3 spots after Sunday’s loss at Maryland.
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 108.0 (73rd) Defense 90.2 (6th); Michigan - Offense 113.2 (20th) Defense 93.0 (29th)
KenPom Prediction: Michigan 69 Rutgers 67. Rutgers is given a 44% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Michigan -2.5
SB Nation’s Michigan Site: Maize N Brew
Michigan - 6’7” junior Isaiah Livers (12.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 40.2% 3-pt); 6’0” senior Zavier Simpson (12.9 points, 7.9 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 1.0 steal, 36.0% 3-pt); 7’1” senior Jon Teske (11.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 1.1 assists, 1.0 steal); 6’8” freshman Franz Wagner (11.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 1.0 assist); 6’1” junior Eli Brooks (10.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 36.4% 3-pt FG); 6’0” sophomore David DeJulius (7.0 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 36.1% 3-pt FG); 6’8” sophomore Brandon Johns Jr. (6.0 points, 3.9 rebounds, 34.5% 3-pt FG); 6’10” senior Austin Davis (4.9 points, 2.6 rebounds, 69.3% FG); 6’11” sophomore Colin Castleton (3.1 points, 2.4 rebounds, 54.0% FG)
Rutgers - 6’6” sophomore Ron Harper Jr. (12.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.0 assist, 34.9% 3-pt FG); 6’4” junior Geo Baker (10.9 points, 3.5 assists, 3.0 rebounds, 1.1 steals); 6’6” senior Akwasi Yeboah (9.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 35.2% 3-pt FG); 6’2” junior Jacob Young (8.5 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.0 steal); 6’10” sophomore Myles Johnson (7.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 1.0 assist, 60.2% FG); 6’4” sophomore Montez Mathis (7.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.0 steal); 6’7” sophomore Caleb McConnell (6.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists); 6’6” freshman Paul Mulcahy (3.7 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 54.0% FG); 6’9” senior Shaq Carter (3.6 points, 2.5 rebounds, 57.0% 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 struggled without Isaiah Livers who missed about a month with a groin injury. Michigan went 4-5 without him.
After winning three straight, Livers got injured again, this time his ankle and hasn’t looked the same since. He is just 19 of 58 from the floor (32.8%) in his five games back. That’s been a contributing factor to Michigan’s performance on the floor as a team as they have lost three of its last four games. As a team, the Wolverines have struggled from three-point range in its last six games, as they’ve made just 36 of 131 from deep for 27.5%. They are at its best when shooting 35% or better from behind the arc, as they’ve gone 13-2 when that’s the case. However, they finished just 13th in Big Ten play from three-point range, shooting 30.6%. For comparison, Rutgers finished 8th in Big Ten play by shooting 31.8% from deep.
Overall, the Wolverines are averaging 75.0 points per game and are shooting 46.2% from the field, 33.9% from three-point range, and are shooting 71.7% from the foul line. The biggest reason Michiga finished 4th in Big Ten play in offensive efficiency is they shot a league best 53.3% from two-point range and had the lowest turnover rate at 13.5%.
On the other end, the Wolverines were 9th in defensive efficiency in Big Ten play and limited opponents to a 25.8% offensive rebounding rate, second best in the league. However, they were just 10th in defensive turnover rate and allowed opponents to shoot 33.8% from three-point range (11th).
Zavier Simpson is a very good floor general on the offensive end and leads the conference with 7.3 assists in league play. 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. Despite his recent struggles, Livers had the 7th best offensive rating in Big Ten play and is an excellent shooter, can play inside and out, rarely turns it over and is a matchup problem for every opponent. Jon Teske is a good rebounder and rim defender inside. Eli Brooks, Franz Wagner, Brandon Johns Jr, David DeJulius and Austin Davis are all capable of having big nights on occasion.
As a team, Rutgers averages 69.9 points per game and is shooting 44.7% from the floor, 31.0% from three-point range, and 64.4% from the free throw line......The Scarlet Knights finished the regular season ranked sixth in the country in defensive efficiency at 90.6 and eighth in field goal percentage defense at 38.3%.........RU has a NET ranking of 31, which is used by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee to help determine the field of 68 at the end of the season....Rutgers finished the regular season 10th in Big Ten play in offensive efficiency and 2nd in defensive efficiency, both of which are the best rankings since joining the league six seasons ago.........The Scarlet Knights were the only Division I team to have seven Quad 1 opportunities in its last seven games (3-4).
Keys To Victory
Kill the head, watch the body die
As much as defending ball screens and keeping the trees of Michigan away from the rim are important, I truly believe that limiting point guard Zavier Simpson is the key to beating them. His ability to penetrate and distribute the basketball, as well as knifing to the rim off the dribble is difficult to defend as keeping him in front of you is an unenviable task. He averaged 12.5 points, 7.5 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2.5 steals in the first two meetings. Simpson is one of the best defenders in the league as well. Rutgers needs to throw different looks at Simpson and its likely Geo Baker, Montez Mathis and Jacob Young will all see time trying to slow him down. Young has been the most effective and in general, whenever he has played well on both ends of the floor, Rutgers has been a much tougher team to beat. Keeping Simpson along the perimeter and making passes from there as much as possible is very important, but much easier said than done.
Own the the glass and finish second chance opportunities
It’s simple, despite Michigan’s size advantage, they are not as physical as Rutgers nor as dominant on the boards. The Scarlet Knights need to be aggressive and crash the glass on both ends as much as possible. Limiting the Wolverines to one shot possessions and avoiding kick outs to the perimeter for three-point shot attempts is a must. Michigan has done a good job limiting opponents on the offensive glass, but not Rutgers, who own a 40-10 edge in two meetings. However, they weren’t able to take advantage and finish near the rim nearly enough. If they are going to win on Thursday, that has to change. Myles Johnson and Shaq Carter need to stand tall on both ends of the floor.
Attack, Attack, Attack
In the two losses to Michigan, I felt Rutgers was too passive on both ends of the floor. Of course, the length of the Wolverines put them off balance and was a major factor. However, Rutgers should have a better feel for their spacing now and how to combat the size advantage. They are sharing the basketball very well of late and their confidence level should be high heading into this third meeting. They need to go much stronger at the Michigan defense when attacking the rim. While they won’t get the foul calls all the time, I think against this team in particular, they have had a tendency to shy away from contact or adjust shots too much to their own detriment. Of course, pulls up from mid-range are something I think Rutgers is quite good at and should utilize more often as well. Defensively, RU needs to play better help defense and handle ball screens much better than they have previously against the Wolverines. Contest as many shots as possible and put pressure on Michigan by making them work deep into the shot clock in its halfcourt offense.
Both teams have struggled from deep against each other with the exception of Michigan in the first meeting. Rutgers has been fantastic in its last two games, making 16 of 34 attempts, which is a big reason why they played so well in wins over Maryland and Purdue. It can’t be expected they’ll continue to shoot at that rate, but being competent and making key shots from behind the arc will be key in winning. On the flip side, if Rutgers can take away driving lanes and contest shots from three, the more pressure Michigan will have on them to have a big shooting day. They can’t let them get hot and find open looks, so transition defense will be important as the Wolverines are very good at finishing shooters on the break.
Seize The Moment
If you think fans are tired of losing to Michigan, you can only imagine this team is as well. It would be appropriate for them to finally overcome this obstacle during this season of change for the program, having lost to the Wolverines every time these two teams have ever met. However, Rutgers will need to play perhaps its most focused and complete game of the season to do so. I think it’s a tough matchup for them based on the offensive firepower, size, spacing, and elite point guard play of Simpson, but it’s not like the Wolverines are invincible. Starting strong and punching them in the proverbial mouth in the opening minutes will be key. Rutgers figured out that playing with a lead or close to it is much more manageable away from the RAC than falling into a big deficit. They can’t afford any prolonged shooting slumps or defensive breakdowns, allowing for a big Michigan run. This team is full of grinders and if they can keep the pressure on throughout the game, they’ll have a chance to get over the hump and finish its business against this team on a big stage in the conference tournament. It will take a complete team effort, but Baker and Ron Harper Jr. need to play at the high level they have of late to keep the good times rolling.
Appropriate Music Selection
For the thirty-second game of the season, I’m sticking with Break on Through by the Doors. After featuring this song in the Purdue preview, Rutgers finally broke through on the road. It’s officially the postseason now so why not be superstitious? Rutgers has never beaten Michigan, but hopefully is able to finally do so and put together a similar Big Ten Tournament run like two years ago and stay alive after Thursday. A win over Michigan wouldn’t just 100% lock up an NCAA Tournament bid but would improve its seeding potential as well. While the old saying goes that it’s hard to beat a team three times in one season, this source states in the last ten years the team that won the first two meetings won 72% of the time in the third game. The odds are certainly against this team in this matchup, but that’s symbolic for Rutgers this entire season. At this point, how can you bet against them? The way they played last week will hopefully carry over to the Big Ten Tournament, beginning on Thursday.