No. 10 Iowa (8-2; 2-1) No. 14 Rutgers (7-1; 3-1)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: The RAC in Piscataway, New Jersey
Tip-off: Saturday, January 2 at 2:00 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN2 - Jason Benetti and Dan Dakich
Stream: ESPN WATCH
Radio: Live Listen - Rutgers Sports Properties Radio Network - WCTC 1450 AM/WOR 710 AM/Sirius 83/ XM 83, Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; Westwood One - Ryan Radtke & Austin Croshere; WRSU 88.7 FM - Raj Shah and Ronnie Wielenta
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers is 19, which is one spot worse since a 5 point win over Purdue; Iowa is 5, which is where they were before a 15 point win over Northwestern.
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 111.8 (17th) Defense 91.5 (24th); Iowa - Offense 121.8 (1st) Defense 96.7 (96th)
KenPom Prediction: Iowa 80 Rutgers 79; Rutgers is given a 46% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Iowa -3.5
Series History: Iowa leads the all-time series 7-2, winning last season’s lone meeting 85-80 in Iowa City with both teams ranked. The previous season was a series split that featured a pair of thrilling games.
Iowa SB Nation Site: Black Heart Gold Pants
Iowa - 6’11” senior Luka Garza (27.7 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, 1.2 assists, 61.1% FG, 48.6% 3-pt FG); 6’6” junior Joe Wieskamp (15.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 42.2% 3-pt FG); 6’3” redshirt sophomore CJ Fredrick (11.3 points, 2.7 assists, 1.2 rebounds, 52.9% FG; 55.0% 3-pt FG); 6’1” redshirt senior Jordan Bohannon (8.6 points, 4.4 assists, 2.9 rebounds, 32.9% 3-pt FG); 6’11” redshirt sophomore Jack Nunge (7.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists); 6’9” redshirt freshman Patrick McCaffery (6.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists); 6’8” freshman Keegan Murray (5.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 1.0 block, 55.3% FG, 43.8% 3-pt FG); 6’0” sophomore Joe Toussaint (5.1 points, 3.0 assists, 1.0 rebound); 6’5” redshirt junior Connor McCaffery (3.3 points, 4.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds)
Rutgers - 6’6” junior Ron Harper Jr. (23.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 56.4% FG, 50% 3-pt FG); 6’4” junior Montez Mathis (15.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.0 steal; 39.4% 3-pt FG); 6’2” senior Jacob Young (15.5 points, 5.4 assists, 2.4 steals, 2.0 rebounds, 40.0% 3-pt FG); 6’4” Geo Baker (9.6 points, 2.8 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 1.0 steal); 6’10” redshirt junior Myles Johnson (7.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 1.3 assists, 58.1% FG); 6’6” sophomore Paul Mulcahy (6.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 50.0% FG, 38.5% 3-pt FG); 6’11” Cliff Omoruyi (5.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.0 block, 72.2% FG); 6’7” Mawot Mag (3.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, 50.0% FG)
Steve Pikiell spoke with the media on Thursday and provided updates and comments regarding injury issues with the following players:
Ron Harper Jr. (ankle sprain) and Cliff Omoruyi (knee sprain)
“They had yesterday off so still haven’t seen them. Cliff still hasn’t practiced, We should know a little bit more today (Thursday) but not expecting either of them today.”
Jacob Young (back and hip)
“Jacob is sore. He took a really bad fall, so he’s banged up. But he’s tough and he got through the game the other day. We needed every point and very thankful. Rich is treating him and it is going to take some time. Hopefully, he will start feeling more like himself.”
Mawot Mag (ankle sprain)
“Mawot practiced one day before that game, so I am looking forward to getting him some consistent practices. His ankle is feeling better thankfully. It is still a little bit of a process but he needs to start stringing together some practices and getting back into that kind of game shape.”
Caleb McConnell (back)
“He has been jumping into drills for the whole time. He is starting to feel a little bit better but until Caleb tells us he is ready to go. It’s a back injury and you have good days and bad days with the back. I think he is really progressing with his injury. Hopefully, he can string together some good days with it. There’s really no update.”
The Hawkeyes are a legitimate Big Ten title contender and Final Four threat due to arguably the best offense in college basketball. They have to best offensive efficiency rating in the country, as well as National Player of the Year favorite in Luka Garza.
Iowa has notable wins over North Carolina (KenPom no. 25), Purdue (KenPom no. 35) and Northwestern (KenPom no. 54). Their two losses came against Gonzaga (KenPom no. 1) and Minnesota (KenPom no. 28), who made 17 three-pointers on Christmas Day to pull off the upset.
They are averaging 94.3 points per game and are shooting 48.0% from the field, 37.2% from three-point range and 72.2% from the foul line. Iowa leads the Big Ten in scoring offense, rebounds, assists, turnover margin and three-pointers.
Their offense has no weaknesses and Iowa ranks 5th nationally in turnover rate, 21st nationally in offensive rebounding rate, 33rd nationally in effective field goal percentage, 38th nationally in two-point field goal percentage and 55th in three-point field goal percentage. Iowa has never been a good defensive team, but they are 19th nationally in free throws to field goals attempted by opponents, 58th nationally in opponents two-point shooting percentage and 72nd nationally in block rate.
Iowa has two major statistical weaknesses. Opponents have an offensive rebounding rate of 33.4 against them, which is just 283rd nationally. They’re also allowing opponents to shoot 35.3% from three-point range, which is 236th nationally.
Keys To Victory
Control the pace
Iowa has the best offensive efficiency in the country and they play fast within their possessions, so they can get as many scoring opportunities as possible in the game. They don’t turn the ball over and Rutgers hasn’t been efficient in forcing opponents into them, so the key is making Iowa work as hard and long as possible in each possession. While Rutgers is a good transition basketball team, they need to pick their spots wisely and not fall into a trap of getting into a track meet with Iowa. They can’t expect to win a game in the 90’s. Even if Iowa shoots a high percentage, limiting their possessions by making them use the shot clock and not giving them easy looks off of turnovers is critical.
Second chance scoring opportunities
Jumping off the previous key, Rutgers cannot allow Iowa to dominate the offensive glass or it will be virtually impossible to keep up. Iowa is an excellent with offensive rebounding and wear teams down as the game progresses. You cannot allow such a good shooting team second chances to score within a possession because they will take advantage more times than not. With Omoruyi expected to be out once again, any contributions Rutgers can get from the bench defensively and rebounding wise would be huge.
While Harper Jr. is obviously so important to the offense, his absence would leave a void defensively and on the glass too, as he is the second best rebounder on the team. Myles Johnson is one of the best rebounders in college basketball (90th best offensive rebounding rate; 40th best defensive rebounding rate) and needs to stay on the court as much as possible in order to help control the glass. Rutgers must be the more physical team in this game to have a chance and how they rebound will be a big part of that.
Throw The Book at Garza
Speaking of Johnson, he’ll have his hands full as the primary defender of Garza, so it will be a challenge to be physical with him while also avoiding foul trouble. It will really depend on how the officials call it and the Ohio State game was certainly an example of Johnson not getting any benefit of the doubt from the officials.
BTN analyst Stephen Bardo was critical this week regarding the way that the Big Ten officials have called fouls against Rutgers and in particular on Johnson. He said the following during his weekly Facebook show:
“Myles Johnson is an extremely talented big and I think the officials have it out for Rutgers. I really do. I have called a number of games of theirs. I cannot believe the unfriendly whistles that Rutgers receives from the officials....They need to do better. So Myles Johnson gets in foul trouble a lot. He’s straight up and down a lot, he plays really good position defense. He’s a very talented big but he doesn’t get a chance to play a lot. He fouled out in 15 minutes in the game against Ohio State and two or three of those calls are very questionable.” You can listen to his full comments here:
Something to think about as we get ready for Rutgers to face off against Iowa on Saturday. pic.twitter.com/Z4jzUR9ZFK— Rutgers Court Club: 7-1(3-1) (@RCourtClub) December 31, 2020
These comments come at a good time ahead of Johnson matching up against Garza, but that doesn’t mean the officials still won’t call a foul on Myles if he sneezes in Luka’s direction.
Regardless, Johnson will need help in defending Garza and Pikiell did say an all hands on deck approach will be used. On the conference call, Pikiell said, “You’ve got to try to limit his opportunities and hope he’s not making jump shots. Myles is a good defender, but it’s got to be the whole team. No one is able to stop him. He can score in so many different ways. It’s not like you can just take away his post-ups. We have to do a great job of boxing out on our rotations.”
The problem with Garza is if you try and double him, he is a good passer and Iowa has plenty of shooters to bury open three-point attempts. The other concern is leaving the weak side open, which could give Iowa easy second chance scoring opportunities off of offensive rebounds. Perhaps they will front him to deny entry passes and make it more difficult, forcing Iowa pass over the top of that pressure?
There is no obvious answer, but Pikiell is really good at mixing looks up defensively and I’m confident he’ll try everything until he finds something that works. It’s a tall task to ask Dean Reiber and Mamadou Doucoure to defend the best player in the country, but with Omoruyi out they’re likely going to get that opportunity.
The other way to try and limit Garza as much as possible offensively is to attack him on the defensive end. If Johnson can sit into Garza in the post and draw contact when attacking the rim, even no calls would be positive to a degree as a physical game is one that could slow Garza down a step or two down the stretch.
The bottom line is Garza will be very productive no matter how Rutgers defends him, but the difference in holding him to 20 points versus 30+ points is massive.
Generate sustained scoring runs and limit them for Iowa
Iowa is so explosive offensively that Rutgers can’t have any extended stretches with consecutive possessions in which they fail to score. They are much improved in this area as they are far more efficient on the offensive end this season. However, a two to three minute stall could prove fatal against a team as skilled as Iowa. Attacking the rim and not settling for contested three’s is important to preventing that from happening.
Even so, whether Harper Jr., who has scored 27 points and 29 points in his last two games against the Hawkeyes, plays or not, Rutgers has to shoot well from three-point range to win this game. It’s an area that Iowa is vulnerable against on defense, as they typically leave one outside shooter behind the arc uncovered or enough space to get a good look.
It’s unfair to expect Rutgers to shoot over 50% from deep for a second straight game, but it will be much harder to shoot 35% or better without Harper Jr. unless someone catches fire. Montez Mathis did so in making all five three-point attempts against Purdue, but he was shooting under 30% from deep before that performance. The best hope is for Geo Baker to fall into a trance and put together a vintage shooting night. However, Iowa knows this so expect Baker to be dealing with dogged ball pressure the entire game. In addition, Rutgers really needs to maximize fast break chances and finish near the rim against a big Iowa team that holds opponents to a low shooting percentage from two-point range.
The flip side is not allowing huge scoring runs from Iowa. As dangerous as Garza is, Rutgers can’t lose track of Wieskampf, Bohannon, Murray and Fredrick behind the arc or they will make them pay dearly. Attacking Bohannon when Rutgers has the ball could be key in trying to exploit his vulnerability as a defender and also get him into foul trouble. And if Garza does get rolling for an extended stretch, expect Pikiell to adjust either with what they do on the floor in defending him or with personnel. Hopefully, that will help limit big runs as well.
Iowa has a key advantage from the foul line in this game, shooting 10% better from the charity stripe compared to Rutgers (72.2% vs. 62.4%). The Scarlet Knights did a great job in closing out Purdue in the last game, making 11 out of 12 attempts in the second half.
Again this goes back to Rutgers being physical without fouling because if Iowa gets into the bonus early in either half, it could bury them in a hole they can’t get out of.
Pikiell said, “You need to make threes when you play great team like this, but you need to get to the free-throw line, more importantly. Them getting to the free-throw line helps them a great deal. A big part of this game is the free-throw line.”
Jacob Young, Geo Baker, Paul Mulcahy and Montez Mathis need to attack on the offensive end and get to the free throw line. Young, Baker and Mulcahy are all capable of scoring in bunches off the foul line, while Mathis has struggled at times from the charity stripe, but has been better of late. Rutgers as done well in the second half in a few recent games, but they can’t afford a slow start from the free throw line in this matchup.
Appropriate Music Selection
For the ninth game of the season, I selected “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” by The Rolling Stones. Lyrics include “Can’t you hear me knockin’ on your door?” and “Hear me prowlin’ (I’m gonna take you down).”
Facing Iowa with the injury issues that Rutgers is dealing with is not ideal and certainly makes it an even more difficult challenge. However, can we ever count this team out after what they’ve proven already this season through just eight games? This team is mentally and physically tough, they play for each other and their very balanced on both ends of the floor now.
IF and it’s a big IF, Rutgers can take down Iowa, they would be knocking on the door of a top ten national ranking and be in excellent position at the top of the Big Ten standings. It would be the biggest win in a very long time. Hopefully, the door will be answered on Saturday.