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Game Preview: No. 9 Wisconsin at Rutgers

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Includes how to watch, stats, injury updates, pregame quotes from coach Pikiell and keys to victory.

Rutgers v Wisconsin Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

No. 9 Wisconsin (10-2; 4-1) at Rutgers (7-4; 3-4)

How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes

Where: The RAC in Piscataway, New Jersey

Tip-off: Friday, January 15 at 9:00 p.m. ET

TV: FS1 - Brian Custer and Jim Spanarkel

Radio: Live Listen - Rutgers Sports Properties Radio Network - WCTC 1450 AM/WOR 710 AM/Sirius 136/ XM 195, Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM - Chris Tsakonas and Jake Schmeid

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers is 40, which is 11 spots worse since the 11 point loss to Ohio State last Saturday; Wisconsin is 10, which is 5 spots worse since a 23 point loss to Michigan on Tuesday.

Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 110.4 (47th) Defense 93.3 (41st); Wisconsin - Offense 114.0 (11th) Defense 88.9 (8th)

KenPom Prediction: Wisconsin 68 Rutgers 66; Rutgers is given a 41% chance to win.

OTB Guide to KenPom

Vegas Line: Wisconsin -2

Series History: Wisconsin leads the all-time series 8-3, including a 79-71 victory in the last meeting on February 23, 2020.

Wisconsin SB Nation Site: Bucky’s 5th Quarter

Key Contributors

Wisconsin - 6’0” redshirt senior D’Mitrik Trice (15.2 points, 3.5 assists, 3.2 rebounds, 43.8% 3-pt FG); 6’10” redshirt senior Micah Potter (12.5 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 51.8% FG, 42.9% 3-pt FG); 6’11” senior Nate Reuvers (9.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.2 blocks); 6’8” redshirt senior Aleem Ford (9.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists); 6’4” senior Brad Davison (9.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.0 steal, 41.2% 3-pt FG); 6’5” freshman Jonathan Davis (6.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.0 assist); 6’9” sophomore Tyler Wahl (4.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 steal. 41.7% 3-pt FG); 6’3” redshirt senior Trevor Anderson (3.7 points, 1.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 81.8% 3-pt FG)

Rutgers - 6’6” junior Ron Harper Jr. (20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 51.7% FG, 45.5% 3-pt FG); 6’2” senior Jacob Young (15.5 points, 4.5 assists, 2.4 steals, 2.2 rebounds, 40.7% 3-pt FG); 6’4” junior Montez Mathis (13.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 42.5% 3-pt FG); 6’4” Geo Baker (8.8 points, 3.0 assists, 2.9 rebounds, 1.1 steals); 6’10” redshirt junior Myles Johnson (7.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.1 blocks, 1.0 assist, 57.4% FG); 6’6” sophomore Paul Mulcahy (6.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 37.5% 3-pt FG); 6’11” Cliff Omoruyi (5.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.0 block, 72.2% FG); 6’7” junior Caleb McConnell (4.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.0 steal - 3 games)

Injury Updates

Heralded freshman Cliff Omoruyi has missed the last five games since suffering a knee sprain against Illinois on December 20.

On Wednesday, head coach Steve Pikiell said “The break has been good, he is starting to do some drills with us. I don’t have any other update, other than he is doing some stuff. That’s a good sign for us. He hadn’t practiced at all and now he is out on the court and doing certain drills. There are certain time restraints that he’s on. But it is obviously really good to see him back on the floor and moving around a little bit. We’ll see today if he can do some more contact. To get him up and moving has been a really good thing for us.”

Whether Omoruyi plays Friday night against Wisconsin remains to be seen, but for the first time in a month, it is possible.

As for the rest of the team, Pikiell said, “The other players have been good health-wise, so knock on wood.”

About Wisconsin

Last year’s co-Big Ten champions are an extremely balanced and experienced team. The starting five is comprised of three redshirt seniors and two seniors. They have a core rotation of eight players that features four players 6’8” or taller and only one key player is shorter than 6’3” in leading scorer D’Mitrik Trice (6-foot). UW remains a slow paced, halfcourt team, as they are 333rd nationally in adjusted tempo and have the slowest tempo in Big Ten play.

The Badgers own victories over Indiana (KenPom no. 25), Louisville (KenPom no. 27), Minnesota (KenPom no. 34), Michigan State (KenPom no. 43) and Loyola Chicago (KenPom no. 48). While they are coming off a 23 point loss to undefeated Michigan (KenPom no. 4) on Tuesday after trailing by as many as 40 points, its two other defeats are against Maryland (KenPom no. 45) and Marquette (KenPom no. 50).

Wisconsin has few weaknesses and currently has the 11th best offensive efficiency nationally , as well as the 8th best defensive efficiency nationally. They are averaging 74.8 points per game and shooting 44.9% from the field, 40.5% from three-point range and 75.5% from the free throw line. They are are second in the nation in turnovers (8.3), third in turnover rate (12.3%), eighth in assist-turnover ratio (1.69) and ninth in three-point field-goal percentage. The Badgers also are 16th nationally in holding opponents to just 42.6% shooting from two-point range and 27th nationally in holding opponents to an 22.2% offensive rebounding rate.

The few issues they have include opponents shooting 34.6% from three-point range, which is 223rd nationally, as well as defensive turnover rate only 17.8%, which is 252nd nationally.

In Big Ten play, Wisconsin has the 6th best offensive efficiency and 4th best defensive efficiency. (note: Rutgers is 7th and 11th respectively). They have continued to take care of the basketball and convert from the charity stripe, as they rank 2nd in both turnover rate and free throw percentage. On defense, they are limiting opponents getting to the line with the 3rd lowest free throw rate, as well as allowing opponents the third lowest offensive rebounding rate and fourth worst shooting percentage from inside the arc.

Steve Pikiell Quotes

On Wisconsin’s loss to Michigan

“Very impressive win by Michigan. They are undefeated and good job on both ends of the floor. Wisconsin is really good. I think sometimes you have days like that and my respect for the Wisconsin program is off the charts. But Michigan certainly played great on both ends of the floor. But that is life in the Big Ten.”

Experience and shooting of Wisconsin

“This team’s average age is 24 years old. This is an old, experienced (group). Big Ten champs from last year. They shoot the ball. They make free throws. They have great shooters and surround them some good post players too. They pose many problems for us. Guarding the three has been a problem. They’ve made threes against every team in our league that they’ve played. You have to have an added emphasis. You have to make sure that your guys understand to close out their 5 man, as they have 5’s who can really shoot the ball. We have to do a great job. Be alert on all of our coverages and screen action. It’s really challenging and you have to do all that without fouling Wisconsin. They have elite foul shooters. You have to do a lot of things and play well when you play a team like this.”

On officiating being different without fans

“I think that changes momentum in games and fans’ reactions always factor into that. It’s just been a different year with no fans. The energy that you have to bring yourself and your team. I think the refs hear more too now. So they are listening to everybody. In the past, the noise was just drowned out. They listen, they react. We get more warnings. We didn’t have those so they didn’t know where half those things were coming from. I think it’s been hard too for the officials. I’m thankful they get tested everyday and have done an unbelievable job sacrificing too. Their world has changed. The swings in games have changed and we all have had to adjust to that.”

Jacob Young’s development

“He had a really good summer. He practices more consistently and plays more consistently. His maturity has been fun to watch. He’s grown. You have to be open to grow, too. You have to be open to coaching and the film work. And then you’ve got to do the work to do it. He’s done all those things and it’s shown in his improved play. I’m really proud of him for that. I think he’s taken on a defensive mindset, too. He guards a lot of really good players. He’ll have (D’Mitrik) Trice now, one of the best guards in the country. He’s accepted that.”

On utilizing more full-court pressure

“A lot of it depends on the opponent. Sometimes when you are more aggressive, we are fouling out a high rate in the games that we haven’t been successful. It opens up the floor too. A lot of pros and cons when you do it. I’m looking forward to having my full allotment of players that are available for every game too. These games are long and tough. But we have that in our package and at times it can really help us. Other times it can work against us. We are continuing to improve and this break in the action gives us a chance to reset and really focus on some of those areas. We are able to spend a little more time with it to have that as a weapon for us. We played some zone too and I thought that helped us. We didn’t rebound well out of that either. It helped us in some ways but it still didn’t cover up what we have to do a great job with in boxing out and rebounding. All of those things are options and on the table. Every team poses different issues when you go to pressure or go to zones. You have to weight that too.”

Balance of being aggressive vs. fouling

“You have to spend time with it. We’ve shown a lot of film to our guys to show them how we are getting fouls and why we are getting them. We’ve also shown a lot of film on how to get fouled. One way to help us is to get the other team to foul us more. We want to incorporate some of what we are seeing throughout the league. We need to try and even out those numbers. It’s a real balancing act. You never know from game to game how the whistle is going to be blown. We have reminders in the huddle now about (how the game is being called). There is a constant information grouping of how that game is being called that day. We’ve had about 80 fouls called in our four losses. Every single one of them is charted and brought to the attention of our players. We are even adding that to our practices. Counting fouls and making them more aware of them. There are good fouls, dead ball fouls, game fouls, different ways that you are fouling. I think it’s very important. You are always walking that line of being aggressive vs. overaggressive.

Keys to Victory

Fast Start

This key is two fold. For Wisconsin, they are just 2-3 this season when tied or losing at the midway point of the first half. Especially from behind the arc, RU can’t let them get hot early one. For Rutgers, they played from behind most of the last two games, which resulted in their two worst performances. Starting off this game playing well on both ends would help in building both a lead but also their confidence. They finally built a little momentum in their play at the end of the Ohio State loss last Saturday, although it came far too late. It has felt like they were just a shot make and defensive stop away in both defeats last week in the second half from climbing back into those games. Finding a rhythm early will help them get some swagger back, which they desperately need in order to win this game.

Aggressive but disciplined defense

Pikiell spoke at length about this issue above and it’s certainly true in this matchup. Wisconsin cannot get into the bonus early in both halves or they will likely put Rutgers in a hole they won’t be able to get out of. All five Wisconsin starters shoot 76% or better, with four 80% or better. The positive is the Badgers prefer to shoot along the perimeter and attack the rim less so. Closing out on shooters but not being reckless in doing so will be important, as fouling behind the arc would be a disaster against this opponent. At the same time, this is the type of game that Rutgers could win with the score in sixties if they played defense at the level they are capable of. They can’t take possessions or even parts of possessions off or they’ll give up a dagger from deep that could be the difference in the outcome.

Attack the rim

One significant improvement Rutgers has made this season is limiting turnovers, as they have the 10th lowest turnover rate in the country. Ron Harper Jr. has the 13th lowest individual turnover rate nationally, Geo Baker is 69th and Montez Mathis is 227th. It’s been a big part of their offensive success this season, but recently all three players have lacked an attacking mindset. Their individual and collective production dropped off like a rock off a cliff in the two losses last week. If Rutgers is going to win Big Ten games against any opponent, they need consistent production from all three. If that means a few more turnovers, but better looks and drawing more fouls, it would be worth it. Jacob Young has still struggled with some turnover issues at times, but he has been by far the most consistent and best attacking player on offense for Rutgers this season.

In addition, Young, Paul Mulcahy and Caleb McConnell, along with Baker are all good foul shooters who simply aren’t getting to the line nearly enough. Add in Young’s ability to push the ball with Mathis and McConnell able to finish in transition, as well as Baker and Harper Jr. on transition threes, and this team needs to be much more aggressive in their offensive attack.

Wisconsin is a very good defensive team, but they want to slow it down and make it a rock fight. Rutgers needs to exploit their athleticism and knock the Badgers on their heels by moving the basketball and attacking in multiple ways. This team has been too complacent and dribble first on offense of late, so ball movement and being active in the halfcourt will be key as well.

Second chance scoring chances

Wisconsin doesn’t have much success on the offensive glass, but they do limit opponents so it’s basically a wash for them. Rutgers didn’t have as many second chance scoring opportunities during their win streak because they were shooting at such a high rate. Once they started missing, their focus on crashing the boards seemed to wane. On the flip side, they are allowing opponents the second highest offensive rebounding rate in league play, which is a red flag. Hopefully the break between games and players getting more healthy will give them a renewed focus on the glass and extra burst on Friday. They have to limit Wisconsin to one shot possessions and prevent kick outs on misses or they’ll give up second chance threes.

Energy, urgency & purpose

I mentioned it briefly, but Rutgers needs to get their mojo back. This team played with swagger and moxie the first nine games of the season, but they looked completely zapped in last week’s two losses. They need to regain their confidence and keep their energy up. The bench has been credited with helping them do that with no fans present and they need to do that again in this game. Having urgency to stop the bleeding is so important as well. I think this team will be better mentally prepared in this game, but in order to win they need to execute and that means consistent focus on both ends of the court.

Appropriate Music Selection

For the twelfth game of the season, I selected Float On by Modest Mouse.

Lyrics that jumped out at me were “Bad news comes, don’t you worry even when it lands. Good news will work its way to all them plans.”

Every team, even very good one’s, have losing streaks. Good basketball teams lose 7-10 times during a typical 30+ game season. The important thing is not letting the losing snowball.

Needing to respond against Wisconsin certainly isn’t ideal, but I think this is actually a better matchup for Rutgers than Michigan State and Ohio State. Those teams tore RU up inside by attacking the rim and physically wearing them down. Don’t get me wrong, Wisconsin plays a tough brand of basketball, but they don’t attack the rim nearly as much. It should be easier for Rutgers to focus on the perimeter, especially if they remain thin without Omoruyi. However, if he does return and can get some runs in, it could give Rutgers an emotional boost that would really help, as well as another rebounder and rim defender.

How Rutgers responds in this game is critical and it starts with their mindset. They’ve had some time to move on from last week and this veteran team needs its leaders to step up. If they encounter some bad breaks during the game, they need to let it float off their backs and continue to be aggressive on both ends. This team is too talented for things to not turn around eventually and if they can do so on Friday, it will reset this team in a big way moving forward.