Merrimack (2-0) At Rutgers (1-0)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: Jersey Mike’s Arena in Piscataway, New Jersey (8,000)
Tip-off: Saturday, November 13 at 2:00 p.m. ET
TV: BTN+ (Subscription only) - Ralph Bednarczyk and Tim Catalfamo
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers - No. 75, dropped 8 spots after 73-70 win over Lehigh; Merrimack - No. 200, improved 11 spots since 61-54 win over NJIT
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 102.5 (110th) Defense 91.5 (44th); Merrimack - Offense 93.9 (273rd) Defense 97.2 (132nd)
KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 71 Merrimack 58. Rutgers is given a 88% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Rutgers -13
Series History: This is the first meeting ever between Rutgers and Merrimack.
Notes: This game is a sellout, marking the 11th straight dating back to the 2019-2020 season....The Rutgers Athletic Center is officially called Jersey Mike’s Arena per a sponsorship deal announced last week.....If you are attending the game at Jersey Mike’s Arena, click here for new guidelines this season including masking policy and new ticketing procedures.
The Warriors went 20-11 in the 2019-2020 season that was highlighted by a signature 10 point win at Northwestern in the program’s first year in Division I. Last season, they went 9-9 in a Covid shortened season. They have begun the 2021-2022 season at 2-0 with wins over Emerson and NJIT under fifth year head coach Joey Gallo. He is a Milltown native and was born in New Brunswick (hat tip to Jerry Carino for the info).
Merrimack has four players averaging double digits in scoring so far this season. The frontcourt is led by 6’8” Jordan Minor who is averaging 15.0 points on 69.2% shooting, as well as 4.5 rebounds, 3.0 blocks, 2.5 assists, and 2.5 steals through two games. 6’2” Mykel Derring is their top three-point shooter, making 7 of 12 so far this season and averages 12.5 points on 56.3% shooting. 5’11” Mikey Watkins, who played at Linden high school, is averaging 12.0 points, 4.0 steals and 3.5 rebounds. 6’6” Ziggy Reid is averaging 12.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.5 steals.
As a team, they’re averaging 69.0 points per game and allowing 51.0 points per conteste. The Warriors are shooting 45.7% from the floor, 34.0% from three-point range, and 65.0% from the free throw line.
Defensively, Merrimack play a matchup zone that can be disruptive. However, they are a poor rebounding team and are only averaging 27.5 boards per game.
Steve Pikiell Quotes
On the offensive performance in the season opening win over Lehigh
“I’ll watch the tapes, but I do think we got some really good looks. Including Andre dunk at the end there, that was a good look. I thought we had guys that were open. I thought Geo got some good three looks, Paul in the lane. I thought we had some good looks and we’re going to have to make those. I liked that we still figured it out, figured out a way to win a basketball game early in the season.”
On the defensive performance against Lehigh
“We were a little antsy to steal the basketball. That’s not how we play defense. I thought we settled down in the second half and did a much better job of keeping the ball in front of us and I think we will be more connected and you get steals because we’re in our right places. Liked how we settled down.”
Keys To Victory
Merrimack will enter this game with confidence and Rutgers needs to come out focused on making things difficult for them on the offensive end. After taking time to settle down during an emotional opening night against Lehigh, the Scarlet Knights need to be fundamentally sound on the defensive end. Disrupting passing lanes is important, but they can’t be overzealous and leave themselves open to penetration or committing unnecessary early fouls. They got beat by too many cutters against Lehigh and it resulted in layups. On the ball defense and defending the three-point arc is critical to slowing down the Warriors and limiting momentum building runs. Contest shots and don’t give up any easy baskets.
This matchup is an opportunity for Rutgers to dominate on the boards and control the game on both ends of the floor. Getting underneath the zone by crashing the offensive glass is a major key. Cliff Omoruyi and Ron Harper Jr. should feast on the boards, but the Scarlet Knights can really dominate if the guards crash the glass as well. Merrimack will have trouble boxing out from a zone, while RU also has a significant size advantage. Defensively, Rutgers can benefit from controlling the boards and looking to run in transition with outlet passes to the wings. That’s something they didn’t do too much of against Lehigh. An easy way to beat the zone is to get down the floor before the other team can set it up.
Attacking the zone with Paul Mulcahy positioned in the middle of the foul line has been a strength in recent seasons. His passing ability and vision makes him a true weapon picking apart zone defenses. With proper ball movement, Geo Baker, Caleb McConnell and Jaden Jones should be able to attack the zone off the bounce, especially after ball reversals. Merrimack will get beat defensively if the ball moves well and Rutgers remains active in their attack.
Letting the game come to them by attacking inside out in feeding Omoruyi and Harper Jr. on the blocks will open things up along the perimeter as the game progresses. Make the Merrimack zone defense work on possessions by sharing the basketball and making the extra pass to generate good looks at the basket. Avoid taking too many three’s early and getting stagnant in the halfcourt offense, which is what Merrimack wants RU to do.
A mental adjustment that Pikiell is surely telling his team is they are now the hunted. Lehigh gave them everything they could handle and played very well. Merrimack has beaten a Big Ten team on the road before and will believe they can do it again. Rutgers is going to get every low-to-mid-major’s best shot now after making it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season. They have to be mentally prepared for that and be smart in their approach.
A win is all that ultimately matters on Saturday, but it would be nice to get the bench and younger players some quality minutes for their development. We could see Jalen Miller make his debut and wrecking havoc with his on the ball defense on Mikey Watkins, as he has committed 10 turnovers in two games. Getting more runs for Jaden Jones, Ralph Agee, who could give the zone defense trouble with his offensive skill set, Dean Reiber, and Mawot Mag, who missed the opener with a dental emergency, would be a great long term benefit. However, just get to 2-0 no matter what.
My response to first game overreactions is to breath. It was one game. There were some reasons to be concerned based on the performance, but only to a point. Tying that theme into game No. 2, I’m featuring “Breath” by Pearl Jam.
It’s one of my favorite PJ songs and this version is from their very first show ever before they even went by the band name Mookie Blaylock, as they love basketball and named themselves after the former NBA guard initially. The footage is grainy and you can see Eddie Vedder so timid and nervous that he is holding his arms to his body for the beginning of the song. This is not a polished performance but is rather raw. Some people probably watched this back in the day, saying they sounded bad and wouldn’t make it as a band. Others probably recognized their talent and potential, expecting bigger and better things from the band in the future.
The same could be said about Rutgers’s season opening win over Lehigh. But the reasons to be optimistic for this team before the season remains. This game is a chance to establish rhythm and continuity after surviving the opening game upset. Merrimack won’t be easy, but the Scarlet Knights have the talent and depth to win this game by double digits. Playing within themselves, avoiding scoring droughts and sharing the game is how they can win this game without causing any unnecessary stress. Hopefully, this game ends with a “breath and a scream” in a good way.