Indiana (12-10; 7-8) at Rutgers (12-9; 8-9)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: The RAC in Piscataway, New Jersey
Tip-off: Wednesday, February 24 at 8:00 p.m. ET
TV: BTN - Kevin Kugler and Stephen Bardo
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers is 29, which is three spots worse since a 9 point loss to Maryland on Sunday. Indiana is 34, which is six spots worse since a 7 point loss to Michigan State on Saturday.
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 110.2 (61st) Defense 90.7 (13th); Indiana - Offense 112.3 (40th) Defense 94.0 (36th)
KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 67 Indiana 64. Rutgers is given a 61% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Rutgers -4
Series History: Indiana leads the all-time series 7-4, but Rutgers has won four of the past five meetings including a 74-70 victory on the road on January 24 of this season.
Indiana SB Nation Site: Crimson Quarry
Indiana - 6’9” sophomore Trayce Jackson-Davis (20.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 1.4 assists, 53.7% FG); 6’4” sophomore Armaan Franklin (12.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.3 steals, 45.6% 3-pt FG); 6’4” senior Aljami Durham (11.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 36.7% 3-pt FG); 6’8” redshirt junior Race Thompson (9.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.3 blocks, 1.1 steals, 53.1% FG); 6’1” junior Rob Phinisee (7.0 points, 2.8 assists, 2.0 rebounds, 28.4% 3-pt FG); 6’7” redshirt sophomore Jerome Hunter (6.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, 40.7% 3-pt FG); 6’4” freshman Trey Galloway (3.9 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists)
Rutgers - 6’6” junior Ron Harper Jr. (15.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 31.2% 3-pt FG); 6’2” senior Jacob Young (14.4 points, 3.2 assists, 1.9 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 40.3% 3-pt FG); 6’4” Geo Baker (9.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.3 steals, 29.9% 3-pt FG); 6’4” junior Montez Mathis (9.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.0 assist, 32.2 % 3-pt FG); 6’10” redshirt junior Myles Johnson (8.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 1.1 steals, 66.4% FG); 6’7” junior Caleb McConnell (6.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.6 steals); 6’6” sophomore Paul Mulcahy (5.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 36.8% 3-pt FG); 6’11” Cliff Omoruyi (4.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 69.2% FG)
Steve Pikiell and Jacob Young both confirmed on Tuesday that he is fine after walking gingerly after contact late in the loss to Maryland. Young said it was a bump on his knee but he is ready to go on Wednesday against Indiana.
Since the Hoosiers lost to Rutgers a month ago, they’ve gone 3-3 and have beaten Iowa (KenPom no. 4) for a second time, as well as Minnesota (KenPom no. 48) and Northwestern (KenPom no. 74). They’ve lost to Illinois (KenPom no. 5), Ohio State (KenPom no. 7) and on Saturday were upset at home by Michigan State (KenPom no. 65).
IU is averaging 72.5 points per game and are allowing 69.7 points per contest. Indiana is shooting 44.8% from the floor, 34.6% from three-point range and 66.7% from the foul line this season. They are 5th in offensive efficiency in Big Ten play and 11th in defensive efficiency.
Offensively in conference action, Indiana is 1st in free throw rate (getting to the line) but are only 12th in free throw shooting percentage (67.1%). They are 5th in three-point shooting (35.0%) are just 10th in offensive rebounding rate. They play the 12th slowest tempo in the league.
Defensively, IU is 6th in steal rate but are just 11th in free throw rate, 12th in opponent effective field goal percentage and last in opponent three-point shooting percentage.
Trayce-Jackson-Davis is one of the best players in the Big Ten and is a force in the paint on both ends of the floor. Rutgers did a great job containing him in the first meeting, holding him to 13 points on 4 of 10 shooting and 7 rebounds.
Indiana is a streaky three-point shooting team as they’ve shot 47% or better from deep in four of the past eight games. However, they’ve only won two of them and that includes the loss to Rutgers when they made 10 of 16 for 62.5% from behind the arc. They’ve also won twice in four games they shot 33.3% or worse from three-point range. A big reason their success isn’t as heavily weighed on three-point shooting is they’ve only averaged 17 attempts per game during that eight game stretch.
Rutgers is averaging 70.9 points per game and they are allowing 68.5 points per contest. Overall, the Scarlet Knights are shooting 45.4% from the floor, 31.8%from three-point range and 62.5% from the foul line. In Big Ten play, they are currently 8th in offensive efficiency and 6th in defensive efficiency.
Offensively, they are 4th in turnover rate and 7th in two-point shooting percentage, but are only 12th in three-point shooting percentage and free throw rate, as well as 13th in free throw shooting percentage. Their tempo rate is 10th in league play.
Defensively, Rutgers has the best steal rate and block rate, as well as 2nd in turnover rate and 6th in effective field goal percentage defense. However, they are 13th in opponent offensive rebounding rate.
Rutgers’ strength of schedule is ranked third nationally per KenPom.
Wednesday’s game against Indiana is the last home game of the season. Per new guidelines that New Jersey announced on Monday, Rutgers players will be able to have up to two family members attend this game.
Rutgers will honor six seniors on Wednesday due to the fact they are all set to graduate or already are in grad school. Due to the NCAA granting a free year of eligibility this season, the seniors are eligible to return next season if they choose to. They include scholarship players Geo Baker, Myles Johnson, Jacob Young and Mamadou Doucoure, as well as walk-ons Nick Brooks and Luke Nathan. The ceremony will be modified from years past due to COVID-19. You can watch Steve Pikiell discuss the senior class, as well as each player discuss their careers at Rutgers in this video:
Steve Pikiell Pregame Quotes
On the impact the senior class has made on the program
“It’s only not fitting to be playing their last game in front of a packed RAC, that that would be a fitting tribute to these guys. But it’s just the way it is,” head coach Steve Pikiell said. “They (grew) the program. I told them the other day ‘We’re playing meaningful games in February and people expect us to win every game.’ I said you guys created that. ‘There was a time here when you know that wasn’t the case. And you guys have done that.’ ...”They’ve put in work in the classroom, our GPA is 3.4. They had the the social injustice issues that they’ve had to deal with, COVID, to not winning on the road to winning on the road. We’re challenging all the best teams and winning. They’ve had a full plate.”
On who among the senior class will return next season
“They’ll be senior days across the whole country, but they all get the year back. They’re all graduating. Some are in grad school already and they’re gonna have the opportunity to come back and it’s one of the great things the NCAA did. But, we want to honor them,” Pikiell said. “I hope they all come back for 100 years. If they want to come back, I’ll be the happiest and most honored coach in America. They deserve a day and they’ve meant a lot to us.”
On the future of the senior class
“These six kids in particular can be successful in so many different ways. They’re great kids, they’re good students, they’re workers, they come from great families, they’re going to do a lot of great things.”
“I love the Rutgers fans. Being on the court is a lot harder than you think, and our guys have been in a bubble now for the last 14 months really. In this league, you can have your ups and downs. Haven’t lost faith in this team. You (have) to enjoy chapters of the book. Those are all part of the journey and these guys have been on that journey for years so they know how hard it is.”
On the NCAA Tournament outlook
“We have a lot of season left. I know no one wants to hear that. We have a lot of season left. We a game in the Big Ten Tournament. There is a lot of ways (to qualify for postseason play). I love the fact that I used to coach at Stony Brook for 11 years. You had to win every game and then you had to win the whole tournament. Nobody cared about anything else. You got a lot of ways to continue your season. We got a lot of season left. One game at a time. That’s all we can do in a league like this. One game at a time.”
On how Rutgers will respond after two straight losses
“We bounce back pretty quickly. We are good at bouncing back and we play a really good team. We are going to play well. Our guys will be ready. I have a lot of confidence in these guys. We are playing for a lot.”
Keys To Victory
This is a gut check game for Rutgers in a major way and this team traditionally plays its best when their backs are against the wall. Despite beating Indiana on its home floor, the Hoosiers are no pushover away from Assembly Hall. IU has beaten Iowa on the road and are 3-3 in Big Ten play. That being said, this game is all about how Rutgers comes out and performs.
There is no magical formula. The Scarlet Knights defeated the Hoosiers in the first meeting because of a very efficient offensive game but were not sharp defensively. That’s not something that usually works for Rutgers and the offense has struggled mightily of late, so they need to rely on their strengths. The focus for this game needs to be on playing relentless defense coupled with a smart approach on offense. Contesting shots and not allowing shooters open looks along the perimeter are key, but making Indiana work for baskets near the rim is too. Rutgers has had too many breakdowns where opponents are getting too many easy buckets. Preventing the Hoosiers from doing that is important and wearing them down physically is key.
I went into detail about the struggles with sticking to the game plan and this team’s penchant for taking threes too early in games here. Rutgers always seems to play better when the offense comes from its defense. Energy and urgency are key, but Rutgers needs to be disciplined within its halfcourt offense. The focus needs to be on attacking the rim to get high percentage shots inside, drawing fouls and finding teammates open to counter the help side defense of Indiana. Threes are important but need to come within the flow of the offense. Geo Baker and Paul Mulcahy need to make sure Rutgers stays connect and the ball moves within the halfcourt offense. Jacob Young has a chance to be very effective on both ends of the floor in this game, but he has to play under control.
Rutgers can’t get frustrated if shots don’t fall inside the arc and need to keep an attacking mindset. They have a bad tendency of losing confidence and are less aggressive when they fall into shooting funks. Yes, Indiana is last in the league in three-point defense, but the Scarlet Knights will benefit from better looks if they establish the low post and building a little momentum before settling for perimeter looks. They have also been much better from the free throw line of late and need to get to the charity stripe more than Indiana.
Feeding Myles Johnson early and staying committed to that throughout the game could really benefit the offense. He is a good passer and can find open teammates if he gets doubled. Keeping him on the court and out of foul trouble is paramount in defending Trayce Jackson-Davis. Johnson and Cliff Omoruyi need to play strong inside and make rebounding a priority against the Hoosiers. Generating second chance points off of offensive rebounds while limiting Indiana to one shot possessions is key.
Is this the game Ron Harper Jr. gets his mojo back? He is more than due and I’d love to see him be more aggressive by moving without the ball more and cutting through the lane to get shots inside 12 feet of the basket. He needs to develop a rhythm before he starts taking multiple threes. Building his confidence throughout this game is a must. Rutgers really needs him to be a run stopper and drought closer as the stretch run to the season unfolds. Making Ron a priority on offense and not letting him get passive in the second half needs to be a focus in this game. He also rebounded really well against Indiana in the first meeting and should be active on the glass once again.
I have a feeling the seniors will have this team ready to play, but they need to keep their emotions in check and not let it lead to sloppy play. Taking care of the basketball, playing under control and not being over aggressive by fouling are hugely important to how they play in this game.
The last time Rutgers played Indiana, they were mired in a five game losing streak and the season was slipping away. This time, they’ve lost two straight and need a victory to remain firmly in the NCAA Tournament picture. The Hoosiers are on the bubble and this is a really important game for them as well. Which teams wants it more will be key, but ultimately it will come down to execution.
Appropriate Music Selection
For the twenty-second game of the season, I chose “Back Against The Wall” by Cage The Elephant. I used this song the first time Rutgers played Indiana and it’s just as appropriate now. I’m also a little superstitious so hoping it helps lead to another victory.
“I’m hanging by a thread and I’m feeling like I’ll fall. I’m stuck here in between these shadows of my yesterday. I want to get away, I need to get away.”
“You’ve got my back against the wall. Oh God, I ain’t got no other place to hide.”
If Rutgers wants to end up in Indianapolis next month for March Madness, they need to beat the home state Hoosiers for a second time. I believe they are the better team and the tougher one as well, but they have to prove it. Mental focus and leadership will dictate how Rutgers plays and they need to seize this opportunity. There is no place to hide and hopefully the short turnaround time from Sunday’s poor performance leads to them playing with an edge that produces a much needed victory.