Minnesota (11-6; 4-6) at Rutgers (10-6; 6-6)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: The RAC in Piscataway
Tip-off: Thursday, February 4 at 9:00 p.m. ET
TV: FS1 - Gus Johnson and Jim Jackson
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers is 25, which is 3 spots better since the 8 point win over Northwestern on Thursday; Minnesota is 40, which is 9 spots worse since a 19 point loss at Purdue last Saturday.
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 109.2 (60th) Defense 89.8 (12th); Minnesota - Offense 110.5 (47th) Defense 93.7 (38th)
KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 72 Minnesota 68; Rutgers is given a 64% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Rutgers -5.5
Series History: Minnesota leads 8-4 all-time, although Rutgers has won three of the last four meetings, including last season’s 64-56 win at the RAC on January 19, 2020.
Minnesota SB Nation Site: The Daily Gopher
Minnesota - 6’2” redshirt junior Marcus Carr (20.0 points, 5.2 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 33.6% 3-pt FG); 7’0” junior Liam Robbins (13.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, 38.1% 3-pt FG); 6’4” junior Gabe Kalscheur (9.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists); 6’6” junior Both Goch (9.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists); 6’8” redshirt senior Brandon Johnson (8.2 points, 6.1 rebounds); 6’2” freshman Jamal Mashburn Jr. (5.2 points, 1.5 assists, 1.1 rebounds); 6’9” redshirt senior Eric Curry (3.9 points, 1.9 rebounds, 6’5” sophomore Tre’ Williams (3.5 points, 1.9 rebounds); 6’9” sophomore Isaiah Ihnen (2.2 points, 3.6 rebounds)
Rutgers - 6’6” junior Ron Harper Jr. (17.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 35.9% 3-pt FG); 6’2” senior Jacob Young (14.6 points, 3.8 assists, 2.1 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 42.1% 3-pt FG); 6’4” junior Montez Mathis (10.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 36.5 % 3-pt FG); 6’4” senior Geo Baker (9.9 points, 2.9 assists, 2.9 rebounds, 1.2 steals); 6’10” redshirt junior Myles Johnson (8.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 1.4 steals, 64.8% FG); 6’6” sophomore Paul Mulcahy (5.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 36.7% 3-pt FG); 6’7” junior Caleb McConnell (5.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 1.4 assists) 6’11” Cliff Omoruyi (4.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 65.5% FG)
Neither team has any significant injury issues.
The Gophers has three impressive wins this season over teams ranked in the KenPom top 10 in no. 3 Michigan, no. 4 Iowa and no. 10 Ohio State. However, all of those victories came at home. Minnesota is 0-5 on the road, all in Big Ten play and all in double digits with an average margin of defeat of 19.6 points per game. It’s fair to mention that four of them came against teams ranked 11th or better in KenPom (no. 3 Michigan, no. 4 Iowa, no. 5 Illinois, no. 11 Wisconsin) but they also lost by 19 at Purdue in its last game on Saturday.
As a team, Minnesota is averaging 76.1 points per game and are allowing 72.9 points per game. They are shooting just 40.7% from the floor and 29.9% from three-point range, but are making free throws at an impressive 75.2% clip.
In Big Ten play, the Gophers are 10th in offensive efficiency and 9th in defensive efficiency. Offensively, they have the second lowest turnover rate and 4th in free throw shooting percentage, but are 12th in two-point shooting percentage, 13th in effective field goal percentage and last in three-point shooting percentage. Defensively, they are 3rd in two-point field goal percentage and block rate, while 4th in steal rate. However, they are 12th in opponent free throw rate and allow opponents the highest offensive rebounding rate in league action.
Richard Pitino’s two best players are point guard Marcus Carr and 7-footer Liam Robbins. Carr is a score first point guard who can get cause opponents fits when he gets hot, but he is not an efficient scorer. Carr relies heavily on ball screens to create scoring opportunities and takes a bunch of three-point shots. He does have the 6th best assist rate in conference play and 16th lowest turnover rate. Robbins is a big man who can shoot the three and tends to draw double teams in the low post. Gabe Kalscheur has made 10 of 17 threes against Rutgers in three games over the previous two seasons, but despite 87 attempts from behind the arc this season, he is only making 23.0%.
Overall, the Scarlet Knights are shooting 46.2% from the floor, 33.9% from three-point range and 59.1% from the foul line. In Big Ten play, they are currently 9th in offensive efficiency and 6th in defensive efficiency. Offensively, while they are 4th in turnover rate, they rank 12th in free throw rate and last in free throw shooting percentage. Defensively, Rutgers has the best turnover rate, steal rate, and block rate in league action. However, they are 11th in free throw rate and 13th in opponent offensive rebounding rate.
Steve Pikiell Pregame Thoughts
On forcing more turnovers in past two games
“I think our defense has been really connected. To have 20 turnovers and I think Northwestern averaged 10 turnovers in a game and to get them to 20 in a game. And I know Michigan State does a good job of taking care of the ball too. So to be able to force that means your guys are active. They are active in their gaps. We are doing a good job of surrounding the basketball, all the things we teach. And a lot of times steals come to you if you are in the right places. It’s moving on every pass, it’s being in a stance, it’s using our length, which is one of our strengths.”
On being aggressive defensively
“We are in kind of a good place and it helps when you have a couple of guys in the back that can block shots too because it enables you to defend a little differently when you know you have a guy that can kind of make up for some of the mistakes. They have done a good job with the scouting reports and the players we are playing against. We have done a good job of defending each guy differently. We are not fouling as much and that allows us to be able to change up what we are doing but just being connected. It’s the same defense. We’ve had all those in our packages. It’s been helping us in some areas.”
On Cliff Omoruyi’s development
“Really excited about Cliff. Obviously, playing the first five games and then basically missing (three) weeks of the season is a really tough kind of deal. Then it’s tough getting back into the shape he was in. He had the knee injury. But I really like that he’s been practicing better. Really excited about him and his development. He is doing a really good job of learning our different coverages. Every big guy that he has to face in this league is different that he has to face. There is an adjustment with that. The other day we played (Pete) Nance and a kid named Ryan Young. Nance is a five-man that can really shoot threes and wants to take you off the dribble, and then Ryan Young comes in and he’s a true post-up guy. So you have to be able to switch your game coverages and player coverages in the middle of a game. I think he is really starting to understand that.”
On Playing Omoruyi and Myles Johnson together
“I still want to play him and Myles together, but because of the five-week absence, that kind of hurt us being able to do that. I think it would be a great option for us. The other day they were both in foul trouble, so it wasn’t realistic. You want to have different packages. It may not work as well in some games as it would in others and we haven’t been able to work on that as much as we like, but I like the way those guys are playing. We have to certainly keep those guys out of foul trouble.”
On offensive ball movement
“I just want us to keep passing the ball. I think they are doing a great job,” Pikiell said. “We have less dribbles in these games. Paul does a great job. Whoever gets the rebound is our point guard, including Ron Harper. I love the way Ron rebounds the most because Ron is terrific in transition, he makes great decisions too.”
Keys To Victory
This game is an interesting matchup in that both teams don’t turn the basketball over much, force opponents into mistakes and takeaways, while both struggle to contain opponents on the offensive glass. Both teams allow opponents to get to the line often, but a key difference is Minnesota takes advantage and Rutgers has struggled mightily converting at the line.
For Rutgers, they need to continue to do what has been working during this current three game winning streak. If they play the way they have on the defensive end and force Minnesota into contested shots, it will be a tough night for the Gophers to generate a lot of points. They take a ton of threes whether they are making them or not, and are not particularly physical in the paint, which plays into the hands of Rutgers. Preventing second chance scoring opportunities, particularly kick outs to the perimeter, will be very important. Also, relentless ball pressure without being over aggressive and fouling is a huge key, as Minnesota will have a much better chance to win if they get into the bonus early in both halves.
Last season, Montez Mathis held Carr to 2 points until he made two desperation threes in the closing minutes of the game. I expect Pikiell to stick with the starting lineup that has worked well the past three games, so Baker probably will start on Carr, but expect Mathis to have the opportunity to make a huge impact defensively on him once again. Containing and frustrating Carr will be key so Pikiell will look to throw different looks at him, including multiple defenders (Jacob Young), full court pressure and some zone in spots.
If Rutgers does help defensively when Carr and Robbins have the ball, they can’t allow open shots from three or Minnesota will take advantage. I suspect RU helps less on these matchups than the Gophers are used to because Pikiell has faith in his players defending the ball. This is also a game Cliff Omoruyi needs to show up defensively to help inside when Myles is off the court.
Offensively, Rutgers needs to continue to move the ball around and not fall into hero ball of the first guy who touches it in a possession take their defender one on one. Paul Mulcahy did a great job of feeding Myles Johnson in the post early on against Northwestern. It’s something that should happen again tonight in an effort to establish the paint and also potentially draw Robbins into foul trouble. Johnson is good at not forcing it and finding teammates that are open. Establishing inside early could lead to some better looks behind the arc as the game progresses. If Rutgers can dominate points in the paint, they’ll have a good chance to win. Caleb McConnell grabbed seven offensive rebounds against Minnesota last season and could be an x-factor in tonight’s game.
Another key matchup will be Ron Harper Jr. vs. Gabe Kalscheur. Harper Jr. has struggled from three, but he was 5 of 6 from two-point range against Northwestern and he should continue to attack the rim tonight. Kalscheur is a good defender, so Harper Jr. can’t get stagnant and needs to be active in the halfcourt moving without the ball. Look for Rutgers to set some screens for him too. On the flip side, Harper Jr. needs to contain Kalscheur from three-point range and not allow him to get confidence from deep early on.
Minnesota isn’t a bad defensive team, but they are allowing 82 points a game on the road in Big Ten play. Shot selection is key, as is attacking the rim and finishing layups, something Rutgers did a good job of against Northwestern.
Lastly, this is an opponent that Rutgers can get to the line against and while they need to take advantage, getting as many attempts as possible is so important for a team that struggles from the charity stripe. Geo Baker, Jacob Young, Caleb McConnell and Ron Harper Jr. need to get to the line and make shots, especially down the stretch.
Appropriate Music Selection
For the seventeenth game of the season, I selected “Hang Loose” by the Alabama Shakes. One of my favorite bands and they bring it on this song. While it is a love song, it’s upbeat in tempo and here are some lyrics that jumped out that led me to choose it for this game.
“Don’t you ever worry about a thing. Put them worries on the shelf, learn to love yourself. Don’t be your own worst enemy. Hang loose, hang loose.”
Tonight is a huge opportunity for Rutgers to extend its winning streak and solidify its position in the top half of the Big Ten. They also have to play Minnesota later this season on the road where the Gophers have played much better, so winning tonight ensures at worse a series split.
The Scarlet Knights have a six day break before its next game at Iowa, a matchup they surely have circled on the calendar. However, tonight is a game they really need to keep positive momentum and get them one step closer to 10 Big Ten wins.
If Rutgers blocks out distractions, plays close to its potential on the defensive end and stay within themselves in this game, they should walk off the RAC court winners of four straight. If they don’t, they’ll have nobody to blame but themselves. Hang loose and keep playing together.