No. 25 Rutgers (11-6; 7-6) at No. 15 Iowa (13-6; 7-5)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa
Tip-off: Wednesday, February 10 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: BTN - Kevin Kugler and Robbie Hummel
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers is 24, which is 1 spot better since the 4 point win over Minnesota on Thursday; Iowa is 5, which is the same since a 2 point loss to Indiana on Sunday.
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 110.6 (50th) Defense 90.8 (17th); Iowa - Offense 125.6 (1st) Defense 99.3 (122nd)
KenPom Prediction: Iowa 80 Rutgers 74; Rutgers is given a 27% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Iowa -6.5
Series History: Iowa leads the all-time series 8-2, including a 77-75 victory at the RAC on January 2, 2021.
Iowa SB Nation Site: Black Heart Gold Pants
Iowa - 6’11” senior Luka Garza (25.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.6 blocks, 58.3% FG, 45.0% 3-pt FG); 6’6” junior Joe Wieskamp (14.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.1 steals, 45.5% 3-pt FG); 6’1” redshirt senior Jordan Bohannon (10.1 points, 4.5 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 38.6% 3-pt FG); 6’3” redshirt sophomore CJ Fredrick (8.7 points, 2.3 assists, 1.1 rebounds, 50.0% 3-pt FG); 6’11” redshirt sophomore Jack Nunge (7.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.0 block); 6’8” freshman Keegan Murray (6.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 53.4% FG); 6’9” redshirt freshman Patrick McCaffery (5.2 points, 2.9 rebounds; 6’0” sophomore Joe Toussaint (4.5 points, 2.3 assists, 1.1 rebounds); 6’5” redshirt junior Connor McCaffery (3.6 points, 4.1 assists, 3.2 rebounds)
Rutgers - 6’6” junior Ron Harper Jr. (16.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 35.1% 3-pt FG); 6’2” senior Jacob Young (14.3 points, 3.6 assists, 2.1 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 43.9% 3-pt FG); 6’4” junior Montez Mathis (10.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 35.8 % 3-pt FG); 6’4” senior Geo Baker (10.4 points, 2.9 assists, 2.9 rebounds, 1.3 steals; 30.2% 3-pt FG); 6’10” redshirt junior Myles Johnson (8.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, 1.4 steals, 66.7% FG); 6’6” sophomore Paul Mulcahy (5.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 37.5% 3-pt FG); 6’7” junior Caleb McConnell (6.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 1.6 assists); 6’11” Cliff Omoruyi (4.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 65.5% FG)
The Hawkeyes have lost two games in a row and four of its last five after a five game winning streak. The poor play has coincided with the availability of CJ Fredrick, who has been limited due to a lower leg injury. He played less minutes in three consecutive games before missing the past two contests with the issue. Fredrick has been considered day to day but is expected to play on Wednesday.
The two highest rated teams per KenPom that Iowa has beaten this season is Purdue (no. 22) and Rutgers (no. 24). They are 10-2 at home and 4-2 in Big Ten play, but have lost two of its last three in Iowa City.
This team’s identity is the same as its always been under head coach Fran McCaffrey, incredible on the offensive end and subpar on the defensive end. They have the highest offensive efficiency rating in college basketball, but its defensive efficiency is 122nd.
They are averaging 87.8 points per game and are shooting 47.7% from the field, 38.5% from three-point range and 72.5% from the foul line. Iowa leads the nation in assists per game and assist to turnover ratio, as well as second in scoring offense and turnovers per game. However, they are allowing 75.2 points per game, which is last in the Big Ten and 278th nationally.
In Big Ten play, they are the best in offensive efficiency and the second to last in defensive efficiency. Offensively, they have the best three-point shooting percentage and lowest turnover rate, third best effective field goal percentage and fourth best offensive rebounding rate. Defensively, they are third in opponent two-point field goal percentage and opponent free throw rate, but are 13th in defensive turnover rate and opponent three-point field goal percentage.
They are led by National Player of the Year favorite Luka Garza, who leads the country in points per game and field goals made. He can do it all on the offensive end and torched Rutgers down the stretch of the first meeting, finishing with 25 points on 9 of 11 shooting. However, the Hawkeyes have many weapons on the perimeter, as Jordan Bohannon, Joe Wieskamp and CJ Fredrick can all score in bunches from behind the arc.
Overall, the Scarlet Knights are shooting 46.5% from the floor, 34.2% from three-point range and 60.1% from the foul line. In Big Ten play, they are currently 6th in offensive efficiency and 6th in defensive efficiency. Offensively, while they are 4th in turnover rate, they rank 11th 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 13th in opponent offensive rebounding rate.
Steve Pikiell Pregame Quotes
On the rematch with Iowa
“I see a great team. They are without a really good guard (CJ Fredrick) and he will probably play against us I’m sure. Fredrick is really an elite guard in our league with some injuries. They have the No. 1 scorer (Luka Garza) in the country. They are well-coached, they have been top ten all year. They really beat us from the free-throw line, 18 of 23 and we got four points from the free-throw line. But they are really good. They cause many problems. Whenever you have a team that makes 10 threes per night and has a post-up guy that can shoot threes, you got to play really well. Just another huge challenge in this league.”
On defending Luka Garza
“With a guy like that, who is leading the nation in scoring, he has seen every defense. He’s seen everything. Guys double-team him and triple-team him, front him in the post, double from the elbow, double on the pass. He is really good. The uniqueness about him, he’s great with the angles and he’s got such a quick release that he can get shots off before a double team too. And then hen you lose him, he wanders out to three-point land and he’s as good as there is in the country. I am thankful that we have some big guys that can defend and that have experience guarding him. But you can always try to limit his touches, but the guys around him are really good.”
On the four game winning streak
“I think our team is playing better. We are really advancing the ball up the floor. We are passing the basketball better, but the most important thing we are doing is we are defending. I think that is really, really important. We are stopping teams. We have outrebounded all our opponents so the most important step you can really look at is that. We are rebounding the ball at a better clip throughout the whole game and our defense is playing at a really high level against some really good offensive teams.”
On Caleb McConnell’s progress
“He is getting in great shape. He gives us another high-level defender who can guard multiple positions. He is in the gym all the time and is feeling better and better health-wise. Just really thankful to have him back and he is a veteran guy who has been through a lot.”
On recent play of Myles Johnson
“He’s done a really good job of staying out of foul trouble. He’s playing at a high level, he’s one of the leading shot blockers in the country. I think he and Jacob Young are two of the better defenders in the entire league, which makes them two of the better defenders in the entire country.”
On Cliff Omoruyi’s development
“Cliff has done a really good job too, his defense has gotten better and better. We need that to keep happening. We are 10-2 when Cliff has played. So we really missed him during that time off. It gives us another defender with really good athleticism.”
Keys To Victory
First, the bad news. Rutgers was 10 of 23 on layups, had a -14 free throw margin and gave up 30 points in the final ten minutes of the first meeting against Iowa, a two-point loss at the RAC to begin the new year. It was the first loss of what became a five game losing streak and seemed to shake the confidence of this team in a major way.
The good news? They only lost that game by 2 points.
Rutgers held Iowa 17 points below its scoring average at the time and did so without playing at the level of defense they’ve played with consistently over the past four games. Cliff Omoruyi didn’t play, Caleb McConnell made his season debut and was rusty, Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr. were less than 100% and Paul Mulcahy was not playing the same role he is now.
The reality is the Scarlet Knights have evolved into a more difficult team to play due to a more balanced offense, better rebounding and elite defense.
Iowa is the same team, elite offensively that is vulnerable due to such poor defensive play.
Yes, the Hawkeyes are considerable favorites in the rematch and are likely to have CJ Fredrick back, which will not only help them on the court, but will give them a much needed emotional boost. However, this is a game Rutgers can absolutely win.
Getting off to a fast start has been a huge key during the current four game winning streak. The Scarlet Knights are outscoring opponents 82-43 in the first ten minutes of the past four games. It’s crucial to play well from the opening tip on against Iowa because playing from behind the entire game will take its toll and make it a lot harder to leave with a victory.
Iowa does a poor job defending the three and keeping opponents off the offensive glass. The key to Rutgers is sharing the basketball and making the Hawkeyes work on defense. Don’t make it easy by taking quick, one look shots in the halfcourt and the more they spread the ball around, the better shots they’ll get. Don’t get frustrated if they miss some open looks and stay committed to the game plan. They have to do a better job of getting to the foul line and converting once they are there compared to the first game. Rutgers has been much better in both areas during the win streak and that needs to continue.
Defensively, the biggest factor is containing Iowa from behind the arc. They have so many shooters and they don’t turn the ball over much at all. Recognition and closing out on shooters is a must, even if it means Rutgers taking less risks going for steals.
Myles Johnson has elevated his play considerably and his matchup with Garza will be fun to watch. Look for Rutgers to switch some when Garza shoots from deep to keep Johnson in the paint for rebounding chances. They need to control the glass and limit Iowa to as many one shot possessions as possible. While Rutgers will offer different looks at Garza, attacking him on the offensive end could be key as well. Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery is old school by sitting players the rest of the half with two fouls and Garza sat out 12 minutes of the first half because of it in the loss to Indiana on Sunday. Feeding Johnson early in games has helped establish the post and opened up the perimeter for Rutgers, but doing so in this game will make Garza have to play defense and potentially get him into foul trouble.
Bench play was crucial in the first meeting as well, as Iowa outscored Rutgers 24-6. How Jacob Young and Montez Mathis respond after playing the fewest second half minutes they had all season in the last game against Minnesota could determine the outcome on Wednesday. They can provide a scoring punch and also disrupt the big guards of Iowa with pesky, aggressive defense. The key for both is playing under control and not being overly aggressive on either end. If they can play within themselves and within the offense, Rutgers is going to be dangerous. As a team, they can’t overcommit and let Iowa get into the bonus early in either half or it could spell disaster.
Another key is that freshman Keegan Murray killed RU in the first meeting, finishing with 14 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 steals. Look for Ron Harper Jr. to draw that assignment and maybe even Caleb McConnell some in an effort to contain Murray this time around.
Speaking of Harper Jr., this game seems like a perfect opportunity for him to regain his shooting stroke. He was 3 of 8 from behind the arc in the first game, but he has really struggled since from three-point range, making just 5 of 36 for 13.8% in the last 8 games. However, he has done well inside the paint, shooting 49% in that same span and he is now 17 of 21 for 82% from the foul line over the past four games. His ability to generate offense in the paint is a key to getting him going and giving him confidence to regain his three-point shot. He averaged 28 points in the previous two meetings against Iowa before this season when he was limited to 13. He was the catalyst for the upset win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena two years ago. When he is at his best, Rutgers plays at another level and it really does seem like only a matter of time before it happens again.
I have a feeling Rutgers has had this game circled on the calendar since the loss over a month ago and after almost a week to prepare, they’ll be focused and ready to go in this game. It won’t be easy and they’ll likely need to play its best game of the season to win it, but they are playing with great confidence and are a more athletic team than Iowa faced the first time. As Pikiell likes to say, its all about the defense and Rutgers needs to set the tone with relentless pressure from the opening tip on. If they do, they’ll give themselves a great chance to win the game. If they do, they’ll move ahead of the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten standing.
Appropriate Music Selection
For the eighteenth game of the season, I selected the song “Driven To Tears” by The Police. The live version I’m using is from a concert I attended at Madison Square Garden in 2016 with Pearl Jam covering it. It included a surprise cameo from the legend himself, Sting himself. It was a moment.
The reason I chose this song may be a bit juvenile, but I’m tired and this is a big game. No Big Ten coach cries to the officials more than Iowa’s Fran McCaffery. He is excellent at getting into officials heads and influencing the way they call games. McCaffery also comes off like an epic sore loser, with the time he stalked and cursed out officials in the hallway after a 20 point loss to Ohio State, leading to a two game suspension.
Rutgers has lost three of four to Iowa, all by five points or less. This has been a compelling series and if the Scarlet Knights want to prove that its program is on the same level as the Hawkeyes, they need to start beating them. The last two times RU traveled to Iowa City, they won by 14 and lost by 5. They’ve played well away from the RAC this winter and there should be hope they can win a program best fourth time on the road in a season since joining the Big Ten.
Bottom line, if Rutgers can play the way its capable of playing, they can leave Carver-Hawkeye Arena with a fifth straight victory and drive McCaffery to tears, while putting their March Madness hopes on even firmer ground in the process.