Rutgers (11-6; 5-2) at Minnesota (10-5; 1-5)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: Williams Arena in Minneapolis, Minnesota (14,625 capacity)
Tip-off: Saturday, January 22 at 12:00 p.m. ET
TV: BTN - Cory Provus and Jess Settles
Stream: FOX Sports Live
NET Rankings: Rutgers No. 105; Minnesota No. 78
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers - No. 93, even following Wednesday’s 48-46 win over Iowa; Minnesota - No. 90, six spots worse following a 81-71 loss to Iowa last Sunday.
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 102.2 (190th) Defense 93.4 (30th); Minnesota - Offense 106.8 (97th) Defense 97.9 (75th)
KenPom Prediction: Minnesota 65 Rutgers 62. Rutgers is given a 38% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Minnesota -1.5
Series History: Minnesota leads the all-time series 8-6 but Rutgers won both matchups last season and five of the last six meetings.
Minnesota: 6’7” sophomore Jamison Battle - 18.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 37.5% 3-pt FG; 6’4” senior Payton Willis - 15.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.8 steals, 39.5% 3-pt FG; 6’3” senior Eylijah Stephens - 12.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.4 steals, 38.6% 3-pt FG; 6’9” senior Eric Curry - 8.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists; 6’5” senior Sean Sutherlin - 7.1 points, 3.0 rebounds, 51.5% FG; 6’4” senior Luke Loewe - 6.5 points, 2.7 assists, 2.6 rebounds; 6’9” senior Charlie Daniels - 1.9 points, 1.9 rebounds
Rutgers: 6’6” senior Ron Harper Jr. - 16.5 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.4 steals, 47.1% 3-pt FG; 6’11” sophomore Cliff Omoruyi - 11.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.0 block, 58.9% FG; 6’4” senior Geo Baker - 10.9 points, 4.2 assists, 2.2rebounds, 1.1 steals, 30.4% 3-pt FG; 6’6” junior Paul Mulcahy - 7. 1points, 4.8 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 32.5% 3-pt FG; 6’7” senior Caleb McConnell - 6.7points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.1 steals; 6’6” sophomore Aundre Hyatt - 5.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists; 6’8” freshman Jaden Jones - 4.4 points, 1.4 rebounds; 6’7” sophomore Mawot Mag - 3.8 points, 1.9 rebounds; 6’8” senior Ralph Gonzales-Agee - 2.8 points, 1.2 rebounds; 6’10 sophomore Dean Reiber - 2.2 points, 1.4 rebounds; 6’8” sophomore Oskar Palmquist - 1.7 points, 4-8 3-pt FG; 6’2” freshman Jalen Miller - 1.2 points
The Gophers are coming into Saturday’s game a bit unpredictable following Wednesday’s game against Penn State postponed on Monday due to Covid-19 issues within its program. They were missing four players in their last game against Iowa but how many were Covid-19 related is unknown. There is no way to know if any players on their roster will be unavailable against Rutgers, but Minnesota only runs with a seven man rotation. In addition, veteran big man Eric Curry has had ankle issues and missed the last game against Iowa. His status is unknown as well.
In head coach Ben Johnson’s first season, Minnesota owns top 50 KenPom wins over No. 30 Michigan and No. 44 Mississippi State, as well as notable victories over No. 117 Western Kentucky, No. 147 Princeton and No. 173 Pittsburgh. All of their five losses have come against teams currently ranked 26th or better in KenPom. They are mired in a four game losing streak.
They are led by Jamison Battle, who transferred into the program after two seasons at George Washington. The Minnesota native is a legit scorer and threat from three-point range. Point guard Payton Willis, who played at Vanderbilt, Minnesota and College of Charleston before returning to the Gophers for his final season, is hard to contain off the bounce and creates scoring chances for himself and his teammates. Eylijah Stephens, a transfer from Lafayette, is the third piece for this team and like Battle and Willis, can shoot the long ball.
The Gophers average 69.7 points per game and allow 66.3 points per game. They are shooting 51.4% from two-point range (122nd), 34.2% from three-point range (136th), and 70.0% from the foul line (202nd). They have the 8th lowest turnover rate in the nation and are 9th in three-point defense. However, they are third to last nationally in offensive rebounding rate and just 294th in defensive turnover rate.
In Big Ten play, Minnesota is 12th in offensive efficiency and 13th in defensive efficiency. They have the lowest turnover rate (10.4%) in the league, but last in offensive rebounding rate (20.0%), three-point shooting (27.8%), and two-point defense as opponents are shooting 55.0%.
For the season, the Scarlet Knights are averaging 67.8 points per game and allowing 63.9 points per contest.....RU is shooting only 47.0% from two-point range (267th), 33.4% from three-point range (172nd) and 67.6% from the foul line (281st)......They are ranked 8th nationally in assist rate at 63.6%, 31st in two-point defense holding opponents to 45.2% and 45th in effective field goal percentage on defense.......Rutgers is 13th in offensive efficiency and 2nd in defensive efficiency in Big Ten play so far this season......RU is shooting a league best 44.2% from three-point range while also holding conference opponents to a league worst 28.4% from behind the arc in Big Ten play......They are in the top 5 in six of eight defensive categories in Big Ten play including in 1st in 3-pt defense, second in free throw rate, 3rd in steal rate, 4th in turnover rate and effective field goal percentage, while 5th in block rate.......Rutgers is 10-2 this season when holding opponents under 70 points and 8-2 when outrebounding opponents.
Keys To Victory
This is winnable a road game as there is in the Big Ten due to Minnesota entering the matchup with so many questions marks and missing practice time due to COVID-19. Rutgers must create its own energy from the opening tip on. It’s an 11 am local time start and the game is just over 50 hours removed from the win over Iowa. This is a moment a veteran team must seize and find a way.
The Scarlet Knights need to limit turnovers, which is something that’s been a issue of late. Minnesota doesn’t force a lot of takeaways, but they don’t turn it over much of all either. Rutgers can’t give them scoring chances off of turnovers and in transition. They also don’t want to be too aggressive defensively as they need to keep the Gophers in front of them and defend without fouling. Minnesota can hit threes and can’t be allowed open looks from behind the arc.
Rutgers needs to be active and connected on the defensive end, which will help generate energy throughout the game. Expecting a defensive performance like Wednesday’s against Iowa is unrealistic, but to win on the road the Scarlet Knights need to play well.
Caleb McConnell with probably be the primary defender on Jamison Battle, so slowing their leading scorer down will be key. Whoever defends Payton Willis will have their hands full, so Pikiell will probably utilize a combination of multiple defenders like Geo Baker and Jalen Miller.
Inside the paint, Rutgers has a huge advantage.
RU should dominate the boards in this game, especially since Minnesota rarely grabs offensive rebounds. Cliff Omoruyi should be a focal point down low, as I don’t think anyone in yellow can defend him and he should clean the glass all day.
With possibly tired legs in this game coupled with Minnesota struggling to stop opponents inside the arc this season, Ron Harper Jr. should lead the way in attacking the rim off the bounce, with backdoor cuts and crashing the boards.
On the flip side, the Gophers will likely be shorthanded and the regulars who do play will get a ton of minutes. While Rutgers should absolutely look to get out in transition, against a team like Minnesota that means running off of rebounds rather than turnovers. The real key though in wearing the home team down is sharing the basketball on offense. Not only should it lead to good looks at the rim, but it will force Minny to defend in the halfcourt more than they likely want to. These are the body blows that add up later, so for more reasons than one RU needs to avoid rushing bad shots or playing iso ball. The Gophers also struggle defending inside the arc so they need to be challenged early and often in the paint.
The remaining schedule is littered with quality opponents and opportunities to move into NCAA Tournament contention. However, Rutgers has to take care of business against Minnesota to keep forward momentum going and to continue to stay near the top of the Big Ten standings.
Minnesota will be without three student-athletes (Eric Curry, Jamison Battle, EJ Stephens) for today's game against Rutgers due to either illness, COVID-19 health and safety protocols or injury, per release. Will Ramberg is questionable with a hand injury.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) January 22, 2022
For this key road game, I selected “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise” by the Avett Brothers. One of my favorite songs from this great band touches on a relevant theme for this Rutgers team. Back on the road after earning a victory in their last trip at Maryland, the Scarlet Knights need to continue to it’s winning ways on Saturday.
The song title taps into the psyche that this team needs to conquer. Get over past disappointments, learn from them and make the road a place that they can still play Rutgers basketball the way they are capable of doing.
My favorite line in this song is “Decide what to be and go be it.”
Rutgers is in a stretch where they have the chance to add several road wins in a row. Beating Minnesota would obviously be required in order to do that. The Scarlet Knights won a must win game at the Barn last season and after winning 5 of its last six Big Ten games, in addition to its last road game, Saturday is an opportunity to establish true momentum. The potential to finish with its best Big Ten regular season record is certainly possible. This team needs to decide what they want to ultimately be this season and go be it. Road winners would have a nice ring to it and go a long way towards making this season a success.