Michigan (7-5; 1-1) Rutgers (7-5; 1-1)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: Jersey Mike’s Arena in Piscataway, New Jersey (Capacity 8,000)
(Vaccination policy for indoor events here)
Tip-off: Tuesday, January 4 at 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: BTN - Jeff Levering and Robbie Hummel
Stream: FOX Sports Live
NET Rankings: Rutgers No. 142; Michigan No. 43
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers - No. 103, two spots better following a 79-58 win over CCSU on New Year’s Day; Michigan - No. 21, five spots worse following a 85-71 loss to UCF on December 30.
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 102.6 (145th) Defense 95.6 (72nd); Michigan - Offense 112.3 (20th) Defense 92.8 (41st)
KenPom Prediction: Michigan 68 Rutgers 64. Rutgers is given a 33% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Michigan -4
Series History: Michigan leads the all-time series 14-0, including wins over Rutgers in the 1976 Final Four, 2004 NIT Championship, and 9-0 as members of the Big Ten. RU lost in Ann Arbor 71-64 last season.
Michigan: 7’1” sophomore Hunter Dickinson - 15.3 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.1 blocks, 58.7% FG, 33.3% 3-pt FG: 6’1” senior Eli Brooks - 13.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.2 steals, 36.5% 3-pt FG; 6’8” freshman Caleb Houstan - 9.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 33.9% 3-pt FG; 6’1” senior DeVante’ Jones - 8.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 45.8% 3-pt FG; 6’11” freshman Moussa Diabate - 8.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 58.3% FG; 6’7” sophomore Terrance Williams II - 5.7 points, 3.2 rebounds, 36.0% 3-pt FG; 6’8” senior Brandon Johns Jr. - 5.2 points, 2.3 rebounds; 6’4” freshman Kobe Bufkin - 4.8 points, 1.9 rebounds, 33.3% 3-pt FG; 6’1” freshman Frankie Collins - 3.3 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 33.3% 3-pt FG
Rutgers: 6’6” senior Ron Harper Jr. - 14.9 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.5 steals, 39.0% 3-pt FG; 6’11” sophomore Cliff Omoruyi - 12.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 61.5% FG; 6’4” senior Geo Baker - 11.2 points, 4.3 assists, 1.8 rebounds, 39.0% 3-pt FG; 6’7” senior Caleb McConnell - 7.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.4 steals; 6’6” junior Paul Mulcahy - 6.5 points, 4.4 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 1.4 steals; 6’6” sophomore Aundre Hyatt - 5.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists; 6’7” sophomore Mawot Mag - 4.8 points, 2.2 rebounds, 3.3% 3-pt FG; 6’8” freshman Jaden Jones - 4.8 points, 1.6 rebounds; 6’8” senior Ralph Gonzales-Agee - 3.2 points, 1.6 rebounds
Juwan Howard’s team is off to a disappointing start to the season and are plagued by a lack of true point guard this season after Mike Smith graduated. They are just 1-5 against KenPom Top 100 teams and their best win is over No. 44 San Diego State. Their only high major victory came against No. 140 Nebraska. They’ve lost two of their last three games by double digits to No. 68 Minnesota and No. 49 UCF.
After being an elite shooting team last season, Michigan is less explosive this season. They are shooting 53.8% (58th) from two-point range, 34.9% (102nd) from three-point range and just 67.5% (261st) from the foul line. They have been average in taking care of the basketball with a 18.8% turnover rate (167th) but do not turn the opposition over much at all at 14.4%, which is only 346th nationally.
Michigan is really good at defending the three-point line as they hold opponents to just 27.5% from deep (20th) and they don’t foul at at a high rate.
Hunter Dickinson is a force inside while veteran Eli Brooks is the best guard and biggest deep threat on the team. Two former 5-star recruits who are freshmen, Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate, are both playing big minutes but have been inconsistent. Coastal Carolina transfer DeVante’ Jones has shot an impressive 45.8% from behind the arc although he’s only averaging two attempts per game.
As a team, turnovers, unforced errors and poor decision making has been their downfall against high major competition.
Steve Pikiell Quotes
On the current state of the team
“I wished we had practiced for thirteen days but, we’re getting better. I think last year we were 7-6 at this time, we’re 7-5. We have a lot of basketball ahead of us, I think we’re playing better. We’re certainly passing the ball well, we’re shooting the ball better, starting to get a little bit of a rotation. We’ve gotten through a ton of obstacles, and as you guys know it’s very important to have Geo Baker. I don’t think anyone realizes, Geo Baker does a lot of things for us, today 7 assists, Paul Mulcahy a career high 8 assist, those two guys are very important. Caleb McConnell is becoming one of the best defenders in the league, he’s certainly headed in that direction. You saw Cliff’s improvement, probably the most improved guy in the conference, stats wise, and he’s doing it without fouling, so he’s improved in that area too. And obviously Ron is Ron, and I like what we got off our bench today, those guys are starting to figure it out a little bit.”
Status of Ralph Agee & bench play overall
“He’s on a plane right now, so he’ll be back and we’re thankful to have him back. Dean is a talented guy we have to get him some more minutes that’ll help him the most, but I liked Oskar’s minutes today, I thought Aundre Hyatt came off the bench and really played well, aggressive, we need that from him. I think Jaden Jones too, He can really shoot the ball; we have a good bench, the veteran guys, again, have to do a great job, because the experiences they’ve had are unbelievable. The other guys are going through it for first time. I love Jalen Miller, he gives us great minutes defensively. We’re figuring it out, those guys are getting better, they’re practicing better, they’re preparing better, but it will be nice to have Ralph back.”
On potential for Rutgers
“I think we’ve shown we can be really good. You watch us against Clemson, obviously Purdue is the best team in the league, but we need to be healthy. We need to get our rotations shored up. We’ve put up passing stats that no team that I’ve coached has had. This is the second time I think we’ve had 25 assists in a game this year. We’ve gone over 20 mark a few times, and we haven’t been able to do that since I’ve been here. We’re sharing the ball, we rebounded today, its another step. We have a huge challenge ahead of us, and a lot of basketball left, and this group works, so I’m looking forward to having the whole team available.”
“Michigan’s really good, preseason they were pegged as second or third in our league. We got one two and three off the bat, and they’re terrific, they have one of the greatest coaches, they have talented players at every position, and this our league. That’s why you have to love the Big Ten. Every game you’re playing great teams, well coached, elite Bigs. We’ve already faced off with Kofi and the two guys from Purdue, and now Hunter Dickinson.”
Keys To Victory
Both Rutgers and Michigan have struggled with finding an identity and being consistent this season. However, expectations were much higher for the Wolverines after winning the Big Ten regular season title last season. Pressure is on both teams tonight to get a much needed conference victory.
Rutgers has the edge in taking care of the basketball and forcing turnovers. This is something they must exploit in this matchup in order to win it. Michigan has the potential to get rattled tonight with several true freshmen and newcomers on the roster. Ball pressure, taking away passing lanes and gaps to drive in are key. The deeper they can force Michigan into their possession and run down the shot clock, the more likely it will lead to contested jumpers. Capitalizing in transition off of turnovers and running off of misses is key as well.
The key matchup will be in the paint with Cliff Omoruyi and Hunter Dickinson. While Cliff has shown major improvement this season, this is a major test for him. Avoiding foul trouble while playing competently defensively is a combination that needs to occur. Dickinson is very skilled and can stretch the floor with his jump shot. Cliff needs to be disciplined and play the long game tonight. His athleticism could pose a major problem for Dickinson on the defensive end. If he can draw the Michigan sophomore into foul trouble, it could certainly shift the momentum of the game.
Rutgers has to maintain focus on sharing the basketball on the offensive end and make Michigan work in the halfcourt defensively. The Scarlet Knights are assisting on 63.0% of their made field goals this season, which is 13th best nationally. On the flip side, Michigan is holding opponents to just 37.5% assist to field goal rate this season, which is 4th lowest nationally. It’s not the end all, be all, but RU is always more effective offensively when they make the extra pass and refuse to settle for jumpers or fall into hero ball.
At the end of the day, Rutgers must rely on its leaders and best players to perform. This is as good as any chance for the Scarlet Knights to finally break through against the Wolverines. Ron Harper Jr. needs to have a big night on both ends of the floor, including on the glass. Cliff as noted, but guard play is essential as well. Geo Baker, Caleb McConnell and Paul Mulcahy need to show poise and let their experience take hold in making sure Rutgers executes the game plan offensively. Of course, bench play is always important and it sure would be nice to see Jaden Jones have a big night. Mawot Mag’s toughness inside is needed and Jalen Miller’s on ball defense could be a factor as well. Oskar Palmquist has quietly played himself into more minutes and a timely three from him during his initial run of the game could change the dynamic of the game too.
Both Harper Jr. and Baker are shooting 39% from three-point range this season. Neither has met or eclipsed that mark in their careers. If Rutgers wants to make a legitimate run at March over the next two months, their two stars need to keep making shots from behind the arc including tonight.
The x-factor is at the foul line, as both teams are shooting around 67% for the season. Whichever team takes advantage of their chances at the charity stripe could be the difference in the outcome.
For the thirteenth game of the season, I selected Lord Huron’s “Not Dead Yet”.
It’s no secret Rutgers has an uphill battle if they want to make the NCAA Tournament this season. Tonight is a tremendous opportunity to claim a high profile victory, even if Michigan has been disappointing so far.
The month of January is when Rutgers must make a run up the Big Ten standings to have any shot of dancing. A 6-2 record during this next eight game stretch is pretty much a must. With Michigan vulnerable and Nebraska coming to Piscataway on Saturday, this is a huge week for the Scarlet Knights. Win both and hope grows with a 3-1 start in Big Ten play. Lose both and March dreams will fade quickly.
It starts tonight and an inspired effort is needed. Rutgers’ postseason chances aren’t dead yet and hopefully they have something to say about it tonight.