Rutgers (16-10; 10-6) at Michigan (14-11; 8-7)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan (Capacity 13,751)
Tip-off: Wednesday, February 23 at 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: BTN - Brandon Gaudin, Stephen Bardo and Rick Pizzo
Stream: FOX Sports Live
NET Rankings: Rutgers No. 80; Michigan No. 34 (Quad 1 opponent)
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers - No. 71, which is the same as before a 84-72 loss at Purdue on Sunday. Michigan - No. 31, five spots worse following a 77-63 loss to No. 25 Wisconsin on Sunday.
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 107.0 (105th) Defense 95.9 (50th); Michigan - Offense 113.8 (22nd) Defense 98.1 (74th)
KenPom Prediction: Michigan 70 Rutgers 64; Rutgers is given a 29% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Michigan -4.5
Series History: Michigan leads the all-time series 14-1, including wins over Rutgers in the 1976 Final Four, 2004 NIT Championship, and 9-0 as members of the Big Ten. However, the Scarlet Knights won this season’s first meeting 75-67 in Piscataway.
Michigan: 7’1” sophomore Hunter Dickinson - 18.0 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.2 blocks, 56.5% FG, 35.6% 3-pt FG: 6’1” senior Eli Brooks - 12.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steal, 40.7% 3-pt FG; 6’8” freshman Caleb Houstan - 9.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 34.4% 3-pt FG; 6’1” senior DeVante’ Jones - 9.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.0 steal, 32.7% 3-pt FG;
6’11” freshman Moussa Diabate - 9.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 57.4% FG; 6’7” sophomore Terrance Williams II - 4.3 points, 2.4 rebounds, 32.4% 3-pt FG; 6’8” senior Brandon Johns Jr. - 3.8 points, 2.1 rebounds; 6’4” freshman Kobe Bufkin - 3.3 points, 1.3 rebounds; 6’1” freshman Frankie Collins - 2.5 points, 1.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists
Rutgers: 6’6” senior Ron Harper Jr. - 15.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.2 steals, 40.4% 3-pt FG; 6’4” redshirt senior Geo Baker - 12.2 points, 4.0 assists, 2.1 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 33.3% 3-pt FG; 6’11” sophomore Cliff Omoruyi - 11.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.3 block, 59.8% FG; 6’6” junior Paul Mulcahy - 9.3 points, 5.5 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 34.9% 3-pt FG; 6’7” senior Caleb McConnell - 6.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.4 steals, 2.3 assists, 27.9% 3-pt FG; 6’6” sophomore Aundre Hyatt - 4.6 points, 2.9 rebounds; 6’8” Jaden Jones - 3.6 points, 1.2 rebounds; 6’7” sophomore Mawot Mag - 3.3 points, 2.0 rebounds; 6’10 sophomore Dean Reiber - 3.2 points, 1.3 rebounds, 57.7% FG; 6’8” senior Ralph Gonzales-Agee - 2.1 points, 1.1 rebounds; 6’8” sophomore Oskar Palmquist - 1.5 points, 5-11 3-pt FG; 6’2” freshman Jalen Miller - 0.9 points
Following Sunday’s incident at the end of the game against Wisconsin, head coach Juwan Howard has been suspended for the remainder of the regular season. Assistant coach and former St. Joe’s head coach Phil Martelli will coach the team in his absence. In addition, starter Moussa Diabete and key reserve Terrance Williams were suspended for one game and won’t play tonight. In the first meeting in January, Diabete had 15 points, 9 rebounds and 2 steals against Rutgers while Williams was not available to play.
The Wolverines are 4-3 in the month of February and are 4-2 at home in Big Ten play this season. They are 4-8 against KenPom Top 50 teams and 8-9 against Top 100 teams.
Michigan is a very good offensive team that generates high percentage scoring chances but has struggled shooting wise at times, particularly from behind the arc. They are shooting 53.3% from two-point range (58th), 33.3% from three-point range (194th) and make 72.3% from the foul line (154th). Their turnover rate is 17.4% (105th).
On the boards, the Wolverines are a strong rebounding team on both ends of the floor. They have a 31.8% offensive rebounding rate (64th) and limit opponents to just 23.7% on the offensive glass (31st).
Michigan is really good at defending the three-point line as they hold opponents to just 30.7% from deep (46th) and they don’t foul at at a high rate with foes having only a 26.0% free throw rate (77th). However, opponents are shooting 50.8% from two-point range (230th) and don’t force turnovers much at all at rate of just 14.9% (338th). They only block shots 7.4% of the time as well (244th).
Hunter Dickinson is a force inside while veteran Eli Brooks is the best guard and biggest deep threat on the team. Caleb Houstan is a former 5-star recruit who has shown flashes but is struggling shooting wise right now. Coastal Carolina transfer DeVante’ Jones runs the point and can score but is just 4 of 24 from three-point range over the last 10 games.
As a team, they’ve improved in reducing turnovers and unforced errors, but they are shooting just 19.3% from three-point range over their last three games. They also struggle with interior defense and will be without their only true rim defender tonight in Diabete.
For the season, the Scarlet Knights are averaging 68.6 points per game and allowing 65.3 points per contest.....RU is shooting only 48.9% from two-point range (213th), 34.1% from three-point range (151st) and 71.1% from the foul line (192nd)......They are ranked 13th nationally in assist rate at 61.4%, 36th in two-point defense in holding opponents to 46.0% shooting, 55th in defensive block rate at 12.0% and 61st in defensive steal rate at 11.0%.......Rutgers is 8th in offensive efficiency and 4th in defensive efficiency in Big Ten play so far this season......RU is 2nd from three-point range at 37.9% shooting, 4th in offensive rebounding rate at 29.7% and 5th in free throw shooting at 74.6% in league play........They are in the top five in four defensive categories in Big Ten play including 1st in steal rate (10.8%), 3rd in block rate (12.4%), turnover rate (18.0%) and 5th in free throw rate (26.7%).....Geo Baker is 12 points away from passing Ricky Shields for 10th place in scoring all-time in program history.
Keys To Victory
This is obviously a very important game for both teams as they both reside on the NCAA Tournament bubble. The winner will strengthen their position while the loser will feel even more pressure moving forward.
Michigan is not only shorthanded following Sunday’s incident, but they will be dealing with more emotions than usual. They could be inspired, play for their coach, teammates and be galvanized by the moment and build momentum towards a strong performance. Or they could come out flat after a rough few days and struggle to establish a rhythm.
The key for Rutgers is to bring energy and purpose for all 40 minutes in this game. I believe they are the better team and hopefully they’ve learned that allowing teams that are shorthanded to believe they can win like what happened against Minnesota can be costly. They need to bring defensive intensity and take care of the basketball. Don’t give Michigan easy baskets or allow sustained runs, especially in the early going. Make it a grind early and work to wear the Wolverines down over the course of the game.
Hunter Dickinson is going to get his points, but forcing him to operate as far away from the rim as possible will make it harder on him. Cliff Omoruyi needs to be disciplined in his approach and stay on the floor. Offensively, he has the opportunity to dominate inside without Diabete to defend the rim and control the glass. Rutgers needs to make Cliff a priority and get him active early.
Michigan has been terrible from three-point range of late but RU can’t allow them any opportunity to snap out of it with open looks. Closing out on threes and using their height advantage in the backcourt is key. Eli Brooks is who the Scarlet Knights need to prioritize and look to shut down. If they do, it’s going to be difficult for the Wolverines to put up a lot of points. Expect Steve Pikiell to continue to mix up looks defensively including some fullcourt pressure to force Michigan into mistakes.
Brandon Johns Jr. is a reserve to watch for Michigan who scored 20 points on Rutgers at the Garden two seasons ago and will get more minutes tonight.
Being disruptive with their length including getting into passing lanes can create turnovers against this Michigan team. Rutgers should look to push the pace as a major key during their four game winning streak was scoring in transition. That didn’t happen against Purdue, but tonight is an opportunity to do that once again. Forcing Michigan to defend the fast break can help wear them down with a short bench as well.
Rutgers has to maintain focus on sharing the basketball on the offensive end and make Michigan work in the halfcourt defensively. They’ve done a great job of this, but Michigan is good at forcing opponents into iso situations as opponents are only assisting on 41.3% of made baskets (13th nationally). I do expect a wrinkle or two from Michigan with Martelli running the team. Don’t be surprised if the Wolverines play some zone to try and force Rutgers into poor shot selection.
Paul Mulcahy will be a matchup problem for Michigan and he should continue to be physical to gain position in the paint for good looks at the basket and finding open teammates if he gets doubled. If there is a zone, he is key to breaking it with his vision and passing ability.
Bench play will be important as well and Rutgers got 18 points combined from Dean Reiber, Mawot Mag and Aundre Hyatt in the loss to Purdue. The Scarlet Knights hold an advantage with its bench tonight and those three players need to contribute on both ends of the floor, including the glass.
Things got chippy in the handshake line the last time these teams played and it was due to in part because Dickinson set a hard screen that Caleb McConnell didn’t see coming in the final seconds of the game. Rutgers needs to maintain their poise and not get tricked into any funny business the Wolverines might potentially pull. The best way to handle it is beat them on their home court and keep their focus on the scoreboard.
This is a monster game and Michigan is vulnerable. Rutgers needs to have an attacking mindset offensively and get to the rim. They need to finish inside and have the chance to get plenty of free throws in this game. They can win the free throw battle in this game and it could be the difference in the outcome.
At the end of the day, limiting turnovers and controlling the glass will be key to winning this game. If Rutgers can play near the level they have the last five games, they’ll leave Ann Arbor with hugely important victory and a season sweep of the Wolverines.
For this game, I selected “All You Ever Wanted” by the Black Keys. One of my favorite bands with one of their lesser known songs but a great one nonetheless. This song is a bit of a grinder and that’s what Rutgers needs to do tonight to win.
The opening lyrics are “You’re just like time. Except you can still feel the shame. All hands on deck, now. The sea is getting rough again.”
Rutgers has turned their season around, but there is more work to be done. The first month of the season has put them in a precarious position that they can only escape by playing together. They’ve put together as impressive a three week stretch in the regular season as any team has in program history. Time and time again, this group of players has come through when they needed to most. They gotten their heads above water, but the waves are still choppy.
They have to finish the regular season strong to improve their current position on the NCAA Tournament bubble. A road win against a Quad 1 opponent would be a huge step forward for this team. They control their own destiny with two weeks to play in the regular season and they deserve the benefit of the doubt they can close it out successfully. If they take it one game at a time and play to their potential, they will do it.
All they every wanted, getting back to the big dance, is right in front of this team once again. They’ve fought hard to get back to this point. It’s time to go take it.