No. 13 Wisconsin (22-5; 13-4) at Rutgers (16-11; 10-7)
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: Saturday, February 26 at 6:00 p.m. ET
TV: BTN - Kevin Kugler and Stephen Bardo
Stream: FOX Sports Live
NET Rankings: Rutgers No. 83; Wisconsin No. 21 (Quad 1 opponent)
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers - No. 72, which is one spot worse following a 71-62 loss at Michigan on Wednesday. Wisconsin - No. 26, which is one spot worse than before a 68-67 win at Minnesota on Wednesday.
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 107.1 (110th) Defense 96,2 (44th); Wisconsin - Offense 112.1 (38th) Defense 95.6 (37th)
KenPom Prediction: Wisconsin 68 Rutgers 67; Rutgers is given a 49% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Rutgers -2.5
Series History: Wisconsin leads the all-time series 9-4 but lost to Rutgers for the first time ever in Madison 73-65 on February 12. Recap here. The Scarlet Knights are 3-1 all-time against the Badgers at the RAC with the only loss coming last season without fans.
Wisconsin: 6’5” sophomore Johnny Davis- 20.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.2 steals, 33.0% 3-pt FG; 6’4” senior Brad Davison - 14.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 34.2% 3-pt FG; 6’9” junior Tyler Wahl - 11.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 51.8% FG; 7’0” sophomore Steve Crowl - 9.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 51.5% FG, 34.3% 3-pt FG; 6’2” freshman Chucky Hepburn - 7.6 points, 2.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.2 steals, 33.0 3-pt FG; 6’2” freshman Lorne Bowman II - 3.0 points, 1.1 rebounds, 40.0% 3-pt FG; 7’0” senior Chris Vogt - 2.6 points, 3.3 rebounds; 6’4” junior Jahcobi Neath - 1.8 points, 1.3 rebounds; 6’9” sophomore Ben Carlson - 1.7 points, 2.1 rebounds; 6’4” sophomore Justin Davis - 1.3 points, 40.0% 3-pt FG
Rutgers: 6’6” senior Ron Harper Jr. - 15.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.1 steals, 39.3% 3-pt FG; 6’4” redshirt senior Geo Baker - 11.9 points, 3.9 assists, 2.0 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 32.3% 3-pt FG; 6’11” sophomore Cliff Omoruyi - 11.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 61.0% FG; 6’6” junior Paul Mulcahy - 9.1 points, 5.4 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 35.9% 3-pt FG; 6’7” senior Caleb McConnell - 6.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.3 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 - 3.1 points, 1.2 rebounds, 54.5% 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 - 0.8 points
The Badgers have won three in a row since losing to Rutgers at home on February 12. They are 7-2 on the road in Big Ten play and are an incredible 13-1 in games decided by six points or less. That includes 5-0 in closely contested Big Ten road games. They 10-4 against KenPom Top 50 teams and are 13-5 against KenPom Top 100 teams. They average 71.1 points per game and allow 66.4 points per contest.
They are tied for first place in the Big Ten and host No. 4 Purdue next Tuesday in a game that could decide the regular season title. They won conference road games against the Boilermakers and Michigan State, while suffering losses at Illinois and Ohio State.
They aren’t a great shooting team, but they take care of the basketball and play a physical style on both ends of the floor.
Wisconsin has the third lowest offensive turnover rate in the nation at just 12.9% and opponents are stealing it away just 6.8% of the time, which is 5th lowest nationally. They’re shooting just 49.4% from two-point range (191st) and just 31.2% from three-point range (297th). Overall, their effective field goal percentage is only 48.4% (243rd). However, they are shooting 74.5% from the foul line (82nd).
On the boards, they are just 248th nationally with an offensive rebounding rate of 26.2%, but are 43rd in holding opponents to just 24.2% on the offensive glass.
Defensively, Wisconsin is average in holding opponents to 48.9% from two-point range (149th) and 33.0% from three-point range (146th). They don’t force takeaways often as their defensive turnover rate is only 17.1% (258th).
One interesting note is the Badgers are the 6th luckiest team in the country per KenPom and opponents are shooting just 68.2% from the foul line, which is 42nd lowest nationally.
In Big Ten play, Wisconsin is 8th in offensive efficiency and 3rd in defensive efficiency. They have the second lowest turnover rate in league play at 12.8% and play with the 4th fastest tempo, but are only 12th in offensive rebounding rate at 23.4% and dead last in shooting just 30.7% from behind the arc. Their best qualities defensively in league play is limiting opponents on the offensive glass at 23.4% (3rd) and free throw rate at 27.0% (5th). They’re just 11th in steal rate at 7.3% and 12th in block rate at 6.0%
Wisconsin is a big team inside but lacks length with its guards on the perimeter. They are tough as usual and don’t make a lot of mistakes. Johnny Davis is a both a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate and All-American candidate who is a great rebounder for his size and good passer. He is a bulk scorer who takes 31.5% of the entire team’s shots. However, Tyler Wahl and Steven Crowl are capable scorers inside that can also stretch the floor. As a team, they are high volume shooters from behind the arc, averaging 6.6 makes per game despite shooting a low percentage.
For the season, the Scarlet Knights are averaging 68.3 points per game and allowing 65.5 points per contest.....RU is shooting only 48.9% from two-point range (212th), 33.7% from three-point range (175th) and 71.4% from the foul line (183rd)......They are ranked 15th nationally in assist rate at 60.5%, 47th in two-point defense in holding opponents to 46.4% shooting, 60th in defensive steal rate at 11.1% and 61st in defensive block rate at 11.7%.......Rutgers is 9th in offensive efficiency and 4th in defensive efficiency in Big Ten play so far this season......RU is 3rd from three-point range at 37.1% shooting, 4th in free throw shooting at 74.9% and 6th in offensive rebounding rate at 29.0% 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 (12.0%) and turnover rate (18.0%) while 4th in free throw rate (26.2%).....Geo Baker is 6 points away from passing Ricky Shields for 10th place in scoring all-time in program history.
Keys To Victory
These two teams played only two weeks ago and the Badgers come to Piscataway in the hunt for the Big Ten regular season title looking for revenge. They’re tied with Purdue and host them in their following game on Tuesday.
It was an even matchup for most of the last meeting with the Badgers having led 60-59 with 4:49 to play. That being said, Rutgers established a rhythm right away and always felt more in control. They wore Wisconsin down and closed out the game on a 14-5 run, holding them scoreless for over a four minute stretch.
Rutgers had balanced scoring with four players in double figures, including Ron Harper Jr., Paul Mulcahy and Geo Baker all scoring 16 or more points.
Caleb McConnell held Badgers star and the Big Ten’s third leading scorer, Johnny Davis, to just 11 points, 10 below his season average. McConnell also had 6 steals and was disruptive on the defensive end the entire game.
Other areas that helped Rutgers win the game was holding Wisconsin to just 21% from three-point range (4 of 19) and making 16 of 18 free throws for 89%. They also held a 10-2 advantage in fast break points.
Forcing Wisconsin into contested jumpers and keeping them away from the rim is a major key. They are a lot less dangerous offensively when they rely on three-pointers and Davis, Brad Davison and Chucky Hepburn combined to shoot just 2 of 16 from deep against RU in the first meeting. Closing out on shooters and preventing long rebounds for second chance opportunities is important as well.
Forward Tyler Wahl had 23 points inside in the first meeting and will likely be matchup against Ron Harper Jr. again. Keeping him in front of him and off the foul line will be key. At the same time, Wisconsin will probably try to make adjustments in getting Davis better looks. It will be hard to contain him a second time, which is why making sure other players like Wahl and Davison don’t have big nights.
Rutgers was a step slow against Michigan on Wednesday and part of it could have been travel. They had three flights in four days before that game. I don’t mention it as an excuse, but rather to point out that Wisconsin is in the same exact situation after playing a late game Wednesday night at Indiana. Look for RU to mix in some full court pressure early and to attempt to push the pace off of defensive rebounds. When the Scarlet Knights are scoring in transition, they are much more difficult to defend. They also put pressure on Wisconsin to get back defensively. It is something they are generally good at, so penetration and then kicking it back out to the perimeter could be their best strategy to score on the break.
A fast start or at a minimum avoiding a slow start is crucial in this game. Getting the home crowd involved early on and keeping them engaged will be a major factor. The Badgers will not be intimidated nor will they back down. Rutgers has learned they need to play a complete 40 minutes to win and if they do, the RAC will be rocking for them the entire game as well.
Rutgers has to do a better job as a team on the glass as well after getting outplayed in that area in the loss to Michigan. Taking advantage of second chance scoring opportunities off of offensive rebounds can wear down the Badgers mentally as well.
The evolution of this team with the offense running through Paul Mulcahy has really pushed this team forward, but we saw how ineffective they can be when he is off his game like against Michigan. Getting him into the flow of the game and into rhythm is crucial on Saturday night. He’s played the best stretch of his career over the last month and Wednesday needs to be a distant memory. He’s committed nine fouls over the last two games, so cleaning things up defensively to keep him on the court is key as well. He was able to physically dominate his matchup in the first meeting against Wisconsin and he should have confidence he can do it again.
The x-factor is the bench. Wisconsin doesn’t play their reserves much at all. Pikiell relied on the bench a bit more on the two game road trip to mixed results. If RU can get quality minutes from Aundre Hyatt, Mawot Mag and Dean Reiber, it could go a long way towards wearing Wisconsin down and beating them a second time.
For this game, I selected “Burning Down The House” by the Talking Heads. I love David Byrne and it was only a matter of time before I used this 80’s classic for a big home game.
Lyrics includes “Big Dreams walking in broad daylight” and “My house is out of the ordinary, that’s right.”
Wisconsin is the best road team in the Big Ten and they’re not going to be intimidated in the slightest. This is going to be a dog fight and extremely difficult for RU to win. The Badgers are a tough team and it’s never easy to beat a team twice, let alone in a two week period. That being said, Rutgers has beaten them at home multiple times and after the win in Madison, they’ll have confidence facing them at the RAC again.
Rutgers is 41-7 at home over the last three seasons and 31-3 in front of fans. This is the biggest home game since they hosted No. 9 Maryland in the last week of the 2019-2020 regular season. The RAC faithful were ready on that night and they’ll be primed once against on Saturday. The Scarlet Knights need to do what they do best: play extremely hard, stay connected on the defensive end and channel the crowd’s energy to their advantage.
There is one thing for sure and that’s the Riot Squad bringing their A game after Greg Gard’s comments this past week.
This group has had their backs against the wall needing to come through the last week plus of the regular season in each of the past two seasons to put themselves in a position to go dancing. They came through both times and there is no reason to doubt they won’t do it again.
If this team can play together and maintain their poise while using the RAC to their advantage, they’ll achieve something special. It would be the first sweep of a ranked team in program history, a program record sixth ranked win in a season, tie the program’s best season win total in Big Ten play and most importantly, put RU one giant step closer to punching their second consecutive ticket to the NCAA Tournament. If they do that, it will be another epic night at the RAC and it will feel like they’re burning down the house.