No. 16 Ohio State (14-5; 7-3) at Rutgers (13-9; 7-5)
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: Wednesday, February 9 at 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: BTN - Cory Provus and Robbie Hummel
Stream: FOX Sports Live
NET Rankings: Rutgers No. 99; Ohio State No. 17 (Quad 1 opponent)
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers - No. 88, sixteen spots better following a 84-63 victory over Michigan State on Saturday at home. Ohio State - No. 19, one spot better following a 82-67 win over Maryland on Sunday.
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 104.4 (140th) Defense 95.7 (52nd); Ohio State - Offense 118.1 (5th) Defense 99.2 (103rd)
KenPom Prediction: Ohio State 71 Rutgers 67; Rutgers is given a 38% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Ohio State -2.5
Series History: Ohio State leads the all-time series 10-3 and have won four in a row, including a series sweep last season. The last time Rutgers beat the Buckeyes was when they were also ranked No. 16 on January 9, 2018 at the RAC.
Ohio State: 6’7” junior E.J. Liddell - 19.9 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.6 blocks, 52.2% FG, 40.3% 3-pt FG; 6’5” freshman Malaki Branham 10.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 40.8% 3-pt FG; 6’8” sophomore Zed Key - 9.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 61.3% FG; 6’8” graduate senior Kyle Young - 8.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 52.6% FG; 6’1” graduate senior Jamari Wheeler - 6.8 points, 3.7 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 1.7 steals, 34.6% 3-pt FG; 6’6” senior Justin Ahrens - 6.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 35.9% 3-pt FG; 6’2” freshman Meechie Johnson Jr. - 6.2 points, 1.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 37.1% 3-pt FG; 6’2” graduate senior Cedric Russell - 4.0 points, 42.5% 3-pt FG; 6’6” sophomore Eugene Brown III - 3.4 points, 2.0 rebounds
Rutgers: 6’6” senior Ron Harper Jr. - 15.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.3 steals, 41.2% 3-pt FG; 6’4” redshirt senior Geo Baker - 11.6 points, 4.1 assists, 2.3 rebounds, 1.2 steal, 32.7% 3-pt FG; 6’11” sophomore Cliff Omoruyi - 11.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.2 block, 59.8% FG; 6’6” junior Paul Mulcahy - 8.4 points, 5.4 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 30.9% 3-pt FG; 6’7” senior Caleb McConnell - 6.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.1 steals, 28.2% 3-pt FG; 6’6” sophomore Aundre Hyatt - 5.0 points, 2.9 rebounds; 6’8” freshman Jaden Jones - 3.6 points, 1.2 rebounds; 6’7” sophomore Mawot Mag - 3.6 points, 2.3 rebounds; 6’8” senior Ralph Gonzales-Agee - 2.2 points, 1.1 rebounds, 52.2% FG; 6’10 sophomore Dean Reiber - 3.0 points, 1.2 rebounds, 53.5% FG; 6’8” sophomore Oskar Palmquist - 1.6 points, 5-11 3-pt FG; 6’2” freshman Jalen Miller - 1.0 points
About Ohio State
The Buckeyes are an elite offensive team and an average defensive unit. They are 3-5 against the KenPom Top 50 and 9-5 against the KenPom Top 100. OSU is 3-3 on the road in Big Ten play with wins at Penn State, Nebraska and Minnesota. They’ve only lost three times since Thanksgiving.
Ohio State a great shooting team as they average 56.2% from two-point range (13th), 37.1% from three-point range (31st) and 75.1% from the foul line (58th). They’re averaging 75.6 points per game and have six different players who are threats behind the arc. They also have a turnover rate of just 17.0% (69th).
Defensively, OSU is very good inside the arc holding opponents to just 45.8% shooting (43rd) and defending the rim with a 12.7% block rate (45th). The one weakness is their inability to force takeaways, as opponents have a turnover rate of 15.9% (314th).
On the glass, the Buckeyes are average on both ends with an offensive rebounding rate of 29.7% (142nd) and opponents having a 27.8% offensive rebounding rate (151st).
In Big Ten play, Ohio State is 2nd in offensive efficiency and 8th in defensive efficiency. They lead the league in two-point shooting (55.9%) and are second in effective field goal percentage (54.5%) and free throw shooting (76.8%). Defensively, they are in the top five of five different categories but have played seven of ten league games against bottom half offenses.
E.J. Liddell is having the best season of any Big Ten player from an advanced stats perspective and ranks No. 3 nationally. He is extremely versatile, a good passing big man and consistent in scoring in double digits in every game. Grad transfers Jamari Wheeler and Cedric Russell have made an impact and improving depth for a team that features valuable program guys in Zed Key, Justin Ahrens and Kyle Young. Freshman Malaki Branham has made a huge impact in his debut season as well.
For the season, the Scarlet Knights are averaging 68.3 points per game and allowing 64.8 points per contest.....RU is shooting only 47.8% from two-point range (250th), 33.5% from three-point range (182nd) and 69.9% from the foul line (224th)......They are ranked 8th nationally in assist rate at 63.5%, 22nd in two-point defense in holding opponents to 45.2% shooting, 53rd in defensive block rate at 12.3% and 64th in defensive steal rate at 11.1%.......Rutgers is 11th in offensive efficiency and 3rd in defensive efficiency in Big Ten play so far this season......RU is 3rd from three-point range at 37.8% shooting ad 4th in offensive rebounding rate at 30.0% in league play........They are in the top four in five of eight defensive categories in Big Ten play including 2nd in steal rate and turnover rate, 3rd in block rate and 4th in two-point shooting....The last time Rutgers had back-to-back wins against ranked opponents was in January 2008 with victories over No. 18 Villanova and No. 13 Pittsburgh.
Keys To Victory
Chris Holtmann is a tremendous coach and Ohio State dominated Rutgers twice last season. However, this is the third game in seven days for the Buckeyes and they have rival Michigan up next on Saturday. The last time they played at the RAC was 2019 when they held the same ranking as today they lost. The Scarlet Knights need to come out ready with high energy and urgency the same way they did on Saturday against then No. 13 Michigan State.
Defensively, Rutgers has to stay connected, have good awareness of shooters and close out on the perimeter, while also limiting OSU to one shot possessions. They love to work the shot clock in the halfcourt and wear the opposition down. RU can’t get impatient and foul or lose discipline, especially with Liddell in the high post. The Scarlet Knights have been effective of late showing different looks defensively with a zone and fullcourt pressure, so executing changes smoothly is key. Liddell is likely going to get his, so limiting the other Buckeyes is really important.
On the glass, OSU has been outrebounded in four of its five losses and were even in the fifth, holding a -24 rebounding margin in those defeats. Rutgers is much tougher when they crash the glass on both ends and are 9-3 when they outrebound an opponent, while the Buckeyes are 11-0 when they hold the edge. The Scarlet Knights dominated MSU on Saturday with a +11 rebounding margin, which really took them out of the game in the second half. Need the same all hands on deck approach, as all five starters grabbed at least 3-4 rebounds in the win.
Offensively, the evolution of Paul Mulcahy’s approach was transformative last week. His mentality has shifted into dictating the action by looking to score first instead of deferring automatically. In doing this, he’s been able to exert his physical advantage over defenders by getting into the paint and finding high percentage looks inside. In addition, his ability to score now makes Rutgers much more complicated for opponents to defend them. While Mulcahy is more muscle than speed, doubling him brings high risk for the opposition. If they give Cliff Omoruyi any spacing Mulcahy will find him. The duo has also been highly effective on the high ball screen as well, putting defenders on their heels. If they double him on the elbow, it would be at the expense of hedging off Ron Harper Jr. or Geo Baker potentially.
The decision making ability of Mulcahy, coupled with his newfound aggressiveness, gives Rutgers a true game changer on the offensive end. Jamari Wheeler is the best perimeter defender that Ohio State has but he is 5-6 inches shorter than Mulcahy. How they defend him tonight will a major key in the game. The Buckeyes lull teams into iso ball situations which Rutgers is prone to doing. It’s a big reason they don’t force a lot of turnovers, as they instead focus on forcing bad shots. It will be a major test to see if the offense has taken a sustainable leap towards being more efficient due to Mulcahy’s development. I also expect them to give different looks in hopes of confusing Rutgers. How they handle a potential zone could be the difference in the game as settling for contested jumpers would be an advantage for OSU.
The foul line is also key as Ohio State is very efficient from the line. Rutgers has been much improved from the charity stripe as well. The x-factor could be whichever team gets into the bonus of both halves and how early it happens would provide a major opportunity to build a lead.
Ron Harper Jr. needs to have an attacking mindset and get to the rim in hopes of also getting to the line. He leads the league in Big Ten play in shooting 91.5% from the foul line. He’s also tops from behind the arc at 46.2% and I just think this is the type of game he needs to have a big game for Rutgers to win. Contributions from the bench will be important but I think Aundre Hyatt and Mawot Mag could have the most impact based on matchups. Dean Reiber was fantastic against MSU but will likely have trouble with Liddell. Hyatt is due and I think his defense on Key and Young, who tore up RU last season, could be a difference maker. Lastly, feed Big Cliff early and often, get him involved and if he is active on both ends he could pose OSU a real problem inside.
For this game, I selected “There, There” by Radiohead. One of my favorite bands has evolved quite a bit throughout their existence and aren’t understood or appreciated by everyone. That’s pretty much how I feel about Rutgers right now.
This team is still evolving this season and the way things are changing could lead to sustained improvement the rest of the way. Rutgers is in the middle of a brutal stretch but there is hope they can hold their own. Winning tonight against another quad 1 opponent would be a significant step forward towards challenging for a bid to March Madness.
To do it, the Scarlet Knights have to prove they are in fact changing for the better. They must avoid temptation to fall back into bad habits by sharing the basketball regardless of how the Buckeyes defend them. They also can’t take any possessions off of on the defensive end and rebounding has to be a major priority. When RU does all of these things, they are especially hard to beat at home. Keeping the crown in it is key as well.
The lyrics from this song are appropriate for the situation with:
“There’s always a siren singing you to shipwreck. Don’t reach out, don’t reach out. Don’t reach out, don’t reach out. Steer away from these rocks. We’d be a walking disaster. Don’t reach out, don’t reach out. Don’t reach out, don’t reach out. Just ‘cause you feel it. Doesn’t mean it’s there.”
This is a group that’s been through a lot of adversity and tonight is an opportunity for them to right the ship further. If they can show more growth in this game and stay connected for 40 minutes, the RAC should rock yet again. Anything less and the Buckeyes could spoil the hope that Saturday’s victory brought.