Oh no, Rutgers. Not like this.
It was only a month ago that the Scarlet Knights toppled Illinois for their sixth win in as many games to start the season. Things were good in Piscataway. For Rutgers in the Big Ten, things had seldom been better.
And then? Well, then the bottom fell out. A total collapse. With six losses in its last seven games — including five in a row — Rutgers finds itself tumbling toward the Big Ten basement heading into Sunday’s matinee at IU. Are the Scarlet Knights due for a bounce-back? Are the Hoosiers due for a quick regression?
It felt like Rutgers had a shot to end its skid on Thursday at Penn State. Instead, the Scarlet Knights no-showed for their date at the Bryce Jordan Center. The Scarlet Knights are not the worst team in the league, but they sure have been playing like it recently. There’s not just one area to pinpoint, either. They’re not scoring at the rim, at the line or beyond the arc, they’re getting outmuscled underneath and their defense looks broken. There’s a good amount of talent on Rutgers’ roster, but right now the team looks like a sloppy mess.
Geo Baker hasn’t been the player many believed he would be as a senior. He’s averaging only 8.9 points per game, reaching double figures only three times in 10 games (Baker missed three games early due to an ankle injury). He’s scored only 39 total points over the course of Rutgers’ five-game losing streak and is hitting at only a 25% clip from beyond the arc in league play. But don’t get too careful, I suppose — in five career games against IU, Baker is 8-for-18 from 3-point range.
Ron Harper Jr. has been Rutgers’ best player, averaging a team-high 18.6 points. He’s second in the Big Ten with 2.6 3-pointers per game, and his long-range shooting percentage (41.6%) ranks fifth in the Big Ten. Harper’s developed into one of the better two-way players in the league, a matchup issue as a shooter and a strong defender on the other end. Harper and point guard Jacob Young have been the most consistent players for Rutgers thus far. Young has scored in double figures in 11 games and leads the league in steals (2.15) per game. Guard Montez Mathis was excellent across his first eight games, averaging 15.6 points in that span. But he’s really fallen off this month, averaging six points per contest in January.
Rutgers has won three of the past four meetings with IU. Those three victores rank as Rutgers’ second-most wins over any Big Ten team since joining the league in 2014.
Things to watch
It’s not just an Indiana issue. Rutgers can’t seem to make them either. Out of the entire country, only Maine has done a worse job at the line than the Scarlet Knights, who are making only 57% of their free throws. This will be a matchup between the two worst free throw shooting teams in the Big Ten, with IU carrying a .659 percentage at the line into the game.
Indiana ranks ninth in the Big Ten in defensive efficiency during conference play, but the Hoosiers are coming off one of their best efforts on that end this season. After an unimpressive defensive start to the conference schedule, this could be an opportunity to keep those good vibes rolling. Rutgers hasn’t been doing much of anything well on the offensive end of late, though it did look a little more crisp toward the end of the Penn State game.
Rutgers is going to — or at least they should — be desperate
Thursday’s game at Penn State was pretty much a must-win for Rutgers in the midst of its current skid. Well, that didn’t turn out as it hoped. It’s getting late early for a Scarlet Knights program that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1991. Quickly, Rutgers — a team that was positioned to fight for a top-four Big Ten finish — is losing its grip on a bid to the dance. A win on Sunday could help reroute their season.
Game Info / How to Watch
Who? Rutgers (7-6, 3-6) at Indiana (9-6, 4-4)
Where? Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Ind.
When? Sunday, noon Eastern
Channel? BTN | Brandon Gaudin (p-b-p), Stephen Bardo (analyst)
Radio? IU Radio Network; Sirius 106, XM 196, Internet 958: Don Fischer, Errek Suhr & Joe Smith
Vegas? Indiana -5