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Indiana Men’s Basketball: Previewing Rutgers

A Ranked Rematch

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana’s 63-48 loss in Piscataway remains the low point of the season so far, especially considering the fact that Indiana had both Xavier Johnson and Race Thompson for that game. Jalen Hood-Schifino was out, but the Scarlet Knights handed Indiana its first loss of the year in convincing fashion, causing many to wonder whether Indiana had progressed since the Archie-era.

Plenty has changed since that early December meeting, including Rutgers’ emergence as one of the top teams in the conference. Nobody is likely to catch Purdue at this point, but the Scarlet Knights are alone in second in the Big Ten at 8-4, above a group of six schools sitting at 7-5.

One thing that has remained consistent, however, is Rutgers’ defense, which is ranked second nationally in defensive efficiency, per Kenpom. Indiana will need to come out ready to score more than 48 points this time if it hopes to end its current losing streak to the Scarlet Knights.

Here’s what you need to know about Rutgers:

The Wins

Entering this weekend, Rutgers had the distinction of being the only team to have beaten Purdue this season. And they did it in West Lafayette, hanging on in a nail-biter to win 65-64.

The win at Purdue is just one of two road wins for Rutgers this season, the other being in Evanston on January 11th, but it shows that this is a group that will not be afraid of the crowd or of the moment. Rutgers beat Indiana in Assembly Hall last year on a final-second shot from Ron Harper Jr. and has now knocked off a No. 1 ranked Purdue in back to back seasons.

According to the Kenpom rankings, the win against Indiana is actually the next most impressive win on the year for Rutgers. Of its eight conference wins, half of them have come at home against teams in the bottom half of the Big Ten.

It counts as a win at the end of the day, but going to overtime against this year’s Ohio State team in the midst of their free fall is as close to a “bad win” as there could be. It’s also just one of three one-possession wins Rutgers has all year, with the rest coming in blowouts behind strong defensive performances.

The Losses

Part of the reason I, and I’m sure many others, overlooked this Rutgers team ahead of Indiana’s first matchup in Piscataway was the Scarlet Knights’ early loss to Temple on a neutral court. Rutgers had also dropped its first game against a high-major by that point, losing at Miami in the Big Ten ACC challenge.

Rutgers has generally struggled on the road this year, beating Northwestern but losing at Miami, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Iowa. Iowa also beat Rutgers in Piscataway already this year, hitting 44% of its 3-pointers to beat the Scarlet Knights 76-65.

With the exception of the 93-82 loss in Iowa City, Rutgers has struggled to score in each of its losses, failing to score more than 66 points in any of the six other losses. Seton Hall, the fifth place team in the Big East, went to Piscataway and held Rutgers to 43 points in a 45-43 victory.

The Team

When Indiana and Rutgers last faced off, the Scarlet Knights were without starting guard Paul Mulcahy, who leads the team with 4.9 assists per game. He should be back for Tuesday’s game in Bloomington, but now Rutgers may be without Mawot Mag, who has been averaging 7.8 points and 5 rebounds per contest.

Cam Spencer and Clifford Omoruyi are Rutgers’ leading scorers, averaging 12.8 and 13.4 points per game respectively. Omoruyi also leads Rutgers in rebounds per game, averaging a whopping ten boards.

Indiana struggled to guard Aundre Hyatt and Caleb McConnell last time out, allowing 11 and 16 points respectively to two players who average below 10 per game. McConnell also dominated on the offensive glass, grabbing five of Rutgers’ 17 offensive boards that day.

Looking at team stats, Rutgers is pretty similar to the rest in the conference in that it struggles to hit 3-pointers and relies mostly on points in the paint on offense. Indiana has defended these kinds of teams well of late, which makes the real problem scoring against the Scarlet Knights.

Rutgers was one of the first teams to throw a zone at the Hoosiers, so Indiana should not be surprised if they see it again Tuesday night. Even if they stay in man-to-man, Indiana needs to be more disciplined with the ball in the paint and under pressure if it hopes to beat Rutgers.

Kenpom gives Indiana a 59% chance of victory.