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Gut check game for Rutgers at Wisconsin



Feb 12, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights center Clifford Omoruyi (11) and guard Caleb McConnell (22) defends against Wisconsin Badgers forward Steven Crowl (22) at the Kohl Center. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers men’s basketball (16-10, 8-7) looks to end their three game losing streak on Saturday against Wisconsin (15-10; 7-8). It’s a crucial contest for both programs as they each look to return to the NCAA Tournament and finish in the top half of the Big Ten. The game will air live at noon ET (11 am CT) on the Big Ten Network. Rutgers is 4-9 overall against Wisconsin as the two teams each beat the other on the road last season.

The Scarlet Knights look to get back on track after losing all three games since starter Mawot Mag was declared out for the season with a torn ACL.

“Wisconsin, as you know, is one of the toughest places to play in the league,” Steve Pikiell said following Tuesday’s loss to Nebraska. “We got to play better defense. These guys have done it before. I have a lot of belief in these guys, and I have faith we’ll prepare well. We’ll go to Wisconsin and play on the road.”

In Big Ten play, Rutgers is 9th in scoring at 66.3 points per game while Wisconsin is 13th at 62.6 points per game. Both teams are in the top five in scoring defense allowing just over 65 points per game.

In regard to efficiency, Rutgers is No. 27 in KenPom and Wisconsin is No. 70. RU is No. 130 nationally in offensive efficiency and No. 3 in defensive efficiency. The Badgers are No. 161 in offensive efficiency and No. 27 in defensive efficiency. In Big Ten play, the Scarlet Knights are 9th in offensive efficiency and 2nd in defensive efficiency. Wisconsin is 12th offensively and 7th defensively.

We know the recipe for success for Rutgers is 65 or fewer points allowed. They are 8-0 in league play when they hold opponents to the speed limit and 0-7 when they don’t.

Rutgers lost its identity in Tuesday’s defeat to Nebraska while Wisconsin won a revenge game against Michigan. While RU struggled mightily on the defensive end, the Badgers still won despite not scoring a field goal the final 10:45 of the game.

Both teams prefer a rock fight and rely on their starting five with hit or miss bench production.

Wisconsin has the third lowest turnover rate in the nation and 75th in three-point shooting at 36.1%. However, the Badgers are sub-300 nationally in offensive rebounding, two-point shooting, foul shooting and free throw rate. Defensively, they limit teams on the offensive glass (45th) and keep foes off the foul line (66th).

Wisconsin has a balanced offensive attack as four players average between 11.8 and 12.7 points per game: Chucky Hepburn, Tyler Wahl, Connor Essegian and Steven Crowl. Behind the arc, Hepburn is shooting 44.6% while Essegian is at 42.3%.

RU needs to limit turnovers and hold Wisconsin to as many one shot possessions as possible. That will limit their scoring opportunities and put pressure on them to shoot a high percentage from three. They beat the Badgers in Madison last season in part because of holding them to 4 of 19 from three (21.0%). Closing out on shooters, taking away driving lanes and making things hard for Wahl in the paint are defensive keys.

Last season, Rutgers was able to run just enough at the Kohl Center. They held a 10-2 advantage in fast break points. Wisconsin wants to walk it up the floor at all times. Looking to run off of defensive rebounds and steals could lead to easy points giving RU a key advantage.

I think Derek Simpson’s quickness and ability to get downhill towards the rim could be a difference maker in this game. He’s been playing with poise and an attacking mindset since Mag went down. His defense has been good as well. There isn’t a lot that Rutgers can rely on off the bench right now but Simpson has been the one guy they can trust.

Rutgers needs to win one one matchups and it starts with Cliff Omoruyi. He needs to be assertive while playing under control. He’s going to be the most athletic player on the court and needs to inflict his will on this game. RU needs Cliff to stay on the court and keep his head. If he does, he can dominate.

Cam Spencer getting on track and Aundre Hyatt continuing to produce would be key as well.

Lastly, Rutgers needs to hit their free throws on the road. They’ve fallen two percentage points back to 72.2% for the season after the last few games. Points will be hard to come by in this matchup and taking advantage from the charity stripe is a must.

Above all, this game to me comes down to hunger, heart, and toughness. This is a game Rutgers needs to be connected defensively, attack the rim and the glass.  Paul Mulcahy and Caleb McConnell need to lead this team and play smart. Keeping everyone focused and together is crucial. They may feel like they are in basketball hell right now, but they’ve fought their way out to the other side before. They can do it again.

Rutgers still controls it’s fate. Don’t give up on this team.

I chose “Just Got To Be” by the Black Keys for the musical selection. A tremendous song that is core to their identity. They need to conquer their basketball demons, play with pride and play to their identity. It doesn’t need to be pretty. They have to grind. The time to be sad and frustrated about Mag is over. Saturday is a tremendous opportunity to pick up a key road win and head home with confidence. Time to get up off the mat and be the team they can still be.

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  1. Henry Rutgers

    February 18, 2023 at 12:19 pm

    Inspirational, Aaron. They should fly you out with the team to give the pre-game pep talk. You’ve got me holding onto hope.

  2. BataliBoli98

    February 18, 2023 at 3:02 pm

    Cliff MUST play disciplined today or Crowl will be a problem. I also worry about Wahl. He is the player that I was hoping that Reiber would be, a 3* recruit who stretches the floor. That said, Essegian and Hepburn make them go on offense. RU will win if they keep at least one of them in check and Cliff plays 30 quality minutes. Go RU!

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