There are four college basketball games on Tuesday night that involve both teams being ranked. Only one of them features a series that has been completely one sided in recent years. No. 24 Rutgers visits No. 18 Indiana in a key Big Ten battle that has many storylines. The game is airing live on the Big Ten Network at 6:30 p.m. ET.
Rutgers has beaten Indiana six in a row and in eight of the last nine meetings dating back to the 2018 Big Ten Tournament. Hoosiers star Trayce Jackson-Davis has led his team to victories over every Big Ten team in his career except RU. He spoke about how the loss to the Scarlet Knights this season helped turn their season around.
Indiana is coming off it’s biggest win in knocking off their rival No. 1 Purdue on Saturday. However, their biggest weakness was apparent in the victory. The Boilermakers had 17 offensive rebounds, which equates to rebounding 55% of their missed shots. However, Purdue didn’t fully take advantage as they scored just 12 second chance points. That’s what happened to Rutgers in the loss at Michigan State, when they grabbed 18 offensive boards but had just 15 second chance points.
In the first meeting in December, the Scarlet Knights held a +14 rebounding margin (47-33) over the Hoosiers. In addition, they grabbed 17 offensive boards which resulted in 17 second chance points. RU rebounded 41.5% of their missed shots.
The key to beating Indiana has always been Rutgers being tougher and it starts with rebounding. You break their will on the glass. It makes the loss of Mawot Mag, who is out for the season with a torn ACL, even more glaring in this matchup. However, I still think that as a whole RU matches up well against the Hoosiers.
In the first meeting, Caleb McConnell had 10 rebounds, while Cliff Omoruyi and Mag had 9 boards each. The two vets will need to be assertive on the glass again tonight and Rutgers needs others to step up in Mag’s absence. Cam Spencer has been rebounding very well of late. Aundre Hyatt, Dean Reiber and Antwone Woolfolk need to have a presence on the boards as well.
How Pikiell rotates the lineup at Mag’s spot remains to be seen. He could go several different ways. He could slide Hyatt as a starter and work the bench from there. He could decide to go small with Derek Simpson, who had a big game against the Hoosiers in round 1. I think starting Dean Reiber would add a wrinkle and provide length in Mag’s absence. I also like the idea of keeping Hyatt in the same role as the primary scorer off the bench. He will need to rebound more though. Oskar Palmquist could pose a matchup problem but he’ll need to prove he can defend too. Whoever does get more minutes tonight needs to contribute.
Regardless of what Pikiell decides, it actually makes Rutgers harder to prepare for as well as anticipating any adjustments they make throughout the game. Obviously the players have to execute, but I like the coaching matchup tonight as well.
Injuries are deflating to a team, particularly as tight as Rutgers is and how vital Mag has been to their success. However, it can galvanize a team as well. This team has been through a lot of adversity already. I do think Indiana is as in good of a position as they’ve been in this series in regard to being in a position to win. Freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino didn’t play in the first game and could be a game changer for the Hoosiers. How Rutgers defends him is critical as well.
Poise from the opening tip on is a huge key in this game as well. Indiana will come out hard and the crowd will be frenzied. Rutgers needs to stay connected and weather the early storm. Limit turnovers and defend without fouling. Paul Mulcahy needs to dictate the offense from the start by looking to score and making good decisions with the ball. Keeping Cliff Omoruyi out of foul trouble is key as well. I do think the more Mulcahy can get into the lane, it will create good looks for Cam Spencer and Aundre Hyatt on the perimeter.
The more Rutgers can dictate the terms of the game and hang around, the more pressure they’ll put on Indiana. If they are within 5-6 points with five minutes to play, I think RU will ultimately win with their closing ability. The key for the Hoosiers is to hit hard early on by spacing Rutgers out, hitting shots, and building a lead. They don’t force turnovers and don’t rebound well, so if they don’t shoot around 50% or better, it will be a rock fight which is what RU wants. Absorb the body blows early, keep defending, rebounding and sharing the basketball and wear Indiana down as the game progresses.
My song choice is “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes. This song is perseverance and Rutgers has their backs against the wall tonight. Indiana will want blood and might finally have the right mindset to beat the Scarlet Knights. However, the veteran core of Cliff, Paul and Caleb along with Spencer and Hyatt aren’t going to flinch. They might not play well enough to win, but they aren’t going to be intimidated. The Hoosiers are going to have to take the game from them. RU isn’t going down without a fight. The more Rutgers can make hustle plays, rebound and score inside, they’ll tick away at Indiana’s will, play by play. Again, I think Indiana has a lot going for them tonight and it’s possible they win comfortably if the shoot lights out. But I wouldn’t bet against the Scarlet Knights either.
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