A lot has changed for the Scarlet Knights since the last time these programs met. Mawot Mag suffered a torn ACL and is out for the season. Caleb McConnell is dealing with a back issue. Paul Mulcahy is struggling. The rotations have changed. RU hasn’t won at home since (0-2).
Not much has changed for the Gophers as they continue to be mired in a extended losing streak. They enter Thursday’s rematch with Rutgers having lost 12 straight games and seven in a row since the first meeting.
Going back to the last month when RU beat Minnesota, they held them to 36% shooting including just 5 of 25 for 20% from behind the arc. The only issue was the Gophers grabbing 12 offensive rebounds which resulted in nine second chance points. Limiting them to one shot possessions tonight is key.
Rutgers dished out 30 assists in the game on 37 field goals, which set a program record in a Big Ten game. The Scarlet Knights shot 59.7% from the floor including 10 of 20 for 50% from three. They also held a 46-26 advantage with points in the paint and a 32-4 edge with points off the bench. In addition, they also held a 22-10 advantage in points off of turnovers and 22-12 in fast break points.
The hope tonight is that Rutgers can build off of their 19 point comeback victory over Penn State from Sunday. Can they make the offensive spark they found in the second half with Derek Simpson, the high ball screen and better ball movement a sustainable factor? Does head coach Steve Pikiell make a lineup change or adjust rotations based on Simpson’s emergence. Does Simpson play more with the ball in his hands and Paul Mulcahy plays off of the ball?
These questions does bring some unpredictability to the matchup that makes this game even more of a challenge for Minnesota. Of course, they beat Rutgers at the Barn last season despite having a shorthanded roster. Leading scorer Dawson Garcia missed the first game at the RAC and he will match up with Cliff Omoruyi. It’s important that Cliff stay on the floor tonight as much as possible and avoid foul trouble. Garcia can play away from the basket, so Cliff needs to be smart and stay focused on the defensive end.
Jamison Battle is a good player for the Gophers and this time Mawot Mag is not there to defend him. Look for a combination of Aundre Hyatt, Antwone Woolfolk and Dean Reiber to get chances to slow him down.
Minnesota has both the worst offensive and defensive efficiency ratings in Big Ten play. They have the worst offensive turnover rate, shoot just 30.6% from three (13th) and struggle from the foul line at 64.3% (12th). Defensively, they allow a league worst 39.7% from three, third worst from two-point range (51.5%) and force the second fewest turnovers in the league.
This is the perfect opponent for Rutgers in hopes of building off of the new way they found success on offense against Penn State. However, the real key is RU playing to their potential on the defensive end. This game isn’t about style points. Get the win by any means necessary. If that means a 1 point win in the 50’s, so be it. Rutgers wins this game if they defend at a high level, limit turnovers, make free throws and stick together.
While a fast start would be great, it’s about Rutgers playing connected on the defensive end from the opening tip. Of course, finding a rhythm offensively would be ideal. Seeing continued evolution with Simpson creating would be great to see. This is a game shooters like Cam Spencer, Aundre Hyatt and Oskar Palmquist will get good looks if the ball moves. In addition, Rutgers needs to finish near the rim at a much higher rate than they have been (sub 50%).
The Scarlet Knights have never won three straight road games in Big Ten play or finished 5-5 on the road since joining the league. Both can be accomplished with a victory tonight.
Defend and rebound, look to run in transition when possible, share the basketball on offense and make high percentage shots near the rim as well as from the line. Rutgers should absolutely win this game. If they do, it very likely punches their ticket to the NCAA Tournament. They had to do the same two years ago at Minnesota in the final week of the season and it was a nail biter. Rutgers fans should be prepared for ANYTHING tonight. That being said, there should be confidence that whatever which way this game goes, RU can get it done in the end.
My musical selection for this game is “Bad Love” by Dehd. It’s about growing from a bad experience and moving forward.
Rutgers has been through a tough stretch and a bit of a transformative period following the season ending injury to Mag. The hope tonight is for this team to play well and show signs of developing some momentum as March is here. This team has come through in the final week of the regular season three years in a row. Tonight is another opportunity to do the same. No one could put it better than Caleb McConnell did after the comeback win against Penn State.
“Stay together, stay together, stay together and when we do us, we get us results.”
It’s that simple for this team. The bottom line is that if they play Rutgers defense, they’ll win. Beat an inferior opponent and take care of business. Just don’t expect it to be easy.
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