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Rutgers looks to build momentum against Maryland



Photo credit Rutgers Athletics

Rutgers men’s basketball is back home on Thursday night to host Maryland in a key Big Ten battle. The game airs live on the Big Ten Network at 6:30 p.m.  ET. While Maryland leads the all-time series 13-6, these two teams have split the home and home series each of the past three seasons. The unusual part is that the road team has won each of the last four meetings.

Maryland (10-4; 1-2) is No. 38 in KenPom, No. 60 in offensive efficiency and No. 30 in defensive efficiency. Rutgers (10-4; 2-1) is No. 15 in KenPom, No. 112 in offensive efficiency and No. 3 in defensive efficiency. They’re given a 72% chance to win by KenPom who projects a 66-60 win for RU.

There will likely be a lot of emotion in this game and the stakes are high for both teams.

The Scarlet Knights are looking to build off of the biggest road win in program history after Monday’s 65-64 triumph over No. 1 Purdue. Maryland head coach Kevin Willard returns to the RAC after a decade with Seton Hall. Willard lost his last two games in Piscataway with the Hall, cancelled the 2019 meeting during COVID and stated he hated the rivalry a year later. Factors on both sides should bring plenty of juice to this game.

While the Terps have come down to earth after a very hot start, this is one of the more veteran teams in college basketball. Maryland has three starters who were part of last year’s 68-60 win in Piscataway in a game that was more lopsided than the final score indicated. With Willard, this team is not going to be intimidated by the RAC.

Hakim Hart, Donta Scott, and Julian Reese combined for 10 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 blocks against Rutgers in the victory last season. While the top scorers in that game in Eric Ayala, Fatts Russell and Qudus Wahab are gone, Hart, Scott and Reese are a strong returning core. Hart and Scott have almost identical stat lines in averaging 12.6 points, between 5-6 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. In addition, Charlotte transfer Jahmir Young leads the team with 14.0 points and 3.0 assists per game.

In regard to the matchup, Maryland has some similarities to Purdue. They don’t force a lot of turnovers with a rate of just 18.5% (204th). In addition, they aren’t shooting well from three-point range at 30.8% (294th). The Terps are very good inside the arc in shooting 54.9% from two-point range (35th). Maryland also gets to the line at a high rate as 36.2% of their total shots come from the charity stripe ((58th). However, they are not nearly as good of a rebounding team as the Boilermakers. Their offensive rebounding rate is just 29.3% (173rd) and they’re allowing opponents an offensive rebounding rate of 29.0% which is 195th.

Defensively, Maryland has held foes to just 28.2% from three-point range (19th) and 44.9% from two-point range (43rd).

Through three Big Ten games, Maryland has the worst offensive efficiency rating in the league by a wide margin. They’re coming off a dreadful performance last Sunday in which they lost to Michigan on the road 81-46. The Terps will be hungry for a bounce back performance and will be a tough out.

Both teams are going to play hard on the defensive end. The key for Rutgers is to run the offense through Paul Mulcahy with a focus on Cliff Omoruyi and Cam Spencer as your biggest shot takers. Evolution of the offense is important for Rutgers to take the next step. Maryland doesn’t have a true rim defender to contend with Cliff, so feeding him early and often to get him into the flow of the game is important. It will also open up the perimeter as the game progresses. I’d like to see Spencer be a priority in getting him shots in space and running him off screens. And as for Mulcahy, his ability to back down his defender and pick his spots is a true weapon that needs to be a consistent focal point moving forward.

As a team, rebounding on both ends of the floor is key. Also keeping Maryland out of the paint and forcing contested jumpers will also keep them off the foul line. Look to run in transition out of turnovers caused due to defensive pressure.

I think Pikiell will show full court pressure early on to test the Terps as well as I think it helps get Rutgers into the flow of the game as well. They don’t necessarily need a fast start, but they don’t want to come out flat and fall behind either. Having Caleb McConnell and Mawot Mag set the tone defensively would be a major positive.

Physicality will be a factor in this game. Neither team will back down, but which team is mentally tougher? Maryland has been struggling offensively. Clamp down on them, don’t allow them to build confidence or establish a flow and wear them down with relentless defensive pressure. Rutgers doesn’t need to be perfect, they just need to play to their strengths.

This is a big test. The Terps can be dangerous and proved it in a 18 point neutral court win over Miami.

A win and this team can continue to build momentum they’ve worked hard to establish. Lose and the question becomes whether inconsistency prevents this team from taking the next step this season. The leadership and chemistry of this team is a strength and I think it shines through tonight.

For my musical choice, I chose “All My Dreams” by The Heavy Heavy. This is a game that if Rutgers wins, expectations continue to rise. A loss doesn’t negate the win over No. 1 Purdue, but it halts the momentum gained from it. Win and the opportunity to challenge for the Big Ten title  inches closer. I think this team has a lot of heart and is hungry for more success. The RAC faithful should be amped up tonight and hopefully they reach raucous levels more than once in this game.


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