Rutgers returns home to the RAC to host last place Minnesota on Wednesday night. Tip-off is at 8:30 p.m. and the game airs live on the Big Ten Network. The Gophers have lost five in a row and are off to a 1-9 start to Big Ten play. As I covered in detail here, they are dealing with serious injury issues including leading scorer Dawson Garcia. Head coach Ben Johnson said on Tuesday that he would be a game time decision.
From an advanced stats perspective, Minnesota it pretty bad. Their KenPom ranking is No. 194 and this game is considered a Quad 4 matchup. The Gophers have an offensive efficiency rating of 100.5 which is No. 269 nationally and a defensive efficiency rating of 101.9 which is No. 114 nationally. They do match Rutgers in average height (6’6″ vs. 6’6.5″).
Minnesota plays at a very slow place with tempo No. 298 nationally and an average length of possession of 18.8 seconds, which is No. 315. They don’t value the ball as their turnover rate of 19.2% is No. 232 and their offensive rebounding rate of 25.8% is No. 267. The Gophers are shooting 48.3% from two-point range (No. 254), 31.2% from three-point range (No. 305) and have the worst free throw percentage in college basketball at just 59.3% (No. 363). They do share the ball well though as their assist rate of 59.0% is No. 25 nationally.
On the defensive side, Minnesota does a great job of keeping opponents off the line with a free throw rate of 21.5% at No. 6 nationally. They defend inside the arc pretty well as opponents are shooting just 46.4% from two-point range (No. 53). Opponents are shooting 34.3% from behind the arc, which ranks No. 201 nationally.
In Big Ten play, the Gophers are overall much less efficient than their overall ranking. Their offensive efficiency rating of 93.3 is 13th in the league while their defensive efficiency rating of 108.8 is 14th.
Rutgers enters the game with a KenPom ranking of No. 17, an offensive efficiency rating of 107.3 which is No. 118 nationally with the No. 2 defensive efficiency rating nationally at 87.7. In Big Ten play, RU is No. 11 offensively (100.9) and No. 3 defensively (97.7).
This is a game where Rutgers needs to impose their will on Minnesota. Wear them down with their physicality and depth through relentless defense and rebounding. The Gophers aren’t particularly strong with the ball, so pressuring their guards will lead to turnovers. I think it is likely to see more pressing from Rutgers. Unlike the Iowa game, this is a matchup they want to speed up Minnesota which can lead them to making mistakes and more possessions for the Scarlet Knights. RU should look to run off of turnovers and defensive rebounds. The more they can score in transition, the more of a toll it will take on Minnesota.
The Scarlet Knights must stay disciplined in their half court defense, especially during long defensive possessions. Defending without fouling is key. While the Gophers are terrible from the foul line, you don’t want to tempt fate nor have key players get into foul trouble. Force contested jumpers and keep Minnesota out of the lane, which is RU’s typical strategy. Keep Jamison Battle and Dawson Garcia, if he plays, as far from the rim as possible.
Rutgers has been good on the glass of late and tonight they need to continue that. Crashing the boards on both ends will hurt the spirit of the Gophers as they hope for the upset bid. Limit them to one shot possessions and punish them inside on second chance scoring opportunities. This ties into RU showing urgency and playing with energy.
As usual, Rutgers needs Paul Mulcahy to direct the offense and get the ball into the hands of the right guys early on. Establishing Cliff Omoruyi inside and getting Cam Spencer shots early can jump start the offense. Continue to share the basketball and make Minnesota work hard defensively in the half court. They played well offensively in the loss to Iowa and getting contributions from multiple guys will snowball on the Gophers. Mulcahy looking to score himself always leds to better spacing on the perimeter for shooters like Spencer and Aundre Hyatt.
I think this is a game that Derek Simpson can exploit the guards of Minnesota with his quickness off the bounce and ability to get to the rim. However, he needs to have good vision and not just look to score. He could be a real disruptor with penetration by finding open looks for his teammates. Simpson is also dangerous in transition as he is No. 5 nationally with 5.5 fast break points per 40 minutes. The opportunities should be there for him to take advantage tonight.
I’ve written that this game makes me nervous based on the situation, but not because of Rutgers. They are the better team, but as we saw last season on the road, RU lost to a depleted Gophers squad. They just need to come out playing together at the start. The sooner they can get into the flow of the game, the better. Don’t allow Minnesota to hang around and gain confidence. The longer the are in it, the more pressure Rutgers will deal with down the stretch. A repeat of the Penn State result last week would be preferred, but at the end of the day just win any way possible.
For the musical selection, I chose “Don’t Change” by INXS. One of my favorite 80’s songs and under appreciated band.
This is where coaching comes into play and a strength of Pikiell’s is keeping his players focused on their identity. They know what works and playing at home should provide a much needed boost. Don’t over think it. Don’t try and overcompensate for things after the loss to Iowa. Do what you do best. Defend teams into submission. Grind it out. Don’t change!
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