Rutgers men’s basketball suffered a 76-65 loss at home to Iowa on Sunday at the RAC. It was a disappointing performance coming off of wins over No. 1 Purdue and Maryland earlier in the week. The Scarlet Knights played poorly on both ends of the the floor for most of the game. It resulted in its first double digit defeat of the 2022-2023 campaign.
It was the worst defensive performance of the season in part because it was a really bad matchup for RU. The fast pace and crisp ball movement in which Iowa played with negated the physicality of their defense. Trapping is another strength of Rutgers that Iowa took away with their swift ball reversals.
“They’re a really good passing team,” head coach Steve Pikiell said after the game. “There’s not one guy on their roster that has a negative assist-to-turnover ratio. Every guy can pass. They got the ball moving around and they got a lot of guys. (Payton) Sandfort, who had been struggling up until their Indiana game, really made some huge shots – timely shots and I thought some tough shots down the stretch.”
The Hawkeyes made 12 of 27 shots from three-point range for 44%. The 12 threes tied a season high they also made against rival Iowa State, who are currently No. 12 nationally in defensive efficiency.
“We’ve done a really good job of defending three-point land and we didn’t tonight, that hurt us.”
Iowa actually played at a slower pace than normal which is a credit to Rutgers. However, this is a team who plays with a top 50 fastest tempo and averages just over 15 seconds per possession. That’s 16th fastest nationally. The Scarlet Knights were unable to use their length and athleticism to their advantage because of it. The result was their worst efficiency rating was by far of the season. The adjusted efficiency rating of 111.6 points per 100 possessions. Overall, this is 26+ points worse than their season average.
“They got the best of us today. Our defense wasn’t where it needed to be,” Pikiell stated. “Our defense has been great all year long. I don’t think there’s been one game that I didn’t like our defense, but we did some uncharacteristic things today that we’ve got to make sure we straighten up. But when you are down 18, you do those kinds of things.”
Another reason that Rutgers fell behind by a wide margin was their inability to finish near the rim. The Scarlet Knights made just 12 of 29 shots at the rim for only 41%. Shooting from behind the arc wasn’t good either at 5 of 18 for 27%. However, RU can’t be expected to shoot at a high clip with a season average of 31.4% from three (No. 278). They were shooting close to 50% from two-point range before the game though. Specifically with shots near the rim, Rutgers is averaging 61.5% (No. 125) even after Sunday per Hoop-Math.
“We missed layups to start the game. We missed a lot of layups and timely baskets,” explained Pikiell. “You can’t get off to that kind of start, especially against a team that scores the way they do. Obviously, they’ve got some big players. Their center is having a really good year and he’ll challenge some things at the rim. I did think we had some very makeable shots around the basket, and we just needed to cash in on some of those and some timely threes.”
The gauntlet that is the Big Ten schedule doesn’t allow for much recovery time. Rutgers will next face arguably the hottest team in the league playing at Northwestern on Wednesday night. The Wildcats beat Illinois at home followed by a 1 point win at Indiana on Sunday.
The Scarlet Knights will host Ohio State on Sunday, January 16 as they try and avenge their controversial loss to the Buckeyes from December.
It’s certainly not an easy week and RU needs to bounce back quickly.
“We’ve got to have short memories here,” emphasized Pikiell. This was our third game in five days. We have another game coming right up against a really good Northwestern team. So we’ve got to flip the page and get ready for them.”
Rutgers is a veteran team led by Paul Mulcahy and Caleb McConnell. In addition, Cliff Omoruyi, Cam Spencer, Mawot Mag and Aundre Hyatt are all in their third or fourth seasons of college basketball. This group’s leadership and experience will need to shine through this week and throughout the season.
“I trust all my guys (that) when they get good threes, they’re going to make them. Some days they don’t go in,” Pikiell said. “I say that to guys all the time. It’s impossible to play in this league and (think) shots are gonna go in every time. You’ve got to get through those tough days, too, when they’re not going. You’ve got to rebound better. We got out-rebounded, that’s another thing. I really thought more finish around the rim, finish some of those plays in the lane, that would have really helped us a great deal. They made threes too, and we’ve been defending the three as well as any team, maybe number one in the country. They made threes and they haven’t been shooting the ball like that. Today was a great day for them. Hopefully, we’ll have a great day coming up from three-point land too.”
The good news is the Hawkeyes pose a unique matchup and their advantages aren’t easy to replicate by most other Big Ten teams. While Rutgers does have travel to Iowa City later this month, they’ll have a chance to make adjustments. Even if they are unable to even the season series, Rutgers is still going to be a very difficult matchup against most Big Ten teams.
“These are all learning experiences,” explained Pikiell. “That team is very different from any team in our league – the way they play and the way they pass the ball.”
With a NET ranking of No. 20 and a KenPom efficiency rating of No. 16, Rutgers is still in very good shape with metrics used by the NCAA Tournament selection committee. The Scarlet Knights are also just one game behind first place Purdue who they just beat on the road and own the tiebreaker over.
The key now for Rutgers is to regroup mentally and rely on what has gotten them to this point so far. Defense, toughness and playing together. This is a resilient team who has dealt with plenty of adversity this season already. As they’ve proven so far, they can bounce back even stronger.
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