What to Expect: Rutgers

  • 01/14/2017 10:03 am in

Indiana returns home on Sunday for a matinee matchup with Rutgers at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The Scarlet Knights are 11-7 overall and 0-5 in the Big Ten.

The game will be broadcast at 12 p.m. ET on BTN with Jeff Levering and Shon Morris on the call:

It’s a new era for Rutgers basketball and there may finally be light at the end of the tunnel for a program that’s been the doormat of the Big Ten since arriving for the 2014-2015 season. The Scarlet Knights are unlikely to avoid finishing in the cellar of the Big Ten, but they may finally have a coach capable of producing¬†a successful rebuild.

Steve Pikiell, who built Stony Brook into a power in the America East Conference, already has Rutgers far more competitive in the Big Ten. The conference record thus far isn’t indicative of that, but Rutgers is coming off losses to Iowa and Northwestern that were both very competitive.

Indiana, meanwhile, is just 1-3 in the Big Ten and in desperate need of a win. The Hoosiers have dropped five of their last eight games. Indiana’s league schedule is road-heavy the rest of the way, so it’s a must for the Hoosiers to take care of home court to have a shot at finishing better than .500 in the league. It’s not the position Indiana expected to be in at this point, but it’s the current reality with this group.

MEET THE SCARLET KNIGHTS

Rutgers has balanced scoring with four different players averaging in double figures.

The starting backcourt is junior Nigel Johnson, a Kansas State transfer, and sophomore Corey Sanders (pictured) who looked at his professional options before opting to return to Piscataway.

Johnson is the team’s leading scorer (11.9 ppg), but has been horribly inefficient in Big Ten games. In five Big Ten losses, Johnson is shooting 30.2 percent on 2s and 23.8 on 3s. He’s taking 26.3 percent of the team’s shots while on the floor, the 13th highest percentage in the Big Ten.

Sanders is incredibly talented, but also struggles with efficiency. He’s got the ninth best assist rate in conference play (22.2 percent), but is hitting just 30 percent of his 3s and 37.7 percent of his 2s. He’s using the fifth highest percentage of possessions of any Big Ten player in league play.

Junior guard Mike Williams comes off the bench and averages 10.5 points per game. Like Johnson and Sanders, he’s a low efficiency shooter. In Big Ten games, Williams is shooting just 31.8 percent on 3s and 33.3 percent on 2s.

Deshawn Freeman, a 6-foot-7 junior forward, is the anchor in the frontcourt. Freeman averages 11.7 points, second on the team, and a team-high 8.8 rebounds per game. Freeman is finishing 50 percent of his 2s in Big Ten games and ranks in the top 20 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage.

Senior CJ Gettys, a 7-foot, 280 pound graduate transfer from UNC-Wilmington, has been decent on the glass and an adequate shot blocker through five Big Ten games, but is converting just 40.7 percent of his field goal attempts. Gettys is a plodding big man who IU should look to expose in transition.

Other names to know in the Rutgers rotation are Candido Sa, Issa Thiam and Jonathan Laurent.

Sa, a 6-foot-9 native of Portugal, is 20th in the league in block percentage. Thiam, a 6-foot-9 native of the Senegal, isn’t afraid to shoot, but is just 3-of-18 from the field in conference games. Laurent is a 6-foot-6 sophomore wing that can finish at a decent clip (57.1 on 2s in Big Ten play).

TEMPO-FREE PREVIEW

We’ve transitioned to conference-only stats for these charts moving forward and it really lays out some of the extremes on IU’s overall profile.

The Hoosiers are the Big Ten’s best offensive unit despite having the league’s worst turnover percentage. That’s driven by elite shooting and offensive rebounding. Defensively, Indiana is 12th in points per possession allowed, 13th in opponent free throw rate and 14th in opponent turnover percentage.

The standout on the Rutgers profile is the offensive rebounding. The Scarlet Knights are third in the league in offensive rebounding percentage. Rutgers has the Big Ten’s worst offense at just .82 points per possession. Given that Indiana’s defense has yet to give up fewer than 1.14 points per possession in a league game, it’s worth tracking how much resistance the Hoosiers put up against a mediocre offensive team.

WHAT IT COMES DOWN TO

Indiana is a 15-point KenPom favorite and a 16-point favorite according to the Sagarin ratings.

It probably goes without saying, but this is a must-win for Indiana. A 1-4 Big Ten start, including three home losses, would be a catastrophe. If you believe in the theory of building momentum going into the next game, the way Indiana plays on Sunday is far more important than just getting a win.

The Hoosiers have a season defining stretch coming after the Rutgers game: at Penn State, Michigan State at home, at Michigan and at Northwestern. Anything less than 2-2 in those games and the prospects for a winning record in the Big Ten begin to look slim. And a subpar performance against Rutgers, even in a win, isn’t a way to springboard the Hoosiers into that stretch with any confidence.

Yes, it’s still early in Big Ten play, but time is running thin on Indiana to turn this season around.

(Photo credit: Rich Graessle, Rutgers Athletics)

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  • dssnyder

    even if the Hoosiers thump Rutgers, the underlying issues will remain. How did my enthusiasm for this team turn into such a gloomy outlook ?

  • Shaggy_C

    IU almost lost to Rutgers last year with Yogi on the floor. Nothing is a gimme in this league! Just hoping to see some of the consistent issues from the losses this season (slow starts, poor defence, bad post play, high number of turnovers) turned around. It would be nice to see IU put together a solid performance for the full 40 minutes.

  • vicbert caladipo

    Over under for blocks on TB? I’d love to see under 3.

  • iugradmark

    I agree. If we hammer Rutgers, it might help rebuild some confidence. If we struggle and play a partial game, all of the same doubts will be front and center.

  • Gregory J. Haggard

    If we build confidence by beating the crap out of Rutgers at home…….we are in worse shape than I imagined!

  • pcantidote

    As “must win” as it gets.

  • iugradmark

    I think that is what we have to hope for. We played pretty good against Illinois for a half but then we let them hang over 50 on us in the second half. I think Alex’s comments on Scoop Talk were pretty accurate. This many games into the season, we kind of are who we are. Bad on defense and sloppy with the ball. Our best hope is to shoot well from the 3 and hope we can overcome our other issues. It is too late to overhaul the offense or defense while you are playing in the league. The kids have lost confidence in what they are doing. Nobody looks all that comfortable right now. We have to beat the teams we should and hope we get lucky somewhere down the road or we are NIT bound.

  • BruceA

    Believe we will win but Corey Sanders will probably go off from three and have his best game of the year.

  • JustInSports

    This isn’t just a must win. But is a must win by a large margin game. A close win will still look really bad and a loss will throw this team out of the tourney. This needs to be a double digit win. Indiana is a 16.5 point favorite as of now. This team can’t take anymore bad losses.

  • Mathsketball

    My prediction: shutdown performance from IU for most of the game.

  • Fifer39

    Win by 3 or by 30, this game isn’t really going to tell us anything (unless we lose in which case it’s all over anyway). I’m a simple guy and I’ll just be pleased to see us look like we can get a defensive stop, establish a better presence in the paint on both ends and move the ball better to get good looks in the half court. But I’ll not really be making a judgement on progress until Sparty – but that doesn’t mean I don’t think we can’t lose the next 2!

  • iugradmark

    Bingo…correct answer. Anything short of a dominant performance leaves the players with more doubt than they already have.

  • ForeverIU

    Actually, it’s just about what I would have imagined, which is also tragic.

  • ForeverIU

    I can easily see us winning only 3-4 games for the rest of the regular season.

  • Outoftheloop

    With DeRon getting 1 more!

  • vicbert caladipo

    After watching PS and Iowa this weekend…you may be right.

  • vicbert caladipo

    Just a half hour away from a battle of epic proportions. Two titans collide in a grudge match for the ages. Perennial powerhouse, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights invade Bloomington in what is sure to test the hearts of many a young man and woman. Get your popcorn, grab a diet coke and get ready for the game of the century. Future NBA stars a plenty and coaches who know how to get the best out of their team. Let the defense amaze you and the weeve mesmerize you. As Dickie V. says this ones gonna be a Malox Masher. Woo Hooo. Can’t wait for tipoff. Go IU!