NEW YORK — IU came to New York not knowing who its first opponent of the Big Ten Tournament would be, which Archie Miller said helped his team focus on itself.
“It’s not really about the opponent anymore at this time of year,” Miller said ahead of IU’s trip to the Big Apple.
Whether it matters to Miller or not, the Hoosiers will play Rutgers on Thursday night at approximately 9 p.m. after the 14-seeded Scarlet Knights knocked off Minnesota on Wednesday.
IU beat Rutgers handily on the road in early February, but the Scarlet Knights have given the conference’s best teams some close games this season despite their 3-15 Big Ten record. Here are five things to know about Rutgers.
All about defense
Rutgers often wins games thanks to its defense, and Wednesday night was no different. Minnesota shot just 35 percent from the field and 16 percent from 3-point range in the 65-54 defeat against Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights force about 14 turnovers per game, which ranks in the top 50 in the country. Last time out against IU, Rutgers couldn’t quite shut the Hoosiers down and allowed 65 points in a loss. But the team’s versatile forwards and high energy usually keeps the Scarlet Knights in the game defensively.
Rutgers beat Minnesota thanks in large part to extending possessions and earning second chances. They grabbed 15 offensive rebounds that led to 17 second-chance points. That turned out to be the difference in the game, but it wasn’t a rare occurrence for the Scarlet Knights.
With more than 13 offensive rebounds per game, Rutgers ranks in the top 10 in the country in cleaning up the offensive glass. Sophomore forward Eugene Omoruyi, who didn’t play against IU last month, is a significant part of the Scarlet Knights’ efforts on the boards. He had four offensive rebounds Wednesday and will be looking for more of the same against the Hoosiers.
If there’s any team that can match IU’s free throw and 3-point shooting woes this season, it’s Rutgers. Both teams rank 300 or worse among all Division I teams in both categories, with the Scarlet Knights shooting just 63.7 percent on free throws and a miserable 28.3 percent from deep this year.
Credit to Rutgers for knowing its weaknesses though, as the Scarlet Knights have attempted more 2-point shots than any other team in the country and largely stay away from the three-point line when they can. On Wednesday, just nine of Rutgers’ 56 shot attempts came from behind the arc.
Backcourt at the forefront
Guards Corey Sanders and Mike Williams, both upperclassmen, carried Rutgers with more than half the team’s scoring against Minnesota. Sanders is the unquestioned star of the group as Rutgers’ leader in scoring and assists, while Williams is returning to his normal self after returning from an injury that caused him to miss a month of his senior season.
Williams, a Brooklyn native, said he was eager to play at Madison Square Garden in front of friends and family. The Scarlet Knights’ opening round was Williams’ third consecutive start after he started just one game out of the previous 20 he played. Like Omoruyi, Williams also missed the game against IU this season, so it'll be his first matchup of the year against the Hoosiers.
Much has been made of Madison Square Garden’s proximity, or lack thereof, to most Big Ten schools, but Rutgers is located about 40 miles from Manhattan, New York, giving the Scarlet Knights a bit of a geographic leg up on their predominantly Midwestern competition.
At Big Ten Media Day in October, Rutgers Coach Steve Pikiell called his group “the home team” for the Big Ten Tournament, and it showed Wednesday night. The crowd for the two-game session that opened up the tournament wasn’t large by any means, but Rutgers fans showed up and made more noise than any of the other three fan bases represented.
Now that Rutgers has earned itself a second game, it’ll be interesting to see if even more Scarlet Knight supporters turn out for a Thursday night matchup against IU.
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