Iowa (14-3) vs. Rutgers (6-13)
Time: 6:00 p.m. CT
Location: Louis Brown Athletic Center (aka "The RAC")
Tickets: Rutgers University
Line: Iowa -21
I don't mean to disparage anyone, you guys; it's not in my nature. But Rutgers is awful at basketball. Like, really, really awful. They are 0-6 in the Big Ten thus far, and their average margin of defeat has been 27 points. Their 7-point loss to Indiana is the only conference game they haven't lost by at least 22 points this season, and Kenpom does not have them favored in any of their remaining games. His simulations have them finishing with a 2-16 conference record, which is hard to imagine given how terrible they have looked this year. But his numbers project their best bets at wins coming at home against Penn State (31% odds of winning) and Minnesota (48%).
So why is this team so bad?
Well, besides having a lot of freshman who are inexperienced, this team has been stricken with some terrible luck. Their roster has been decimated with injuries, as four scholarship guys have been missing from their rotation. And three of those guys have been lost for the season, while the fourth has missed four games now with a concussion. They were already bad before those injuries, but now they are historically bad, at least in the Kenpom era. This is the worst Rutgers team since 2002 (as far back as Kenpom goes) and, unless they make huge strides before the season is over, this will be the worst Big Ten team of the Kenpom era by a lot.
Basically, this game could and should get ugly. So let's look at the numbers, shall we?
When Iowa Has the Ball
Note: All numbers in this piece come from Kenpom or Sports Reference. Additionally, ratings in the four factors charts are scaled so that 100 = average. Thus, above 100 is above average, while below 100 is below average. For example, Iowa's 109 shooting rating means that their eFG% has been 9% better than the national average this year, while Rutgers' 97 means they have been 3% worse at contesting opponent shots this season.
If the 10th-ranked offense against the 207th-ranked defense wasn't bad enough, this is also a matchup of the best Big Ten offense against the worst Big Ten defense. Rutgers does one thing well, and that is keep guys off the free throw line. And while Iowa has improved their free throw rate since Big Ten play started (4th in the conference), the Hawkeyes have shown that they don't need free throws to win games this season. So Rutgers can keep them off the line all they want, but the Hawkeyes shouldn't have any trouble with turnovers or rebounds and, most importantly, they should be able to fill the net at will in this one. Purdue averaged 1.73 points per possession against this defense in the first half of Monday's game at The RAC, so I would imagine Iowa should do just fine.
When Rutgers Has the Ball
If you thought the defense was bad, wait until you check out Rutgers' offense. At 306th in the country, the only Big Ten offense that has been this bad in the Kenpom era was the 2004 Penn State team, who beat Rutgers' 95.2 adjusted offensive efficiency with a whopping 94.8. Even the worst Todd Lickliter offense at Iowa (the 2008 team) had an adjusted offensive efficiency of 97.1, so we as Iowa fans should take pity on fans of the Scarlet Knights right now. They are in a dark, dark place.
So, again, what makes them so bad on offense? Well, pretty much everything.
The only potential bright spot is that they are almost average in the turnovers department, and they have actually been better than average against Big Ten competition in that area. Everything else ranges from bad to awful. They are shooting a 42.9% eFG% in Big Ten play, putting up a free throw rate of 31.3%, and only grabbing 19.6% of their offensive rebounds. For reference, the Division I averages in those categories are 49.6%, 36.6%, and 30.1%. And when you can't shoot, grab your own misses, or draw fouls, being able to hold onto the ball just gives you more opportunities to continue failing at the other three factors.
Style of Play
For those who love the up-tempo game more than the slow, grind-it-out variety of basketball this game against Rutgers should be up your alley. The Scarlet Knights are the second-fastest team in the Big Ten, averaging 71 possessions per game. And Big Ten play hasn't slowed them down much either, as they are averaging 70.7 through their first six conference games. Considering Iowa likes to run when they are given the opportunity, this game should be somewhere in 70s possessions-wise.
On offense, Rutgers holds the ball for an average of 16.6 seconds per possession, which is 109th in the country. But since the quality of defenses has gone up with Big Ten play, that has slowed down to an average of 17.5 seconds, which is 9th in the conference. On the flip side, their defense is making it so opponents are holding the ball for just 16.7 seconds on average, and that is 90th in the country. And, conversely to the offense, that pace has actually accelerated a bit against Big Ten teams, who are holding the ball (and then usually scoring) for just 16.3 seconds; a number that is the fastest rate in the Big Ten. Thus, Rutgers' offense is struggling even more against Big Ten defenses, and their defense is getting gashed almost immediately on every possession by Big Ten offenses.
Iowa, meanwhile, is the 84th quickest offense in the nation in time of possession at 16.4 seconds. That number has also dropped in Big Ten play to 17.3 seconds (7th in the conference). But running the half-court offense more isn't hurting Iowa, who, again, is first in the conference in adjusted offensive efficiency. As for the other end of the court, the Hawkeye defense forces opponents to hold the ball and run their offense to find good looks. On the season, their opponents have an average time of possession of 17.8 seconds, which is the 278th slowest rate in the country. And that number is at 18.3 seconds in Big Ten play, which is 10th in the Big Ten. Some may try and attribute that to Iowa playing slow offenses, but every Big Ten team Iowa has played besides Michigan has been faster than the Division I norm in offensive time of possession. So Iowa's defense appears to be making teams work extra hard on offense.
Shooting-wise, Rutgers really does not shoot many threes. They have all of one player who sees regular minutes that shoots more threes than he does twos. Otherwise, this is a two-point heavy team.
And it's not like the Scarlet Knights are shooting the ball well from two-point range. Instead, Rutgers is below average in every shooting category, including free throws.
And when it comes to points, they get most of their scoring from twos and free throws because they can't and don't shoot threes.
Players to Watch
Note: A quick reminder on how this chart works. The horizontal axis represents a player's usage rate, while the vertical axis represents a player's offensive rating. The circle size represents playing time (bigger means more time on the court). This chart should tell us how involved in the offense the player is, how efficient they are in doing so, and in how many minutes per game do they accomplish all of this.
Before we discuss guys who will play in this game, let's talk about what Rutgers is missing. First of all, they started the season without 6'11", 275 lb. big man, Shaquille Doorson. It now looks like he is out for the entire year, as are Ibrahima Diallo and Deshawn Freeman. Diallo is Rutgers' other 6'10", 240 lb. big man, which leaves the 6'9" Greg Lewis as the tallest active player on the roster. Freeman is the bigger loss at forward, though, as he was a former 4 star recruit, who was averaging 13 points per game in the seven games he played this season. Finally, freshman forward Jonathan Laurent has been battling concussion symptoms and has missed four games in a row. I'm not sure whether he will back or not for this one, but I'm sure Rutgers would like to have his 6'6" frame on the court against this long Iowa team. If he's ruled out, that leaves two players standing 6'8" and 6'9", and then the next tallest player being just 6'4", which could be an issue.
Now, the best player on this roster is the freshman point guard Corey Sanders. He uses the most possessions as anybody on the team, and he takes about a quarter of their shots when he's on the court. However, like just about everyone on this roster (be sure to look at the vertical axis on the chart) he's not very efficient with the basketball. He's averaging 14 points per game this season, but it's taking him 12 field goal attempts and 4 free throw attempts per game to do so. He's the best assist man on the team (and 283rd in the country), but he also turns it over a bit much. 61% of his shots are two-pointers, but he is a 37% three-point shooter on the season. On defense, he is the 348th best pick-pocket in the country, according to Kenpom, and he only gets called for 2 fouls every 40 minutes.
After Sanders, Mike Williams is the next best scoring option since Deshawn Freeman is out for the season. He is a guard/forward who gives Rutgers 11.4 points per night, but also requires 10 field goal attempts and 3 free throw attempts to do so. (Noticing a trend yet?) He uses slightly fewer possessions on offense than Sanders, but that's because he rarely turns the ball over. Like Sanders, he also takes about a fourth of the teams shots when he's in the game. Other than that, though, he doesn't do much else.
Rounding out the scoring are shooting guard Bishop Daniels (9.2 points per game), power forward D.J. Foreman (8.3 points per game), and small forward Omari Grier (7.1 points per game). Daniels is another guy that uses a lot of possessions and takes 25% of the team's shots, which means that he, Sanders, and Williams are usually responsible for about 3 out of every 4 field goal attempts this team has when they are on the court together. Foreman is a below average shooter for a guy that takes most of his shots near the rim, but he does get to the free throw line a lot (99th in the country). Of course, he's also only a 57% shooter from there so that free throw rate loses a bit of its value. But he is the team's best defensive rebounder. Finally, Grier is the team's best shooter and the only player on the roster with an offensive rating over 100. He plays 19 minutes per game at both forward positions and is a 44% three-point shooter off the bench, which is about the only value he brings to the table. When Rutgers goes with a smaller lineup and only has one true big man in the game, Grier is usually the guy who plays the four spot with Laurent out due to injury.
Finally, Greg Lewis is the starting center who is absolutely awful on offense, but can rebound and block shots pretty well. And Justin Goode is a freshman shooting guard that plays 16 minutes per game, and has a usage rate of just 7.9%, which means he just kind of stands there and hangs out when his team has the ball.
What Kenpom Thinks
Kenpom Rankings: Iowa #2, Rutgers #277
Projected Outcome: Iowa 83 (96%), Rutgers 63 (4%)
Projected Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.16, Rutgers 0.89
Projected Possessions: 71