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Basket Cases: On The Banks Talks Iowa-Rutgers

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Mike Williams is out but our guest is not deterred

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

With the Iowa Hawkeyes (10-9, 1-5) facing the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (11-8, 1-5) tomorrow night, we asked some questions to Aaron Breitman, the managing editor of On the Banks.

1) Rutgers is far from a good shooting team but mitigate their deficiency by taking care of the ball and hitting the offensive boards. Even against Ohio State, it was the shooting which foiled them (they only had 5 turnovers). What can Iowa expect from the Scarlet Knights’ offense?

Rutgers lacks perimeter shooters, which makes scoring in the halfcourt a struggle. Guard Corey Sanders is the best scorer on the team and he is most dangerous when attacking the rim from the top of the key. He has a tendency to always go right and despite opponents knowing this, he has an uncanny ability to finish very difficult shots in traffic.

Deshawn Freeman is the best frontcourt scorer, but he shoots a low percentage and has trouble finishing contested shots near the rim. Freshman guard Geo Baker and 6’10” wing Issa Thiam are the best perimeter shooters on the team, but lack consistency.

The truth is Rutgers’ best offense comes from second chance points off the glass and from their defense, when they can generate turnovers and scoring opportunities in transition. It’s also their defense that has been holding most Big Ten opponents below their scoring average per game that gives their own offense a chance to keep up.

2) Mike Williams went down with a lower leg injury in practice over the weekend. What has he meant to Rutgers so far this year and where do his teammates have to improve in his absence?

He is the heart and soul of this team. The captain is the only four year scholarship player on the roster. While he can get hot from the perimeter at times, Mike is arguably the best rebounding guard in the Big Ten and just grabbed 8 boards in the OT loss to Michigan State. He is one of the best on the ball defenders Rutgers has and he does all the little things that add up in the win column. He also is a calming influence on the court and a mentor to the younger players on the team. It hurts the team’s depth as well. It’s a huge loss for a team coming off a brutal stretch to start Big Ten play and his injury late in Saturday’s practice deflated Rutgers, which resulted in a lackluster effort Sunday night against Ohio State.

His absence led to more minutes from backup point guard Souf Mensah and senior walk-on Jake Dadika, but both are not scoring threats. Issa Thiam is the best option to see more scoring opportunities with Mike out, but he needs to be more aggressive in taking shots. The biggest concern for this team without its leader is their ability to fight and claw on the boards, as well as on the defensive end. Hopefully, after having a couple days to recoup, they’ll come out more spirited in this game Wednesday night.

3) Rutgers is an impressive team defensively, ranking 30 in adjusted defense according to KenPom and allow only 62.1 points per game (9th in the country). How will they get after Iowa on that side of the court?

When this team is at its best, they play suffocating, relentless halfcourt defense and they crash the boards on both ends of the floor. It’s very much based on effort, as it’s obvious from the stats that Rutgers is short on offensive weapons. However, they’ve bought in on the defensive end and it’s made them a tough out against better competition. They play mostly man to man and show fullcourt pressure a little bit. They’ve defended the three pretty well, but have struggled guarding the perimeter when teams use ball screens to spring open their shooters.

Inside, Rutgers rotates three players 6’9” or taller with Mamadou Doucoure, Shaq Doorson, and Candido Sa, all of which are solid defenders, but they are prone to foul trouble. Rutgers also has done a good job of late limiting the other team’s best player, as Ethan Happ scored just 10 points against them and MSU star Miles Bridges was held scoreless into the second half and finished with just 11 points in an overtime game.

4) The Scarlet Knights have had a tough road in conference play, with losses to Ohio State, Purdue, a fully-rostered Minnesota, and two to Michigan State. How does the trajectory for them look for this season, especially as the schedule moves to more winnable games, Iowa included? How about beyond this year?

Second year head coach Steve Pikiell clearly has the program moving in the right direction, both on and off the court. They’re relentless on the recruiting trail and this team has overcome their lack of offensive talent by playing extremely hard defensively and on the boards. The most frustrating part of the extended loss of Mike Williams is that it comes right when the schedule gives Rutgers an opportunity to string together some wins.

The hope was this team could produce the program’s first winning season in 12 years and finish better than last place for the first time in four tries since joining the Big Ten. Beating Iowa at home is a must if either of those things are going to happen, so this is a huge game for Rutgers. I am less optimistic that this team can win 6 games in conference play with Williams out indefinitely, but it’s certainly still possible.

As for the future, Rutgers loses Williams and Freeman to graduation after this season and Corey Sanders flirts with leaving early every year, so his return is up in the air. The 2018 recruiting class is the best the program will welcome in years, so the talent base is improving. After receiving a contract extension last week, there is real hope that Pikiell is the right coach to turn the program around.

5) Lastly, who ya got?

For Rutgers to win, they’ll need to slow Iowa down and make this a bare knuckle, halfcourt battle . They’ll need to contest every three Iowa takes and must dominate on the boards. Offensively, they need to attack the rim and take high percentage shots. Offensive rebounding and finishing second chance opportunities is a must if they want to win. They also need to get to the free throw line and take advantage of it, something they’ve been able to do in big games, despite shooting just 62% for the season as a team. The issue in conference play is opponents have been packing the paint and Rutgers ends up settling for 12+ foot jumpers, which is not their strength. They’ll need to force turnovers and make Iowa work for every basket. I think this will be an ugly game, which is exactly how Rutgers wants it to be. The RAC can be a real homecourt advantage when this team plays hard and I think you’ll see that on Wednesday. Rutgers 68 Iowa 64

Thanks Aaron. We hope your team loses by a million. You can pester him on the Twitter about the game (or why Rutgers) if you’re feeling like it at @aaron_breitman or @OTB_SBNation.