It didn’t take the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (13-14, 6-11) much time to fill the bulletin board for a rematch against the #22/21 Iowa Hawkeyes (21-7, 10-7). Immediately after the Connor McCaffery-Joe Wieskamp connection via Nicholas Baer, Geo Baker and company had things to say.
"We’re going to go get them... I don’t usually say stuff like that but we’re going to go get them. Hearing them celebrate, their locker room is right next to ours and you can just hear them celebrate while we’re all quiet... We're going to get them" Rutgers guard Geo Baker— David Eickholt (@DEickholt247) February 17, 2019
Ron Harper Jr. on Joe Wieskamp's game-winner: "If he shoots that shot a million times, that’s the only one that’s going in."— Brian Fonseca (@briannnnf) February 17, 2019
So really, the motivation should be there for the Hawks just as it clearly will for Rutgers. Since the two teams last met, RU has split their two contests: a well fought loss at Michigan State, and a tight home win against Minnesota. At 6-11, they’ve already doubled their previous high for Big Ten wins since joining the conference in 2014. And if things break right, they could sneak into the top half of the conference.
In Matt’s preview a couple weeks ago, he pretty well nailed the keys for Rutgers: find a way to score (1.06 PPP was the second most they’ve notched in conference play) and disrupt Iowa with their length (15 Iowa turnovers including 10 steals). Matching those numbers might spell doom for Iowa if they are unable to regain their collective shooting touch.
Leading the way for the Scarlet Knights are Baker (13.1 points, 4.1 assists) and Eugene Omoruyi (13.6 points, 7.6 rebounds). While Baker provided the digestif to Wieskamp’s dessert with a go-ahead three with 3 too many seconds left on the shot clock, he had a relatively inefficient route to his season average (5/13 shooting). He did well setting his guys up with six assists, though. Omoruyi also underperformed his season average at just 10 points but was a load down low snagging 11 boards. They’ll need to be more efficient because the scoring bursts they found in Piscataway are less likely to travel the 912 air miles.
The saying goes that role players play better at home, and it certainly was the case for Ron Harper and Myles Johnson. Harper started out on absolute fire from deep (4/5) but didn’t add much in the second half for 16 points on the game (6/10 shooting). Johnson had 10 points on 4/4 shooting and six offensive rebounds. If one of the games travel, it’s probably Johnson’s.
Reassert in the lane
The name of Rutgers game is to hammer the offensive boards because the miss a lot of shots - 58.2% of their shots to be precise - but since they're rebounding 33.2% of those misses, the bricks they throw are softened into the arms of Omoruyi, Johnson, Shaquille Doorson, and Shaq Carter. The four combine for 8.6 offensive rebounds a game and if anyone puts up numbers like we saw from Johnson a fortnight ago, it could spell doom for the Hawkeyes. To put it in perspective, the only team to rebound a higher percentage of their misses against Iowa this season is Michigan State. Twice.
So it’s going to be important for Iowa to return to the basics and be smart about ending possessions via defensive rebounds. With Fran McCaffery suspended, the time is ripe for a super conservative offensive gameplan not forcing transition opportunities. In that respect, a slower tempo probably means a focus on attacking Rutgers’ bigs with an inside-out game and plenty of post opportunities for both Tyler Cook and Luka Garza. If the two can get buckets - or to the free throw line - in one-on-one matchups, it should enable more open looks from deep.
My how time flies... It’s hard to believe that three years ago, the scrappy walk-on/pun generator would become a grizzled vet for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Yes, it’s been a little barren of overall team success but his accolades are truly one of a kind as the only player in program history with 700 points, 500 rebounds, 100 blocks, 100 steals, and 100 threes. Sure, it’s a lot of filters, but he’s still the only one with them.
So can he bounce back from a rough floor game against Ohio State which kinda belied his 5 points on 2/2 shooting? I’m predicting he enjoys his Kodiak moment with Fran before the game and starts, as is tradition for most Hawkeye seniors - it’d hardly be a polarizing decision. Should he can drain a couple early 3s to get the crowd going and steal a couple picnic baskets on defense, it’ll go a long way to helping Iowa get the win.
Next Man Up
Assistant coach Andrew Francis will have the reins on Saturday as the de facto coach with Fran McCaffery out. Really, it’ll be interesting to see how he manages. Do we see Iowa stick to the same general gameplan and rotation? Is he more assertive in offensive or defensive playcalling? Does Iowa miss McCaffery’s ability to dial up after-timeout and under-the-basket inbound plays? We really don’t know what we don’t know in this regard so it is certainly a situation worth monitoring.