The Iowa Hawkeyes (9-6, 1-3) travelled to New Jersey yesterday for some matinee basketball tomorrow against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (11-4, 3-1). Geo Baker and Ron Harper, Jr. are plying their trade elsewhere, but Steve Pikiell has them playing the best basketball of his tenure in Piscataway behind a breakout season from center Clifford Omoruyi.
On the season, Rutgers has had a couple stinkers - a neutral site loss to Temple & 45-43 (yuck!) home loss to Seton Hall - but have gone on a five-game winning streak since the December 11th loss to the Pirates. Most notably, they won at Purdue on Monday, 65-64. They split their December conference games - a win against Indiana and a loss at Ohio State - and have a schedule loaded with wins against northeastern flotsam they typically play.
They continue their trend under Steve Pikiell of a defense-forward outfit, top 5 in efficiency per KenPom, and make their hay forcing turnovers and bad shots deep in the shot clock. They are also able to lock down the paint behind Omoruyi and his 1.8 blocks/game.
They backfilled Baker with Loyola MD transfer, Cam Spencer, who does all the Baker things (top 20 in steal rate, per KenPom) in an even bigger frame and better offensive skillset: 44% shooter from deep, 97% at the line, 11.6% turnover rate.
Old standbys Paul Mulcahy & Caleb McConnell are back to pester the Hawkeyes. There’s a non-zero chance refs dole out offsetting technicals to Mulcahy and Connor McCaffery at some point.
At this juncture last year, they had an anchor of a loss against Lafayette and two other bad ones against DePaul & Massachusetts. That season is a bit of a template for Iowa right now as they clawed their way back into the tournament field with a strong conference season. One way for Iowa to build that conference resume is a huge win against a team likely to be favored. Thankfully, the schedule loss aspect of this one seems a little offset with Iowa spending two nights in the area and Rutgers have two games this week to the Hawkeyes’ one.
Can this team sustain an Iron Man lineup?
Against Indiana, Fran McCaffery played four guys 30 minutes or more: Kris Murray (40), Filip Rebrača (38), Connor McCaffery (36), & Tony Perkins (30). In Big 10 games, Rebrača, Perkins, and Connor have all played 75% or more minutes (all top 25) and Kris has played 116 of 120 minutes he was available. If we head on this trajectory, it could be Iowa’s shallowest lineup since 2016, when Fran played his bench 28.9% of the time.
Most concerning is Rebrača going for 84.2% of minutes so far, 10th in conference. The 2016 team had Woodbury manning the center position and he was at 66.2% of minutes in Big Ten play with no true backup (Jarrod Uthoff was ahead of his time as a stretch five). We have yet to see Kris slide over much this season as the backup which is primarily a credit to Rebrača. He’s been an asset on offense (61% shooting from 2) and done enough defensively (nationally ranked in block percentage & defensive rebounding percentage) without fouling (3.1 fouls/40 minutes) to be vital to this team’s success.
Kris’s performance on Thursday...I still can’t get over it. He replicates that performance enough to lead this team into the tournament and it’ll go down as the best Hawkeye individual season in recent memory which is, of course a tall order. Against Rutgers, though, there’s perhaps no game where him making shots is more important considering their three-point defense.
As far as Iowa’s backcourt, Josh Dix is worth getting more minutes as Fran said on Thursday after the game. Each of Dasonte Bowen, Tony Perkins, and Ahron Ulis had their moments but with Rutgers’ pressure D, staying clean is just so important. I suspect Connor-at-point lineups will continue being critical to the team’s success and helps limits Iowa’s turnovers.
Points are going to be hard to come by but if Iowa can continue playing as gritty as they did against Indiana & the second half of the Penn State game, they’ll give themselves a chance to get to 2-3 in conference.
About the Scarlet Knights
Season averages: Team / Opponent
PPG: 71.9 / 54.9
RPG: 38.5 / 33.2
APG: 15.5 / 10.4
TOPG: 12.3 / 17.2
FG%: 44.3% / 36.6%
3P%: 31.6% / 25.7%
Steve Pikiell: 7th season at Rutgers, 18th overall
Record: 109-95 (.534) at Rutgers, 301-251 (.545) overall
PPG: Clifford Omoruyi 14.1, Cam Spencer 12.9
RPG: Omoruyi 10.0 (6.8 ORPG), Mawot Mag 5.5 (1.7 ORPG)
APG: Paul Mulcahy 4.3, Spencer 3.7
FG%: Antwone Woolfork 66.7% (9.8 MPG), Omoruyi 50.6%
3P%: Spencer 44.3%, Mulcahy 42.9%
G - #10 Cam Spencer, Sr, 6’4”, 213 lbs: 12.9 PPG, 3.7 APG, 2.6 SPG, 48.5% FG, 44.3% 3P, 30.1 MPG
G - #22 Caleb McConnell, 5th, 6’7”, 200 lbs: 10.1 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 41.9% FG, 2.2 SPG, 32.4 MPG
G - #4 Paul Mulcahy, Sr, 6’7”, 213 lbs: 8.6 PPG, 4.3 APG, 49.3% FG, 42.9% 3P, 2.0 SPG, 27.9 MPG
F - #3 Mawot Mag, Jr, 6’7”, 216 lbs: 6.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 44.8% FG, 24.5 MPG
C - #11 Clifford Omoruyi, Jr, 6’11”, 240 lbs: 14.1 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 3.2 ORPG, 1.8 BPG, 50.6% FG, 53.8% 2P, 29.1 MPG
Last 5 games:
W - v Maryland, 64-50 (1/5)
W - at Purdue, 65-64 (1/2)
W - v Coppin State, 90-57 (12/30)
W - v Bucknell, 85-50 (12/23)
W - v Wake Forest, 81-57 (12/17)
2023 KenPom: ($)
AdjOffense: 105.3 (112)
AdjDefense: 84.2 (3)
AdjTempo: 66.8 (236)
AdjOffense: 106.9 (96)
AdjDefense: 96.1 (53)
AdjTempo: 64.9 (295)
Bart Torvik: 11
Evan Miyakawa: 24
How to Watch
Date: Sunday, January 8th
Time: 11:01 am CT
Opponent: Indiana Hoosiers (10-3, 1-1); Big Ten Conference; New Brunswick, NJ
Location: The RAC (You’ll never be
Jersey Mike’s Arena to me!); Piscataway, NJ
Gambling (by DraftKings): Iowa +6.5 | +225 at Rutgers -265 | O/U 141
TV: Big Ten Network (Wayne Randazzo & Robbie Hummel)
Radio: Hawkeye Sports Network (Gary Dolphin & Bob Hansen)
Streaming: FOX Sports Live
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
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