The first of three straight games against Big Ten teams ranked outside of the Kenpom top 100 got off to a rocky start against Northwestern. A combination of Iowa struggling in the paint and Northwestern making threes was enough to undermine any chances the Hawkeyes had of winning that game. But putting last Sunday aside, a team that appears to be even worse than Northwestern is headed into Iowa City tonight, and Iowa should have the opportunity to take out any aggression they may still have from the weekend.
The Scarlet Knights are in the middle of a nine-game losing streak right now, and Iowa has the chance to make it double-digits. Rutgers comes in with an absolutely awful offense that hopefully even Iowa's pretty terrible defense can slow down, and while Rutgers' defense is fairly competent, Iowa's offense, in theory (thanks, Northwestern!), should be able to do just about anything they like.
Despite being optimistic about Iowa's chances against Northwestern and being completely wrong about the outcome of that game, I am still optimistic about Iowa's chances against Rutgers.
Let's look at the numbers.
When Iowa has the Ball
Note: All Kenpom rankings are from Wednesday (when I was writing this), so if they are slightly different at the time you are reading this, that is why. Also, all numbers in the charts in this post are conference-only statistics. Finally, a reminder on how to read this chart: 100 = Division 1 average. Anything above 100 is above average, while anything below 100 is below average. The bigger the number, the better.
The Hawkeyes' struggles in Evanston dropped them from the second best offense in the Big Ten once you adjust for strength of schedule to the third best in the conference behind Wisconsin and Indiana. And even with the issues against the Wildcats, Iowa continues to rate very well in just about every category on offense. They can be a little iffy with their shooting at times, but turning over the ball is rarely an issue and they tend to thrive on the offensive glass and when it comes to drawing fouls.
Rutgers, meanwhile, does not do much well on defense, but they have been pretty good when it comes to defensive points per possession this season (PPP). Taking into account their competition thus far, they are just #9 in the Big Ten when it comes to total defense, but they are only giving up 0.95 adjusted points per possession. Keep in mind that the four factors numbers on the chart above are raw and not adjusted for strength of schedule, so that slightly below average rating for their defensive eFG% is likely closer to average or a little above. That also makes their ability to keep other teams off the line and grab defensive rebounds look even more impressive.
That being said, Iowa's offense has too much talent to not score against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are allowing Big Ten opponents to make a little over half of their two point shots this season, and that should spell good news for an Iowa team that gets a majority of their points from the floor from inside the arc. I think Aaron White, Adam Woodbury and Gabe Olaseni could have big games from down low. The 6'9" Kadeem Jack plays the majority of the time at Center for Rutgers and while he may be a scoring-machine on offense, I think Woodbury and Olaseni can use their height to shoot over him.* Rutgers does have the 6'11" 270 lb. Shaquille Doorson on the bench, but he doesn't get a lot of playing time and the freshman can run into a bit of foul trouble at times.
And last, but certainly not least, Rutgers' conference opponents have attempted a three point shot on 39% of their field goal attempts this season. The Division I average is 34.2%, and Nebraska is the only Big Ten team whose opponents are shooting from beyond the arc more often. If you remember Kenpom, teams seem to have more control over how many threes their opponents shoot, rather than how well they shoot them. Thus, I wouldn't be surprised if Jarrod Uthoff or Peter Jok got quite a few looks tonight.
*Of course, a pump fake would also be beneficial for Woody to employ.
When Rutgers has the Ball
If you hadn't guessed it based on their Kenpom ranking of #295 on offense, this area is not a particular strength for Rutgers. They are, by far, the worst offense in the conference. Or, to drive that point home more forcefully, they are the only team in the Big Ten that does not average at least 1.00 PPP once you adjust for the quality of the opponents they have played thus far.
Basically, the only thing Rutgers is around average in is offensive rebounding. Otherwise, they are terrible at shooting from just about anywhere on the court, they give the ball away more than the average Division I team, and they don't visit the free throw line all that often either.
Yes, Iowa's defense has been largely awful in conference play, but Rutgers' offense lives and dies with Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack. Both are great players, but they don't get a lot of help from anyone else on the roster. This unit is a bit like Nebraska's in how they rely heavily on two players and the rest of the guys are just kind of there. Iowa had some struggles with Nebraska, but they ultimately put them away. And that's what I expect them to do with this Rutgers team.
Team Shooting Tendencies
(Shot charts courtesy of Shot Analytics.)
Rutgers almost has no area on the court from which they shoot lights out.
Thus, it should be no surprise that Iowa is shooting the ball much better from the field and the line than Rutgers is.
On defense, meanwhile, both teams have struggled when it comes to contesting shots in conference play.
When it comes to shooting tendencies, Rutgers actually shoots inside the arc more often than Iowa does. This is nice because it allows me to skip my usual three point disclaimer about how the other team could stick around by taking 40% of their shots from three and making about a third of them.
On defense, Big Ten opponents have taken a lot of threes against Rutgers. Is that just because of who they have played or is that because Rutgers is leaving the perimeter uncovered? Iowa has given up a lot of three point attempts this season too, and we've seen quite a few of them be wide open. Let's hope Rutgers' defense is like that.
Scoring-wise, Iowa relies heavily on points from two point shots and from free throws. Rutgers, meanwhile, relies heavily on two pointers since they shoot so many of them.
On defense, both teams' conference opponents have gotten an above average chunk of their points from outside thanks to the bevy of threes opposing teams tend to shoot against them.
Opposing Players to Know
Like I already alluded to, the main players to watch are Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack. Rutgers really lacks any talented depth, so Mack plays 36 minutes per game and Jack is at almost 32.
Mack is a small, quick point guard that Iowa needs to keep out of the lane.
He shoots a lot of threes, but the blue spots on the left side of the chart above are why he's only a 31% shooter from long range this year. Mack is averaging 14 points per game this season on only a 47.7% eFG%, but he does help make up for that mediocre eFG% by being 79th in the country in assist rate, per Kenpom. And when you consider how terrible his team is at putting the ball in the basket, just imagine how astronomical his assist rate would be on a team that could actually shoot.
As for his defense, he is also a bit of a pick-pocket who doesn't get whistled for many fouls. Hopefully, Mike Gesell can take care of the ball against him.
Moving on to Kadeem Jack, the 6'9" senior is scoring 13.3 points per game this year, but with a 45.4% eFG% on the season, he's not doing it in an extremely efficient way. He can knock down the occasional three ball, but he takes about 86% of his shots from inside the three point line.
And Jack shoots the ball a lot. He uses the most possessions out of anyone on the team and he takes the most shots when he is on the court. This is how he's averaging 13 points per game with only a 45% eFG%.
Outside of scoring, Jack doesn't really stand out in any other area. He's a mediocre offensive and defensive rebounder. I don't know enough about Rutgers to say whether or not he's a good defender, but I do know that he's not much of a shot-blocker. So hopefully Iowa's big men don't struggle down low the way they did against Northwestern.
After those two guys, Rutgers has a host of role players and young players.
Bishop Daniels and Junior Etou are the next two scoring options after Mack and Jack. Daniels, a junior, is a shooting guard that takes a lot of shots when he's on the court. However, Shot Analytics says 43% of his attempts are of the mid-range jumper variety, so that probably explains the 41.9% eFG% he's put up this season. Etou, on the other hand, is a long small forward who can really grab defensive rebounds. He's averaging 7.6 points per game, but that has more to do with the fact that he plays 30 minutes per game and not because he's a great shooter. He does bring defensive value to this team, though, and the 6'7" 230 lb. sophomore will likely be tasked with guarding Jarrod Uthoff all night.
And, finally, Greg Lewis is the starting power forward who is a decent shot-blocker and defensive rebounder, and someone who is also very skilled at getting to the free throw line.
What Kenpom Thinks
Kenpom Rankings: Iowa #36, Rutgers #191
Projected Score: Iowa 70 (92%), Rutgers 56 (8%)
Projected Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.11, Rutgers 0.89
Projected Possessions: 63
So yeah, I don't have much left to say. Iowa should be able to win this game handily, especially since it's at home.
Parts of this preview were less wordy than normal because Rutgers is just so bad that I don't think there is much for me to breakdown in detail. Iowa is simply the better team and they are playing at home. They should win this game, and it's really as simple as that.