On Saturday, Indiana secured one of its best victories of the season taking down No. 11 Ohio State. Grabbing a 13th victory of the season and another resume building win, Indiana regained a bit of the momentum that seemed to have completely escaped the roster after recent performances.
In a season full of ups and downs, many victories seemed to go uncelebrated and even caused more anxiety than joy, because of sloppy play and underwhelming performances. Thus, the Ohio State win seems that much more significant as the Hoosier team that entered the season with high expectations finally lived up to their potential. From the fans to Archie Miller, there seemed to be a collective and jubilant sigh of relief on Saturday. But, this feeling is only temporary as IU is back in action again on Wednesday against a surprising Rutgers team.
Since the publishing of this article, Rutgers has announced that they have sold out their 8,000-seat arena for their game against the Hoosiers.
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How to Watch
|Who||Indiana Hoosiers vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights|
|Where||Rutgers Athletic Center – Piscataway, New Jersey|
|When||Wednesday, January 15, 2020 7 p.m. ET|
|Tickets||Find the Lowest Ticket Prices on SeatGeek|
|Listen||IU Radio Network|
Getting to know the Scarlet Knights
Rutgers is 12-4 overall and currently 3rd in the Big Ten at 3-2 in conference play. According to the KenPom rating system, Rutgers is 31st, one spot ahead of Indiana.
Offensively, Rutgers only averages 72.2 points per game. They play almost entirely inside the arc. Rutgers has shot 29.1% from three, which is 318th in the nation. As a result, the Scarlet Knights rarely even attempt a three. In fact, there are 303 other teams that have attempted more threes in college basketball than Rutgers. As a result, 62% of their total points come from two-point shots (the fourth highest percentage in the nation).
Defensively, Rutgers is excellent and sports some of the best defensive metrics in the country. The team only allows 59.4 points per game, the 13th lowest number in college basketball. There have been four games this season where they have held opponents to less than 50 points, including a 68-48 victory over then-No. 13 Seton Hall. The Knights hold opponents to only 36.7% from the field overall (8th), specifically 41.0% from two (9th) and 30.0% from three (59th).
Rutgers has five players averaging at least 9.0 points per game, with the highest scorer only reaching 12.2 points on average. It’s important to note, however, that one of the team’s best players and emotional leaders Geo Baker is out indefinitely after suffering a thumb injury at the beginning of January. Having missed the last three games, it is currently unknown whether he will be able to play against Indiana. As a team’s second-leading scorer and a popular motivational figure in the locker room, this is a substantial loss for Rutgers. Relying mostly on defense, the squad focuses on depth of production instead of relying on one particular superstar and the absence of Baker leaves the team without a source of steady production that they so desperately need.
With that being said, Ron Harper Jr. has emerged as the heart of the Rutgers team. After a modest freshman season, Harper spent the entire summer working on his game and transforming his body. And, the results couldn’t be clearer. He has increased production in nearly every statistical category and gained a great deal of explosiveness. From increased jumping ability to physical strength, Harper’s progress is undeniable. Harper is Rutgers’ leading scorer, averaging 12.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.0 steals per game. Despite being the son of a former NBA star with the same name, Harper was not heavily recruited growing up with Nebraska and Rutgers being his only Power 5 offers. However, it seems Harper has finally found his way and is living up to his potential.
Harper is only shooting 30% from three but has significantly improved his jumpshot from last season. While being 6’6 and 245 lbs, he is light on his feet and handles the ball pretty well. He will initiate fast breaks and routinely drive to the basket (almost always driving to the right side of the hoop). If Baker is unable to play, look for Harper to shoulder an increased load and look to be more aggressive.
Rutgers’ center Myles Johnson is another key cog to the team. Johnson anchors the post for the Scarlet Knights, averaging 9.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game. More impressively, he is one of the most efficient scorers in all of college basketball, shooting 71.6% from the field. Hovering around the rim, he is a frequent target of drop off passes from drivers and also routinely converts rebounds into quick baskets. As a result, Johnson is coveted for his ability to get easy baskets in an otherwise rather drawn-out, methodical offensive team. He is also crucial to the team’s defense because of his rim-protecting ability.
Projected Starting Lineups
|Rutgers Scarlet Knights||Indiana Hoosiers|
|G: #23 Montez Mathis||G: #10 Rob Phinisee|
|G: #24 Ron Harper Jr.||G: #1 Al Durham|
|G: #22 Caleb McConnell||F: #3 Justin Smith|
|F: #1 Akwasi Yeboah||F: #4 Trayce Jackson-Davis|
|C: #15 Myles Johnson||C: #50 Joey Brunk|
What to Watch for
1. A Slow Burn
Patience, not pace. This tends to be the philosophy of both Rutgers and Indiana on the offensive end. Rutgers is currently 198th in adjusted tempo while Indiana similarly sits at 158th. Likewise, Rutgers has an average possession length of 16.9 seconds (125th in the nation) while Indiana averages 17.1 seconds (148th). In other words, both teams enjoy a slow pace.
Against Ohio State, Indiana did have spurts where they took advantage of fast breaks. Occasionally, Archie Miller even was seen emphatically gesturing ball-handlers to advance quickly and initiate the offense. This strategy likely will be equally utilized at times against Rutgers because of the Scarlet Knights imposing defense. If the Hoosiers can take advantage of odd-man situations and run on the break, they may be able to find some easy baskets. Still, expect a generally slow pace to the game with each team running deliberate, methodical sets.
2. Phinisee-ing the Game
Nagged by injury to start the season, sophomore point guard Rob Phinisee appeared to be gaining confidence over the last few games despite having been in a definite shooting slump since Christmas. Between December 21 and January 8, he only scored 7 points total over four games. That all changed on Saturday. Phinisee was a revelation, posting 13 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 steals in his first start of the season. Most importantly, he went 3 of 4 from beyond the arc.
When Phinisee is making shots, the offense looks completely different. By providing an outside shooting threat and another driving option, Phinisee’s production allows for better spacing and another chess-piece for the defense to worry about. Often a streaky player, look for Phinisee to continue to build off of this success and have another solid performance. He will also have a strategic advantage against Rutgers. While Rutgers poses some difficulties with their tall lineup, Phinisee’s foot speed and handles should be able to allow him to leave slower defenders compromised.
3. Big Ten, Big Stage, Big Bumping
Bruiser ball will be the name of the game as both teams are going to play with aggressive attacking offenses. For Indiana, they have the size advantage and have a frontcourt that competes with the nation’s best.
On the other hand, Rutgers has an experience backcourt that scores the majority of their points inside the arc. They pride themselves in their ability to scout from the perimeter and find the seams in opposing defenses where they will take advantage.
There will be fouls, there will be bumps, there will be bruises, and there might even be a little blood.
4. Repeating the Three Point Success
The Hoosiers finished with a season high 50% from behind the arc against Ohio State. Now, there should be no expectation that the Hoosiers will repeat that performance, but perhaps they have stumbled on some confidence that will give them an extra boost from behind the arc.
Rutgers is one of the better three-point defense teams in the country. They are currently ranked 61st in the nation and defending the three. Opponents have only had a conversion percentage of around 31% against Steve Pikiell’s team.
Given Indiana’s ability to get to the foul line, they do not need to shoot 50% from behind the arc to win the game; however, if they are able to get to a respectable 35-40%, they’ll have a significantly better chance. Indiana shot only 22.2% against Maryland and 23.8% against Arkansas in those losses.
Photo: Rutgers Athletics