The Opening Tip: Ranked Rutgers Comes to Carver-Hawkeye Arena
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa and Rutgers meet Wednesday night in a matchup of ranked Big Ten teams fighting for position in the standings.
Yes. You read that right.
Two of the conference’s most pleasant surprises square off in their only meeting of the regular season. It could end up being an important tie-breaker as teams vie for a top four finish in the league, which comes with a double bye in its postseason tournament.
Here’s a closer look at Wednesday’s matchup in The Opening Tip:
TIME, TV: 8 p.m. CT on BTN with Jeff Levering and Stephen Bardo on the call.
RECORDS, RANKINGS: Iowa comes in at 15-5 overall and 4-3 in the Big Ten, while Rutgers stands at 14-4, 5-2. The Hawkeyes are 19th in the AP and the Coaches Polls. The Scarlet Knights are 24th in the AP and 25th for the Coaches.
THE COMPUTERS: Iowa checks in at No. 27 in NET, 15 in Sagarin and 14 in Ken Pom through Monday’s action. Rutgers comes in at 18, 25 and 25.
POINT SPREAD: Iowa is favored by 5.5 points and the total is 138.
HISTORY LESSON: Wednesday will be the ninth meeting between Iowa and Rutgers. The Hawkeyes are 6-2 against the Scarlet Knights, including a 2-1 record in Iowa City.
The Scarlet Knights posted their first victory in Carver-Hawkeye Arena last season with an 86-72 win over Iowa on March 2, 2019.
NEXT: Iowa plays host to Wisconsin Monday at 7:30 p.m. CT.
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SCOUTING THE SCARLET KNIGHTS: Steve Pikiell has worked a miracle in New Brunswick. He’s done it by building a program with hard-nosed, physical players fitting his defensive style.
Rutgers paces the Big Ten in scoring defense (58.7 PPG) and field goal shooting defense (36.4 percent). Its 29.2 percent three-point defense ranks third in the league and its plus-8.6 on the boards is fourth best.
The Scarlet Knights spread things around offensively. Ron Harper Jr. (11.8 PPG) is the only player on the team among the Big Ten’s Top 30 scorers. Guard Geo Baker, who missed time earlier this season with an injury, contributes 10.8 per game and is the only other guy in double figures.
Sophomore big man Myles Johnson (6-11, 255) chips in with 9.2 points and a team-high 8.2 rebounds, which ranks seventh in the conference. Forward Akwasi Yeboah (6-6, 230) and guard Jacob Young (6-2, 185) each averages 8.9 points a contest.
Harper’s 5.8 rebounds ranks second on the team, while Baker’s 3.8 assists per game lead the Knights and rate seventh in the league. They have nine different players averaging at least 2.4 boards and four guys dishing out at least 2.0 assists.
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Heading into Tuesday’s action, Big Ten teams are 42-7 at home. Rutgers claims one of the road wins, a 79-62 decision at Nebraska on Jan. 3. Four days later, the Hawkeyes fell in Lincoln.
The Knights’ two conference losses have come away from home. They dropped a 77-65 decision on Dec. 8 at first-place Michigan State in the Big Ten opener and came up short, 54-51, at Illinois on Jan. 11.
KEYS FOR HAWKEYES: Iowa leads the conference in scoring with 79.9 points per game. It’s now facing its toughest challenge in terms of an opposing defense.
The Hawkeyes must continue their efficiency and that starts with good ball and player movement. They’re unlikely to break down Rutgers off the dribble, so passing side-to-side and screening will be very important.
Rebounding also will be a key for Iowa. The Knights rank fourth in the league in rebounding margin, while the Hawkeyes sit at ninth.
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“It’s a lot of things when you look at those kind of numbers,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Rutgers’ defensive prowess. “They play really hard. They’re physical. They have depth. Not a lot of dropoff when they go to the bench at all. They have size.
“They’re contesting you at the rim as well as putting pressure on the ball.”
-Rutgers has held eight straight opponents to 65 points or fewer, its longest streak since 1982.
-Rutgers enters Wednesday’s game at Iowa winners of eight of its last nine, including home victories over Indiana and Minnesota last week.
-Iowa’s next two games will be one-plays. Rutgers on Wednesday and Monday against Wisconsin.
-Iowa is 8-1 at home, winning seven straight at Carver-Hawkeye Arena since its only setback to DePaul on Nov. 11.
-Luka Garza’s 412 points are the most points through the first 18 games for a Hawkeye since Fred Brown’s 513 in ’70-71.