6:30 PM EST, Big Ten Network – Line: Indiana -3.5, Over/Under: 134.5
Get ready for some Big Ten action early in the week, as the twenty-fourth-ranked Rutgers Scarlet Knights hit the road to Bloomington to battle the eighteenth-ranked Indiana Hoosiers, fresh off their first victory over a top-ranked opponent in nearly a decade. Before we get into the latter, let’s take some time to cover Rutgers (16-7, 8-4 in Big Ten), who have recently returned to the rankings following back-to-back convincing victories over their conference brethren. Following a disappointing 82-93 loss at Iowa, the Scarlet Knights hammered Minnesota in a 90-55 affair before outlasting Michigan State in a tough 61-55 slugfest over the weekend. These two contests couldn’t have been more different, folks, for in the former it was a torrid shooting performance that led them to victory, while the latter featured some staunch play on the defensive end of the hardwood. Against the Golden Gophers, (Head Coach) Steve Pikiell shot a season-high 59.7% from the field, including 10-of-20 from beyond the arc (50.0%), while dishing out a staggering THIRTY assists, marking the most that they’ve dished out in a single game since 1992. Six different players scored in double-figures in this one, led by (Senior Guard) Cam Spencer with seventeen points, while three others totaled thirteen points, including (Junior Center) Clifford Omoruyi, who also led the team with seven rebounds along with a steal and a block. However, their battle with the Spartans couldn’t have been more different as both teams shot below 38.0% from the floor. The Knights could muster just 37.5% shooting overall and a nauseating 3-of-16 from downtown (18.8%), with more turnovers (10) than assists (9). Thankfully, they absolutely shut Sparty down, relegating the visitors to a scant 34.5% shooting, including 4-of-21 from three (19.0%), while forcing thirteen turnovers in comparison to permitting just nine assists. Granted, a game like this can be hard to watch for any neutral, largely due to the fact that it was ultimately won in the most uneventful fashion: from the free-throw line. Pikiell’s troops may have gone 22-of-34 from the stripe (64.7%), but they still outscored their opponent by eight points in this particular category, and getting to the line so frequently allowed them to absolutely control the tempo of the game. Omoruyi (pictured above) registered his ninth double-double of the season, as the Nigerian native totaled fifteen points and twelve rebounds, along with three blocks. (Senior Guard) Paul Mulcahy led the tea with seventeen points, doing most of his damage from the stripe, where he knocked down 8-of-12 singles (66.7%). Such a defensive display shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Rutgers has been one of the toughest nuts to crack in the country, yielding just 58.4 points (5th in nation) on 37.5% shooting (4th in nation), including 43.8% from within the arc (13th in nation) and 29.0% beyond it (15th in nation), while forcing more turnovers (15.3) than assists allowed (11.3). Furthermore, those figures have stood out even further in Big Ten play, where the Scarlet Knights have been among the best in a league typically personified by its rugged defensive play. Currently in second place in the conference, this team owes their standing to their success on this end of the court, permitting their opponents to just 62.4 points (2nd in Big Ten) on a league-best 39.3% shooting (1st in Big Ten). Looking toward tonight’s trip to Bloomington, Pikiell & Co have OWNED the Hoosiers of late, winning eight of their last nine meetings, including each of the last six affairs. In their last encounter back in early December, Rutgers thrashed tenth-ranked Indiana in a 63-48 beatdown in New Brunswick, where that stifling defense once again made its presence felt as the hosts held the visitors to a mere 30.4% shooting from the field, including 6-of-25 from long-range (24.0%), with only nine assists opposed to committing fourteen turnovers. While the aforementioned Omoruyi struggled offensively with six points on 1-of-6 shooting (16.7%), he was a force on the opposite end with nine rebounds, a pair of steals, and a block. (Senior Guard) Caleb McConnell led the team with sixteen points, ten rebounds, and a pair of steals, while his freshman backcourt mate, Derek Simpson added fourteen points off the bench. From a betting perspective, the Scarlet Knights are 5-5 against the spread over their last ten games regardless of the venue, though have struggled in this regard away from the Garden State, covering just one of their last five road games. However, being an underdog has suited them well, as they’ve covered six of their last ten outings when getting points from the oddsmakers, while their dominance over Indiana has translated to covering the lines, posting an 8-2 mark against the spread over their last ten encounters with the Hoosiers. Furthermore, they’ve covered four of their last five meetings as an underdog, including each of the last three. On the injury front, (Junior Forward) Mawot Mag is expected to miss an indefinite amount of time after suffering a knee injury in last weekend’s win over Michigan State. The Australian international has been an excellent complement to Omoruyi in the frontcourt, averaging 9.7 points on 65.6% shooting, along with 5.23 rebounds over the last six games.
Meanwhile, don’t look now, but Indiana (16-7, 7-5 in Big Ten) appears to be on the rise, which is a notion that has become all the more believable following their stunning 79-74 upset of top-ranked Purdue over the weekend, their first over a number one since 2013. With that said, the Hoosiers were already building a head of steam prior to their showdown with their instate rivals, winning five consecutive games before a disappointing 66-55 loss at Maryland. Perhaps (Head Coach) Mike Woodson’s troops were looking ahead to the weekend’s clash with the Boilermakers, for they were uncharacteristically flat in shooting just 37.5% from the field with as many turnovers as assists (11). Thankfully, they had no such issues in Saturday’s affair in Bloomington, where the hosts put together one of their most inspired offensive performances, shooting a blistering 52.6% from the floor, including 26-of-47 from within the arc (53.3%), along with 15-of-18 from the charity stripe (83.3%), and just seven turnovers. They also got after the visitors forcing sixteen turnovers, most of which came during a first half in which they outscored them 50-35. Sure, the towering Zach Edey got his numbers with thirty-three points on 15-of-19 shooting (78.9%) and eighteen rebounds, but the home side did a solid job of neutralizing the rest of his teammates, who could muster forty-one points on a miserable 36.8% shooting. As for the Indiana, (Senior Forward) Trayce Jackson-Davis rose to the occasion of battling Edey, leading the team with twenty-five points on 9-of-19 shooting (47.4%), along with seven rebounds and a season-high FIVE blocks, while netting 7-of-9 attempts from the stripe (77.8%). (Freshman Guard) Jalen Hood-Schifino finished with sixteen points on 8-of-15 shooting (53.3%), four assists and a pair of steals, while (Junior Guard) Trey Galloway added another eleven points on 4-of-8 shooting (50.0%) and three steals. That performance couldn’t come at a better time for Indiana, who now find themselves embroiled in a tie with SIX other teams for third place in the Big Ten, with them all sitting 3.5 games behind Purdue for first place, while a win tonight against Rutgers would allow the Hoosiers to overtake them in the standings. Whereas the Knights have earned their standing on the defensive end of the hardwood, Woodson’s kids have been one of the best offensive teams in a league that rarely flashes in that regard, averaging 72.8 points per game (2nd in Big Ten) on 47.6% shooting (1st in Big Ten), including 39.1% from beyond the arc (1st in Big Ten), along with 14.4 assists (4th in Big Ten) in conference play. Jackson-Davis (pictured above) has been a consistent force in the paint throughout his tenure in Bloomington, while saving his best for last, posting career-highs in several categories, including points (19.8), rebounds (11.0), assists (3.4), and a Big Ten-best 3.4 blocks. Despite never winning in six career meetings with the Scarlet Knights, he has averaged 14.8 points on 48.5% shooting, with 8.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.0 steal, and 1.8 blocks, including thirteen points, ten rebounds and four blocks in that aforementioned affair back in early December. He and his teammates will be looking to put together a better offensive performance than the one in which they shot a season-low 30.4% from the floor. The visitors could get NOTHING going in that meeting, shooting 11-of-31 from within the arc (35.5%) and 6-of-25 beyond it (24.0%). From a betting perspective, the Hoosiers haven’t covered the spread in six consecutive meetings with the Knights, though the pendulum is swinging in their favor of late as they’ve covered the number in six of their last ten games, regardless of the venue, while posting 6-3 mark in their last ten as a favorite. Furthermore, they’re 4-0 against the spread in their last four games at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, though have struggled in that regard on Tuesday nights, where they’ve covered the spread in just one of their last seven outings on this particular day of the week. On the injury front, (Sophomore Center) Logan Duncomb and (Junior Forward) Jordan Geronimo are both listed as questionable, with the former suffering from a sinus infection while the latter has missed the last three contests due to an ailing left leg. As for (Senior Guard) Xavier Johnson, he’s been out since mid-December with a broken foot, though is getting closer to making his return, with Woodson stating that he expects him to be back as early as next week.