Rutgers hopes to improve on disappointing loss with win over Iowa Wednesday
For the Rutgers men's basketball team over the last several weeks, it has been steps forward followed by steps backward.
After knocking off then-No. 16 Seton Hall at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) in December, prompting those in attendance to rush the court, the team picked up a pair of embarrassing home losses to Stony Brook and Hartford.
After defeating Wisconsin and playing then-No. 4 Michigan State close last week, the Scarlet Knights returned to the RAC with an ugly effort by all accounts — a 68-46 loss to Ohio State, moving Rutgers further down in the Big Ten standings.
The loss to the Buckeyes places the Knights (11-8, 1-5) tied for 12th in the conference with their opponent Iowa (10-9, 1-5) on Wednesday night, a matchup of two like-minded teams — at least in terms of results.
The Hawkeyes have had just as much trouble as Rutgers has in finding consistency in the first half of the season.
Despite having stretches of dominant performances against lower-tier squads, Iowa's early season is hampered by consecutive losses to Louisiana and South Dakota State, two sides that — like Stony Brook and Hartford — have no business beating a Big Ten team.
Last year, the Hawkeyes benefitted from the good-bad trend that the Knights have come to embody again this year. After taking a strong Wisconsin program to overtime, Rutgers was battered at home by an Iowa team looking to take advantage of an exposed and vulnerable Knights squad.
Sunday's result against Ohio State reminded head coach Steve Pikiell a lot of that game.
"Last year against Wisconsin, I reminded the guys that we did not come out ready to play the next time against Iowa," Pikiell said, following the loss to the Buckeyes. "I am just disappointed."
But the scenario is much different this time around. Ohio State is last year's Iowa, as far as Pikiell is concerned, and he is looking to make Wednesday's contest a repeat of the Seton Hall and Wisconsin variety.
Interestingly enough, no matter how similar Rutgers and the Hawkeyes are in the standings, they could not be any more different on the court.
Whereas the Knights have made a season out of their characteristically strong defense, Iowa has done the same with its offense.
Rutgers ranks first in scoring defense in the conference, allowing 62.1 points per game, while the Hawkeyes sit dead last in that regard, giving up 76.2 points per game, four points higher than the next team.
On the other end, Iowa holds a mark of 81.9 points per game, good for third in the Big Ten, and the Knights trail far behind with a 68.9 clip for last in the conference.
Shooting has been a notoriously large issue for Rutgers over the course of the season, and that was only amplified Sunday night versus Ohio State. The team shot 29 percent from the field, at one point missing 16 consecutive shots to allow the Buckeyes to take a double-digit lead they would not give up.
But the issue for the Knights Sunday was not only their offense. Pikiell contends that the team's offensive woes gave way to poor defense, something this team has avoided for much of the season.
"Our offense did not do a great job, but normally, it does not matter what our offense does," he said. "Our offense should never ever affect our defense. We gave them a lead."
It goes without saying that if the same goes for Wednesday, Rutgers is going to find the same struggles it found with Ohio State. And without senior guard Mike Williams providing valuable minutes off the bench, that mountain becomes harder to climb.
The Knights will enter their second straight game without the 6-foot-2-inch shooting guard, leaving them with fewer outside threats, more minutes all around and constantly shifting defensive schemes. Players will have to change roles on both sides of the ball, which could affect that usually stout defense Rutgers boasts, especially against a prolific Hawkeye offense.
"I think everyone's minutes are going to go up a bit, and we also have to move around, which I don't love, but you have to make some adjustments," Pikiell said.
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