Rutgers takes on Michigan in opportunity for bench to show development

Less than one week after falling to Michigan State on the Rutgers women’s basketball team’s home court, the Scarlet Knights (15-3, 5-2) will travel to face Michigan on Sunday at 2 p.m. in what will be another Big Ten matchup.

With the previous one ending in a 66-55 loss to the Spartans, Rutgers will have to approach the game as an opportunity to develop into more of a dynamic squad if it hopes to continue its early season success into a stretch of a few difficult, yet winnable games.

The Knights’ production off the bench is one of the key areas that will need to be improved upon if the team wishes to progress in its overall efficiency. 

Coming into the matchup with the Wolverines (12-6, 3-4), Rutgers’ bench has usually consisted of a combination of true freshman center Maori Davenport, redshirt freshman forward Tyia Singleton and sophomore guards Zipporah Broughton and Alexis Morris getting the majority of the playing time behind the team’s five starters to start out the calendar year.

Though the group has been reliable in providing minutes for the team, it’s performance on offense is one that plays to a different tune.

Through the last five games against Michigan State, Penn State, Nebraska, Illinois and Purdue, the offensive production off the bench has shown mixed results, with a clear pattern to explain why.

Against the Boilermakers, who were sitting with a 11-3 overall record and a 2-0 mark in the Big Ten at the onset of the contest, the Knights’ bench was outscored 14-3, with all 3 of their points coming in the first quarter. 

Purdue was off to a nice start to its season at that point, and a group of Davenport, Broughton, Morris and Singleton was simply not prepared to match the talent that the opposing team displayed.

In the contest against the Fighting Illini, who came into the night with a record of 9-5 overall with three of their losses coming from Big Ten matchups, Rutgers’ bench was able to outscore Illinois 20-17. Granted, this output from the Knights never should have even been in question, considering the Fighting Illini were coming off three straight losses of more than 25 point differentials.

Rutgers then had a chance to prove it could handle both struggling and successful teams by putting out a strong performance against the Cornhuskers, a team that had lost only two games up to that point. The Knights’ bench failed to show up, though, and was only able to put up 6 points in comparison to Nebraska’s 25 points.

The next two matchups followed a similar pattern. 

While Rutgers’ bench was able to win the offensive game against the Nittany Lions, who came into the contest with a 7-9 overall record and 1-4 mark in the Big Ten, the Knights could not seem to replicate their 19-point success with a strong showing against a well-performing team like the Spartans. The opposing team’s bench outscored Rutgers 15-6.

Since part of this inconsistency can be contributed to the relatively small amount of experience the collection of aforementioned players has had at the collegiate level, it would not at all be admissible to believe that the group on the Knights’ bench will be the team’s Achilles’ heel as it approaches a tough part of its schedule that includes two games against Michigan and others on the road against Maryland and Northwestern within the next month.

The players still have the opportunity to develop throughout the season, and can certainly use the upcoming matchup against the Wolverines as an opportunity to do that.

For updates on the Rutgers women's basketball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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