Rutgers looks to conquer Michigan demons
The Rutgers men's basketball team will travel to Indianapolis, Indiana, this week to play Michigan in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. The eighth-seeded Scarlet Knights (20-11, 11-9) will try to beat the ninth-seeded Wolverines (19-12, 10-10) for the first time in history, as Michigan leads the all-time series 13-0. The winner will play first-seeded Wisconsin on Friday.
With Rutgers finishing in a three-way tie for fifth place in the Big Ten standings, it earned a first-round bye in a conference tournament for the first time since the 1995 Atlantic 10 Championship. Coming off wins against Maryland and Purdue, the Knights will try to continue their momentum and possibly improve their NCAA Tournament seeding.
The Wolverines beat Rutgers twice this season, including a 60-52 defensive battle on Feb. 19 at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC). That was the only game the Knights lost at home this season, spoiling their potential to finish the year undefeated at the RAC.
In order to avenge the regular-season sweep, Rutgers will have to play a complete game. In the second half of the loss at the RAC, it got outscored 32-21 after going into halftime leading 31-28. The Knights finished the contest shooting just 34.9 percent from the field and 5 of 9 (55.6 percent) from the free-throw line. These offensive numbers will not cut it against a Michigan team that was ranked for nine weeks this season.
Luckily for Rutgers, it has improved significantly on offense over the past week. The Knights scored 78 points on 30 of 61 shooting from the field against the No. 9 Terrapins (24-7, 14-6), one of their most efficient performances all season. If they can score that well against one of the top teams in the conference, there is no reason why they can't do it against the Wolverines.
Specifically, Rutgers will look to continue its success from the perimeter. In Saturday's win against the Boilermakers (16-15, 9-11), the Knights shot 9 of 18 from beyond the arc, an uncharacteristically efficient clip.
Even though Rutgers is second to last in the conference with a 31 percent three-point field goal percentage this season, it would serve it well if it can keep up its shooting hot streak from last game. If players like junior guard Geo Baker and sophomore guard Ron Harper Jr. can snipe from the perimeter while sophomore center Myles Johnson dominates inside, the Knights will be a tough team to beat.
Defensively, Rutgers needs to focus on Michigan's Zavier Simpson and Isiah Livers, who both average 12.9 points per game. Simpson leads the nation with 236 assists, and Livers is back to being healthy after missing both of Wolverines' matchups with the Knights due to injury.
Tip-off is at noon tomorrow at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The game will be broadcasted on Big Ten Network.
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