It is a new year and a time to return to Big Ten play. So far the conference has not looked promising outside of Purdue and Michigan State. Those two teams look to be far and away the best the league has to offer, with Ohio State and Michigan as strong candidates for the tournament and Minnesota as a wild card. Everyone else pretty much looks like various levels of ass.
There can still be surprises though. I do not expect Purdue and Michigan State to go a combined 35-1 in conference play with the winner between them taking the title. The one that avoids the most missteps will win it. As always, defending home court will be the important part of that.
Fortunately, Purdue is 47-3 in its last 50 games at home, and it seems very unlikely that Rutgers will be the one to break that run.
From: Piscataway, NJ
Date: Wednesday, January 3, 2018
Tip Time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: West Lafayette, Indiana
Arena: Mackey Arena (14,804)
Radio: Purdue Radio Network
SiriusXM Satellite: XM (Ch. 381); Internet (Ch. 968)
Live Stats: bit.ly/PurdueLiveStats
2016-17 Record: 15-18, 3-15 Big Ten
2017-18 Record: 10-5, 0-2 Big Ten
Opponent Blog: On the Banks
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 8-1
Last Rutgers Win: 81-73 on 12/4/1975 in New York, NY
Last Purdue Win: 74-55 on 2/14/2017 at Purdue
NCAA Tournament History: 6 appearances, last in 1991. Reached 1976 Final Four
Coach: Steve Pikiell (25-23 in 2nd season at Rutgers, 222-198 in 12th season overall)
Rutgers basketball has been a disaster since moving to the Big Ten. Steve Pikiell saw some improvement last year and this year is going better, but overall Big Ten play has not been kind to the Scarlet Knights. Since joining the league they are just 6-50 in league play and a dismal 1-27 on the road.
Many of those games haven’t been close, either. Just two years ago Purdue went to Piscataway and won 107-57 in a game that wasn’t even that close. The Boilers had more rebounds in that game than Rutgers had points, and Purdue could have scored 130 if it felt like it. Purdue is a perfect 4-0 against the Scarlet Knights since they joined the Big Ten and will get two more games against them this season.
This year’s team looked like it had turned a corner a few weeks ago. Corey Sanders had 22 points as they upset No. 15 Seton Hall 71-65. This was after Rutgers had played Florida State close in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and they pushed Michigan State in a 10-point game in Piscataway.
Since beating Seton Hall the Scarlet Knights have lost to Stony Brook 75-73 and Hartford 70-68. Both of those were devastating home losses to teams with a below .500 record overall. As a result, it seems unlikely they are going to come into Mackey Arena and win.
Still, it is Big Ten play and every game needs to be taken seriously. The Seton Hall result proves this team can play with really good teams. Sanders averages 13.5 points per game and has been a consistent scorer for them for 3 years now. Geo Baker and Deshawn Freeman also average in double figures.
They have been a very strong defensive team all season long. It is hard to believe, but Rutgers is the Big Ten’s best defensive team, holding opponents to 59.5 points per game. That’s 6th nationally. They are also 3rd nationally in rebounding at 44.6 per game. Freeman averages 8.6 rebounds per game, fourth in the conference in that category. Their roster features three 6’10” guys and the 7-foot tall Shaq Doorson. Issa Thiam is their best big at 8.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. Eugene Omoruyi also averages 8.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Both he and Freeman are solid on the offensive glass, something Purdue has struggled with all year. They lead the conference in offensive rebounding at 15.9 per game.
So why isn’t Rutgers better? Well, for one, they are horrendous at shooting the basketball. They are 13th in the conference in scoring at 71.8 points per game. By a wide margin hey are the worst shooting team in the conference at 41.7% from the floor and 29.2% from three. By comparison, Purdue is the best 3-point shooting team in the league at 41.4%.
With all those misses there are plenty of chances for offensive rebounds, so some of their margin is by the sheer volume of bricks they put up. If Rutgers can get it offense to click it has the defense to be a really good basketball team. They just happen to be really bad at shooting the basketball. They are even the worst free throw shooting team in the league at 61.6%. The offense also struggles to move the basketball with only 11.7 assists per game, worst in the conference.
It’s going to take a Herculean by Rutgers to win this. Purdue is a pretty strong team defensively in its own right and it is playing the worst offense in the conference. Purdue ranks second in the league in scoring and field goal percentage and first in 3-point shooting. I am a firm believer that Purdue is going to run the table at home this season. If Purdue is going to drop a home game it is probably not going to be to Rutgers. Purdue 85, Rutgers 65