Who: Rutgers Scarlet Knights (6-14, 0-7 Big Ten)
When: Wednesday, January 27th, at 7:00 p.m. ET (BTN)
Where: Crisler Center -- Ann Arbor, Mich.
Spread: Vegas: -24 | KenPom: W, 84-62 (97% WP)
Caris LeVert will miss his seventh straight game with a "lower left leg" injury, but that's okay because Michigan hosts arguably the worst Big Ten basketball team since Michigan State joined the conference for the 1950-51 season. That's not a joke. Not only has Rutgers lost all seven of its Big Ten games, its per-game scoring margin is minus-25.4 points, which would be the worst since 1950-51 by almost six points per game. It's not even close. During his radio show on Monday night and his Tuesday press conference, John Beilein has iterated that Rutgers is "very capable" and has D-I players. That might be so, but Beilein is being nice because Rutgers is 278th out of 351 D-I programs on KenPom.
Simply, this should be an easy blowout. Anything else could lead to embarrassment.
Rutgers is 6-14 overall and winless in the Big Ten. In fact, the Scarlet Knights have lost 21 straight Big Ten regular-season games dating back to last season. Their last win? Wisconsin. Yes, the same Wisconsin that was minutes away from winning the national championship. That result still boggles my mind even if Frank Kaminsky was absent. Nonetheless, a repeat of that seems very unlikely this season. This year's Scarlet Knights haven't beaten an opponent ranked higher than 272nd (Farleigh Dickinson) on KenPom.
Oh, and Rutgers hasn't won a road game since December 28th ... in 2014.
Offensively, Rutgers is a trainwreck. The Knights are 306th in the nation and last in the Big Ten adjusted offensive efficiency (95.6). They cannot shoot the ball (311th in eFG%), whether it is inside the arc (294th in 2P%) or outside of it (281st in 3P%). Usually, it is inside the arc (337th in 3PA%) in the form of dribble drives to the rack (14th in pct. of shots at the rim, 316th in ast%). Despite that they like to attack the rim, they rebound few of their many misses (279th in OR%) and don't draw many whistles (219th in FTR). Of the four factors, the only thing at which they're average is turnover rate (181st). However, one thing to keep an eye is Rutgers' pace. The Knights are 96th in adjusted tempo, which is the fastest in the Big Ten, and their eFG% in transition (218th) is much better than what it is in non-transition situations (323rd). Rutgers may be able to find some success if it can get the ball in the open floor. Otherwise, Rutgers has such a low chance of scoring.
Rutgers' defense isn't as much of a trainwreck (218th in adjusted efficiency), but it still is the worst in the Big Ten. And that has been apparent during the Big Ten slate (1.268 PPP). This season, Rutgers has allowed opponents to be more effective shooting twos (281st) than threes (132nd), which is why opponents have made it their mission to penetrate inside (314th in pct. of shots at the rim). This high number of layups and dunks that opponents have tried also could be a consequence of Rutgers' low defensive rebounding rate (336th), which leaves them more prone to put-backs. At least the Knights don't foul in those situations (69th in FTR). But Rutgers can't rely on turnovers to reduce the field goals its opponents will fire. The Knights are 296th in turnover rate.
Rutgers is led by 6-foot-2 freshman point guard Corey Sanders, who was the program's first top-100 recruit since 2011. Sanders has been a solid player for the Knights, owning a team-best 14.1 PPG and 3.6 APG, but he's still learning to be more efficient. His offensive rating is only 95.3 -- 86.5 in Big Ten play -- because he struggles to finish at the rim (44.5 2P%), is an average three-point shooter (34.1 pct.) and has a penchant for turnovers (3.0 TPG). But, if he has a great game, watch out because he carries the offense for Rutgers.
The Knights will start two other guards, and there are three candidates for those spots. The first is 6-foot-2 sophomore Mike Williams, who is the team's second-leading scorer (11.7 PPG). He's at his best when he's pulling up for mid-range jumpers (47.8 pct.) but gets himself into trouble if he drives too far (43.9 FG% at the rim) or fires threes (27.8 pct.). And that's about it because Williams adds little else to the box score. The second is 6-foot-3 senior Bishop Daniels, who averages the third-most points on Rutgers (9.1 PPG). As a scorer, the only move in his arsenal is to get to the tin, where he converts an okay 59.2 percent of his shots. If he's forced to shoot anything outside of five feet, there's about a 70-percent chance that it ricochets off the rim. He's also a decent defensive rebounder (13.3 DR%) and distributor (21.1 ast%) but can be sloppy with the ball (20.9 TO%). The third is 6-foot-4 graduate transfer Omari Grier, who posts 7.2 PPG. However, Grier is the most efficient offensive player of all three (107.1 ORtg) because he's Rutgers' only three-point specialist (43.9 pct.). But, like Williams, he doesn't provide much else.
With 6-foot-7 junior college transfer Deshawn Freeman (knee) and 6-foot-10 freshman Ibrahima Diallo (foot) ruled out with season-ending injuries, Rutgers' front-court mostly consists of 6-foot-8 sophomore D.J. Foreman and 6-foot-9 senior Greg Lewis. Foreman averages 8.3 PPG in 25.8 MPG, but he doesn't finish well from the field. He makes less than half of his layups and dunks and relies on getting to the free-throw line (60.7 FTR), where he drains only 57.7 percent of his freebies, to score points. Lewis is even less of an offensive threat with his 79.5 offensive rating ranking last in the Big Ten among the 89 qualified players. Lewis makes only 37.1 percent of his twos, sinks only 44.8 percent of his free throws, and owns a turnover rate (17.7 pct.) that triples his assist rate (5.9 pct.). However, both are assets on the glass, and Lewis is a rim protector (4.0 blk%).
Two reserves that should be mentioned are 6-foot-6 freshman forward Jonathan Laurent and 6-foot-2 freshman guard Justin Goode. Laurent just returned from a four-game absence due to a mild concussion and recorded 14 points and three rebounds against Iowa. He is an alright scorer inside five feet (52.5 2P%) and a great defensive rebounder (19.5 pct.). Goode is an extremely low-usage player (8.4 pct.) that essentially shoots only threes (72.2 3PA%), though he doesn't knock down very many (23.1 3P%).
Control the Tempo: Rutgers has one of the worst half-court offenses in the country, but the Knights are mediocre when they are in transition. Plus, they move at the fastest pace in the Big Ten. The best chance for Rutgers to score points is to push the ball and drive to the rim before Michigan's defense is set. The bad news for Rutgers is that Michigan generally isn't careless with the basketball, though that wasn't the case at Nebraska, and doesn't send many to the offensive boards. It could be very tough for Rutgers to amass those points off turnovers and in transition. If so, Rutgers' offense is in lots of trouble.
No Second Chance Points: Rutgers really struggles to shoot the basketball (310th in eFG%) and doesn't corral many of its misses (279th in OR%). However, the Knights will try to penetrate into the paint, and, sometimes, Michigan has issues on the defensive glass when there is a large crowd. Plus, D.J. Foreman and Greg Lewis are solid offensive rebounders. Michigan needs to make sure those two are boxed out every time a Rutgers shot goes up. If that happens, the Scarlet Knights should be limited to just one-and-dones, and that never works out well for a team that shoots as terribly as they do.
Don't Settle for Jumpers: Michigan saw what can occur when it settles for too many outside shots and happens to have an off night last week against Minnesota. The Wolverines drilled only 9-of-31 threes (29.0 pct.) and came close to suffering a humiliating home loss to the Gophers. That can't repeat itself tonight. If the three-ball isn't falling, Michigan must get the ball inside with ISOs and pick-and-rolls because Rutgers is last in two-point shooting in Big Ten play (56.5 pct.). Michigan's offensive movement and passing should clear open lanes for easy looks, and that should be enough.
You'll go back to discussing football recruiting and National Signing Day by halftime.
Michigan 89, Rutgers 56