At the beginning of the month, Michigan met Rutgers at Madison Square Garden for a “home” game. The Wolverines have felt right at home at MSG, as they have won their last ten games there, including their six-point win over the Scarlet Knights most recently. Wednesday’s game is going to be a little bit tougher trying to knock off a team that has yet to lose at home this season.
Since getting Isaiah Livers back from his groin injury, the Wolverines have been rolling. They have won three straight for the first time since the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in November. While Michigan has won back-to-back road games in the conference, it should be taken with a grain of salt since those wins came over Northwestern and Nebraska who have lost a combined 19 straight games. Not good.
We haven’t been able to get a great look at Michigan playing on the road with Isaiah Livers this year. Early in December, the Wolverines lost at Illinois with Livers. They then proceeded to play four road conference games without him, their only win coming over Nebraska. Upon return from injury, Livers played in the most recent blowout at Northwestern. Wednesday night’s contest gives Michigan the chance to get a real road win assuming Livers suits up, which may be questionable with the ankle injury he suffered on Sunday.
What to Watch:
Grab Some Rebounds: If you only looked at the rebounding margin from the last time these two teams played, you would’ve said Rutgers won. They out-rebounded Michigan 51-37 overall and 26-6 on the offensive glass. The result was that they took 83 field goal attempts to Michigan’s 47. They shot so poorly that they still lost. Michigan cannot afford to give Rutgers multiple shot attempts possession after possession and expect to win this game. Rutgers is a great home team and they will capitalize on offensive rebounds in this game given the opportunity. Austin Davis, who has emerged as a prominent player off the bench, has seen double digit minutes in the last five games and made his presence felt. The redshirt junior has been incredibly efficient and has used his wide frame to keep opposing big men off the glass. Against a physical team like Rutgers, Davis should be in line to play meaningful minutes once again.
Knock Down Big Shots: Michigan is not a great three point shooting team for the first time in a long time. Jon Teske has slightly regressed as a threat from deep and Franz Wagner hasn't shot quite the percentage some hoped he would. However, the Wolverines have been shooting better as of late. Livers’ return has obviously helped as he has shot 45.9 percent from behind the arc this season. Additionally, Brandon Johns Jr. has shown his ability to shoot the three, especially from the corner, and Eli Brooks has hit multiple three pointers in five of the last six games for the Wolverines. In Michigan’s last five games, they have shot 35 percent or higher from deep four times. The result: four wins, the only loss coming versus Ohio State. Making shots on the road is crucial and something the Wolverines are going to have to do if they want to win Wednesday night.
Move the ball effectively: The Wolverines average 15.2 assists per game as a team with Zavier Simpson accounting for more than half of those. The last two games though, Michigan has cranked it up with 21 team assists against Northwestern and 17 against Indiana. Once again, we see the result: 79 points in a 25 point win and 89 points in a 24 point win. Assists are typically a good indicator of how well a team is playing together and Michigan is currently playing their best basketball of the conference season. Moving the ball will allow the Wolverines to get the open shots they need to make to win this game.
This game is going to be a battle for all 40 minutes. Rutgers has been a phenomenal home team all year with big time wins against Penn State and Illinois. Michigan has mostly struggled on the road this year. If you throw home court out of the equation, I think Michigan is the better team; however, home court has played a huge factor in Big Ten games all year and it’s tough to bet against the home team. Rutgers 73-70.
Date: Wednesday, February 19, 2020
Location: Louis Brown Athletic Center, Piscataway, New Jersey
Time: 7:00 p.m. EST