The Michigan Wolverines head to Piscataway tonight to start their main Big Ten conference schedule against Rutgers. Both programs enter with 7-5 records, while also being tied for fourth place with a conference record of 1-1. The Scarlet Knights are coming off a two-game winning streak while the Wolverines look to start anew after a rocky start to the season.
The Maize and Blue have found very little consistency this season, and it has raised a lot of questions about this season’s potential. Their narratives have shifted from Michigan being able to repeat as Big Ten champs to asking if Michigan is even a tournament caliber team. Meanwhile, Rutgers has all the confidence in the world after taking down one of the top teams in the Big Ten in Purdue a couple weeks ago on a buzzer-beater.
Both teams stack up pretty evenly, with Rutgers’ greatest advantage being its affinity for steals, as they average 7.6 a game. Michigan boasts a higher field goal percentage (47.2) in comparison to Rutgers (42.3), which will come as their greatest strength should they take decent shots.
The Scarlet Knights are led by senior forward Ron Harper Jr., who averages 14 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game while shooting 42.1% from the floor and 39.3% from three. He does a little bit of everything for the Scarlet Knights much like senior guard Caleb McConnell, who leads the team in steals with 2.4 a game. Geo Baker, a senior guard, in his eight games so far this season, has emerged averaging 10.9 points and 4.3 assists.
Sophomore center Clifford Omoruyi leads the Scarlet Knights in rebounds, hauling in 7.3 per game, along with 12.4 points. Rounding out the starters is junior guard Paul Mulcahy, who leads the team in assists with 4.4 per game.
Rutgers lacks a reliable three-point threat, with the team averaging 30.5% shooting from beyond the arc, which would bring about five threes made a game. Shooting percentages fluctuate heavily between games for this team and it’s difficult to pinpoint what type of game they will have until the game actually starts. The Scarlet Knights do prioritize ball security, having a low rate of turnovers per possession on offense (16.6) while also keeping non-steal turnovers to a minimum on offensive possessions (7.4) according to KenPom.
Michigan is one of the worst teams at forcing turnovers per defensive possessions (14.4) according to KenPom, which bodes well for a Rutgers team that already keeps turnovers low. The Scarlet Knights aren’t astronomical at forcing turnovers (18.5), but they do have a significantly higher rate of steals per defensive possession (11.1) according to KenPom. Michigan has gotten into turnover trouble a lot this season and its greatest weakness comes from avoidable mistakes and poor decision making. The Wolverines average a significantly higher rate of non-steal turnovers per offensive possession (11) in comparison to the Scarlet Knights. In this game against the Wolverines, Rutgers’ best advantage comes in their affinity for steals and tight ball security.
Michigan will find success with effective shot selection. The Wolverines have averaged roughly seven threes a game so far this year while shooting 34.9% from beyond the arc. There has been marked improvement in limiting turnovers this season, but the Wolverines still average 12.9 a game. They will have to be wary of Rutgers’ ability to force steals if they want to come away with a road win in conference play.
The Wolverines have been working with a lot of different lineups this year trying to find something that sticks. Sophomore forward Terrance Williams II has carved a space for himself amongst the contributors, averaging 5.7 PPG and 3.2 REB, while shooting 41.8 percent from the floor and 36.3 percent from beyond the arc. Brandon Johns Jr., a senior forward, has been seeing success coming off the bench, averaging 5.2 PPG and 2.3 REB, while shooting 42.3 percent from the floor and 29.4 percent from three.
These two teams have a lot of commonalities this year, with no consistent sense of identity or play established for either of them. It’s difficult to predict which team will come out on top, as it will likely rely on which team can put the ball into the hoop in any consistent way. Michigan should have the slight edge should it play to its strengths. The Wolverines edge out the Scarlet Knights shooting wise, but Rutgers won’t go away easily as it is fully capable of forcing steals on defensive possessions. Should Michigan make its own mistakes in tandem with the steals, this could quickly go sideways.
This game is like looking in the mirror for both teams and whoever’s day it is will come out with a win. Rutgers hosts Michigan tomorrow night at the Jersey Mike’s Arena at 7 p.m. eastern.