Rutgers and Iowa enter this Saturday's matchup in Iowa City looking for their first Big Ten win of the season; Can the Hawkeyes defend their home court, or will the Scarlet Knights steal one on the road?
TV Schedule: Saturday, January 6, 12:00 pm ET. BTN
Arena: Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa
Rutgers (8-5) comes into the matchup fresh off a 76-72 loss on the road to Ohio State. Though the Scarlet Knights trailed by 17 points in the first half, they nearly staged an incredible comeback in the second. But, the Buckeyes made some timely shots late, and Rutgers was left winless in the Big Ten. The team's performance was encouraging, especially since they nearly lost to Stonehill at home in the game prior. As a team, Rutgers scores 67.8 points per game -- tied for a measly 361 in the country. The Scarlet Knights allow 62.5 points per contest.
Under head coach Steve Pikiell, the Scarlet Knights have been known for their tenacious and suffocating defense that is consistently ranked near the top of the conference each year. While it's certainly pleasing to the eye, Pikiell's style of play has earned his team two NCAA Tournament berths in the last three seasons. Prior to Pikiell's arrival, the Knights hadn't made the Big Dance since 1991.
On offense, Rutgers is led by senior forward Aundre Hyatt (12.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg). Hyatt is the team's leading scorer and has filled the scoring void vacated by long-time starters Ron Harper Jr. and Paul Mulcahy. Standing at 6-foot-6, Hyatt's frame makes him tough to defend on the glass. It's also worth noting that Hyatt has shot 45 percent from three-point range on the road.
The other big name to watch on this Rutgers squad is senior center Clifford Omoruyi (11.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg). Omoruyi isn't known for his versatile scoring, but he doesn't really have to be because of his dominating presence in the paint. Not only is he an elite rebounder, he also is a dangerous shot-blocker, and has averaged 3.3 blocks per game on the season.
On the flip side, Iowa (8-6) has battled through inconsistent play all season long. In their most recent meeting against a ranked Wisconsin team, the Hawkeyes fought hard, but came up short in an 83-72 loss. Iowa has proved that they can be competitive against good teams, but they have yet to put a complete game together. The Hawkeyes average 86.7 points per game -- good for 12th in the country, but its weakness is on defense, as they give up nearly 78 points per contest.
Anyone who is on the floor for Iowa is a threat to score, but the main focal point of this offense is senior guard Tony Perkins (14.1 ppg, 3.6 apg). Perkins is a tough two-way guard who can beat opponents at the rim and with his shooting ability. Perkins had his best outing of the season against Wisconsin and scored 25 points along with four rebounds and three assists. If he can continue to play at a consistent level, then the Hawkeyes are going to be a tough out.
The second name to watch out for is freshman forward Owen Freeman (10 ppg, 5.8 rpg). Freeman is already a four-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week honoree, and he has proved to head coach Fran McCaffery that he can handle the key minutes at the center position. Not only is Freeman a dangerous scoring presence in the paint, he gives opponents fits with his shot blocking ability. Fans should expect a tough battle inside between Freeman and Omoruyi.
Both teams are hungry for their first conference win, and I expect a close game throughout. But, Rutgers just doesn't have enough shooting to hang with Iowa, and I think the Hawkeyes pull one out in front of the home fans.
Prediction: Iowa 73, Rutgers 64