Thursday, March 01, 2018 5:40 pm
Pregame: No.6 Indiana (16-14) vs. No. 14 Rutgers (14-18)
DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette
At this time of year, there are two types of teams that aren't bound for the NCAA Tournament (barring a Cinderella conference tournament run). One type of team is essentially playing out the string while the underclassmen hope for better luck next season. The other type of team draws new heart from the start of the conference tournament, taking seriously the idea that now everyone is 0-0 again.
Rutgers is the second kind of team. The Scarlet Knights played with vastly more energy than Minnesota in the first round of the tournament last night and earned themselves another game after a 3-15 record in conference play this season. Whether Rutgers can maintain that energy, which helped it outrebound Minnesota 15-5 on the offensive end, for a second straight night will go a long way toward determining the outcome of tonight's matchup.
As I said in my video preview of this game, those expecting Indiana to cruise because it routed the Scarlet Knights in early February (65-43 and it wasn't really that close) might be disappointed. Rutgers has a couple of key players back now that didn't play in that game, making it a much more formidable opponent.
Neither guard Mike Williams nor big man Eugene Omoruyi played during the game against the Hoosiers, but both were key factors in Rutgers' upset win over Minnesota. Williams scored 12 points and his ability to get into the lane and draw defenders was a boon for leading scorer Corey Sanders, who had much more room to operate and scored 23 points. Omoruyi, meanwhile, is incredibly strong down low, especially on offense, where he already has a few post moves in his arsenal that would make NBA centers jealous. Freddie McSwain will likely guard Omoruyi, which to me will be an incredibly intriguing matchup of the two strongest players on the floor.
All of this is to say that Rutgers will not be an easy out and Indiana is unlikely to breeze through this game. Still, the Hoosiers should be favored. After five days off, they should come out with great energy, just as they did when they jumped out to a 24-8 lead against the Scarlet Knights in New Jersey. If Justin Smith continues emerging as another frontcourt threat on offense next to Juwan Morgan, Indiana could win this one going away. The key for the Hoosiers will be avoiding looking ahead to a rematch with No. 8 Purdue that will take place Friday if Indiana wins tonight.
What I'm watching for: Corey Sanders' jumpers: Sanders is Rutgers' leading scorer, averaging close to 15 points per game. Despite that, he's a very poor shooter. He hits just 39 percent of his shots from the field and less than 23 percent from beyond the 3-point line. Robert Johnson will likely draw the assignment of shutting down Sanders. If he can keep the slightly-built guard out of the paint, it will slow the Scarlet Knights' main offensive threat and could lead to a long night of bricked jumpers for Sanders.
Prediction: Indiana 71, Rutgers 60