What to Know
After starting out 11-1, the Knights have gone on a skid. They have lost four straight, including the first three of the Big Ten season. They've lost games to Wisconsin, Penn State, and Michigan State and all of them were by double digits. Their latest loss to the Spartans was the worst of the three. They dropped that game by 28 points in East Lansing.
The Knights were receiving some praise in the non-conference for their hot start, but it was largely due to the fact that the toughest games they played were against Stony Brook and Depaul. They did play Miami (FL), but lost that one in their Big Ten/ACC matchup.
While the Knights have struggled out of the gate in conference, I think this team is a lot better than last years team that only won one conference game. Which was a March test against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, who also weren't very good last season.
Sunday's showdown will be the fourth game between the Knights and the Hawkeyes with Iowa dominating. They've won the previous three games and have done so in impressive fashion. The Hawks are winning those games by an average of 20 points per game. Last year, the teams met once in Iowa City with Hawkeyes winning by 14, 90-76.
However, this team is much improved.
Standout freshman, Corey Sanders led the way last year averaging 16 points per game for the Knights. This year, they get Deshawn Freeman back, who played in just 7 games last season and will get another year of Mike Williams.
For the Knights, they're getting comfortable with life on the road. They've played five of their last six on the road, including three of four to start the conference slate. That isn't easy for anyone. They've had to go to two of the tougher venues in the conference with Wisconsin and Michigan State, so that could be a big reason for their early struggles.
Rutgers replace Eddie Jordan last year, so it's Steve Pikiell this year at the helm for the Knights. Sunday will be his second visit to Carver Hawkeye Arena. He led his Stony Brook team into Iowa City back in 2013 for an NIT matchup with the Hawkeyes. Iowa won that game by a score of 75-63.
Who to Know
I made mention to their talented point guard, Corey Sanders, who was the lone bright spot for the Knights last year averaging 16 points per game. However, this season, Sanders is their fourth leading scorer averaging just under 11 points per game. They've gotten good production from Nigel Johnson, the transfer from Kansas State. He leads the team averaging 12 points per game. Johnson and Sanders are also tied for the team lead averaging 1.6 steals per game.
Mike Williams and Deshawn Freeman have both been productive as well. They both average 11 points per game for the Knights with Freeman leading the team in rebounding, averaging 8.2 a contest.
Those four create a very balanced attack for the Knights, but the problem has been getting consistent production from all of them and then the supporting cast.
Williams, for example, had games of 18 and 16 in the first two Big Ten games, but scored just two points against Michigan State in their last one. And it's hasn't been just him. Johnson, Freeman, and Sanders have all been up and down with scoring numbers to start Big Ten play. Sanders did lead the team with 22 points against Michigan State on January 4th.
The team has struggled out of the gate, but if they get good production from these four, they might be able to pull an upset in Iowa City on Sunday afternoon.
Stats to Know
The Knights have the worst scoring offense in the Big Ten averaging just a shade under 70 points per game. However, the do have one of the better scoring defenses in the Big Ten. They rank third allowing just 64 points per game this season. In Big Ten games, though, they are allowing 75 points per contest. This should bode well for Iowa, who has the second best scoring offense in the conference.
For the Hawkeyes, they are coming off a game in which the Nebraska Cornhuskers stole the ball 14 times. That doesn't bode well for them. The Knights are third in the Big Ten in steals, averaging just under 7 per game. Both Johnson and Sanders average over 1.5 per game.
For the second straight game, the Hawkeyes are going to have to be active on glass because the Knights sure are. They lead the conference in offensive rebounds, averaging 15 per game. You can credit most of that to Freeman, but they have four other players that average more than four rebounds per game.
Freeman has 51 total offensive rebounds, but CJ Gettys and Candido Sa have 30 and 31, respectively.
If Rutgers is winning this game they have to slow Iowa's offensive attack, which seems impossible at this point. The Knights simply don't have the offensive fire power to go head to head with Iowa. One major reason they can't is because they've shot less than 30% from three as a team. Williams leads the team shooting 38% from behind the arc.