Losing its first six Big Ten games by an average of 15.8 points, Rutgers finally picked up its first conference win with a one-point victory over visiting Nebraska last weekend. While they have continued to play physical under first-year head coach Steve Pikiell, the Scarlet Knights are still searching for consistency. Despite Wisconsin beaten them by 20 points in the Big Ten opener, the Scarlet Knights had some success in the Kohl Center, holding the Badgers to one of its worst shooting performances from the field (42.6 percent on 23-for-54 shooting) in Big Ten play.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin (17-3, 6-1 Big Ten) as they prepare to play Rutgers (12-9, 1-7).
LAY UP: CAN WISCONSIN LIMIT RUTGERS TO ONE SHOT PER POSSESSION?
Rutgers may rank last in both field goal percentage (36.5 percent) and 3-point percentage (26 percent) over conference play, but the one thing Rutgers has excelled in is finding ways of generating opportunities for itself. Since Big Ten play started, the Scarlet Knights rank first in offensive rebounds a game (15.8) and have registered at least nine offensive rebounds in every conference game. In the earlier match-up with Wisconsin, Rutgers turned 17 offensive rebounds into 18 second-chance points, the most offensive rebounds UW allowed this season and the most second-chance points the Badgers allowed in conference play. It was a team effort on the glass for Rutgers, as seven different players registered an offensive rebound and none more than four.
The Scarlet Knight have shown they’re capable of generating second chances and cash in on those opportunities, averaging 13.6 second-chance points. On the flip side Wisconsin has allowed 10.5 second-chance points over conference play and has held teams to nine or fewer second-chance points over the last five games.
Since the conference opener, Wisconsin has allowed its Big Ten opponents to average 7.6 offensive rebounds a game. In order to maintain Rutgers from consistently collecting its missed shots, the Badgers will need to remain active through the entire offensive possession considering Rutgers collects on 36.7 percent of its missed shots, which ranks second over Big Ten play. If Wisconsin can keep Rutgers off the glass it will allow them to control the game.
MID-RANGE JUMPER: REPEAT DEFENSIVE PERFORMANCE ON COREY SANDERS
In the first match-up against Rutgers, Wisconsin did an excellent job of defending Corey Sanders, who was held to only four points (his lowest in conference play) on 1-for-11 shooting. The question is can Wisconsin’s defense repeat that kind of defensive performance? Sanders has reached double figures in every game since the Big Ten opener, averaging 17.1 points over that stretch on 43.3 percent shooting from the field.
Zak Showalter will draw the defensive assignment and will be expected to play his typical aggressive, smart defense. In seven Big Ten games Showalter has registered a steal in five and at least two in four games. Against Rutgers, Showalter registered a Big Ten-high four steals. If Showalter isn’t coming up with steals he has been able to effectively take his man out of the game by disrupting his rhythm. Showalter’s ability to play solid defense has contributed to Wisconsin forcing 13.6 turnovers a game over Big Ten play.
The steals Showalter was able to register against the Scarlet Knights led to him either getting points in transition or allowed Wisconsin to generate points off of his steals. Overall Wisconsin finished the game with 18 points off of Rutgers’ 15 turnovers and the ability to generate points in transition helped Wisconsin build an early lead.
Sanders has averaged 3.1 turnovers since the game against Wisconsin, and the Badgers have done well taking advantage of team miscues with 16.3 points off turnovers per game. If Showalter disrupts Sanders offensive rhythm and finds a way to create a turnover, that has a potential to be a double bonus for the Badgers.
3-POINTER: CAN WISCONSIN ESTABLISH THE POST?
Rutgers held Wisconsin’s offense to 42.6 percent shooting from the field, the Badgers’ second-worst shooting performance over conference play. Part of the reason why the Scarlet Knights contained a Wisconsin offense shooting 46.4 percent over Big Ten play was due to the fact that Rutgers was able to prevent Wisconsin from generating points in the paint – a conference-low 26 points. In eight Big Ten games, Rutgers has given up only 29.5 points in the paint.
Part of the reason why Rutgers has been able to keep teams from constantly having success is the team’s ability to alter shots. Rutgers is second in the Big Ten in blocked shots (5.5 blocks per game) behind Minnesota (6.6 blocks per game) and, like the Gophers, the Scarlet Knights found ways of altering Wisconsin’s shots when the Badgers got the ball in the paint. Both Minnesota and Rutgers finished its game against Wisconsin with six blocks.
There have been instances over the last couple of games where Wisconsin has got away from at least creating a post touch and have settled for jump shots before trying to get the ball either to Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes. Wisconsin can’t allow itself to do that as they will feed into how Rutgers wants to play.
Rutgers wants to find a way to force Wisconsin into settling for a three opposed to allowing Happ to get an easy two thanks to a layup. Rutgers ranks third in 3-point defense (31 percent) and fifth in field goal percentage defense (42.8 percent) in conference play.
Despite Happ registering a double-double in the first meeting, the sophomore did shoot 40 percent (4-for-10) from the field. Happ has had his struggles as of late against teams who are capable of blocking shots, making it important that he stays patient and doesn’t force/rush shots around the rim. If Wisconsin can consistently work the ball within the offense and make Rutgers play the full shot clock, the Badgers will have a great chance to generate a quality shot on the perimeter or in the paint, where the team is averaging 34 points during Big Ten games.