Iowa Basketball: Get To Know Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The Iowa Hawkeyes and Rutgers Scarlet Knights will tipoff on Big Ten Network at 3:30 p.m. CT on Sunday

After wining their first game in conference play on Sunday against Michigan, Iowa basketball fell to Nebraska in double overtime 93-90. They are now 1-2 in conference play but have a chance to get back on track against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights this Sunday.

Rutgers is the only 0-3 teams in Big Ten play this season but still owns an 11-5 record. Evidently, despite owning a respectable 11-5 record, Rutgers’ success has come against mediocre mid-majors.

The Scarlet Knights have lost their last four games and are 1-5 against Power Five schools. Their only win over a Power 5 school was a 66-59 win over Big East foe DePaul. They’re also 2-4 on the road this year and are 0-2 against Iowa since joining the Big Ten.

That said, their five losses have come by an average of 16.8 points. Plus, Rutgers is coming off a 20-point loss to Wisconsin, 13-point loss to Penn State and 28-point loss to Michigan State.

Many wondered if Rutgers was a legitimate threat entering conference play with an 11-2 record. Considering they only beat Hartford by two at home and struggled to beat Stony Brook by five on the road earlier this season, the Scarlet Knights are still a bottom-dweller in the Big Ten.

There aren’t a lot of teams Iowa can blowout in the Big Ten this year, but Rutgers is one of them. The Hawkeyes have played well since getting blown out by Purdue and have looked more comfortable at home this season.

If they can put a hard-fought double overtime loss to Nebraska behind them, they should easily win their 10th game of the year.

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Steve Pikiell

Steve Pikiell is in his first season as Rutgers’ head coach after Eddie Jordan led the Scarlet Knights to a mere seven wins last season and a 29-68 record over his three seasons.

Pikiell spent his first 11 seasons as a head coach rebuilding Stony Brook, who Rutgers beat 71-66 this season. He went 192-156 at Stony Brook and led them to three regular season championships in the AEC, as well as Stony Brook’s first NCAA Tournament appearance last season.

Stony Brook went from a four-win team in Pikiell’s first season to winning at least 20 games in six of his last seven seasons as head coach. Not to mention he recruited Stony Brook’s best player ever in Jameel Warney, who is now in the NBA D-League.

He has a similar challenge in Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have not been to the NCAA Tournament since 1990-91 and haven’t won a Tournament game since 1992-93. In fact, Rutgers hasn’t finished .500 or better since 2005-06 and have failed to have back-to-back winning seasons since 1990-92.

Since Bob Wenzel led Rutgers to two NCAA Tournament appearances, Pikiell is the fifth coach to try to restore the program. Even if Rutgers simply beat up on mid-majors to start the season, 11 wins is already the most they’ve had since 2013-14.

Rutgers only scores 69.9 points per game, which is 267th in the nation, but Pikiell brought the defensive culture he had at Stony Brook to Rutgers, as well. A year after ranking 332nd in points allowed per game, Rutgers is an impressive 37th in the nation and have only allowed three teams to score 85-plus points in a game this season after 12 teams did so last season.

Maybe Steve Pikiell isn’t the answer, but he’s building a strong basketball culture at Rutgers in his first season, and that’s the first step.

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Mandatory Credit: Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports

Players To Watch

Deshawn Freeman: 11.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 49.2 FG%

Deshawn Freeman, Cordell Pemsl and Tyler Cook will have a battle of traditional big men on Sunday. Freeman has only attempted one three this season and prides himself on scoring inside and rebounding. His 11.2 points per game is third on the team and he leads the team with 8.2 rebounds per game.

That said, he’s struggled against Power Five schools this season. He averages just 9.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game on 41 percent shooting from the field. Iowa’s rebounding and paint defense hasn’t been consistent this season, however they have played better since Cook’s return. In fact, Iowa out-rebounded Nebraska 51-42 on Thursday night.

Freeman doesn’t demand a lot of shots, but it’s hard to stop him when he gets in a rhythm. He has eight games of double-digit points and nine games with double-digit rebounds. Rutgers’ post game will disappear if Iowa controls Freeman.

Mike Williams: 11.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 46.3 FG%, 38.2 3P%

Mike Williams ranks second in scoring on Rutgers, however he’s their most consistent outside shooter. Both Nigel Johnson and Corey Sanders, who each average double-digit points per game, shot below 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from deep. Sure, they can get hot, but Rutgers needs Williams to have a consistent shooting night.

After making 6-of-10 shots against Wisconsin to start Big Ten play, Williams has only made 6-of-21 from the field and 3-of-11 from three in the past two games. He did record a double-double against Penn State, but recorded just two points in 16 minutes against Michigan State.

Iowa has to stick on Williams early and get him out of rhythm from the outside. He’s a streaky shooter, therefore having him gain confidence early could lead to a big game. Williams has shot at least 40 percent from deep in six of 12 games he’s attempted at least four three-pointers in.

Rutgers has scorers, although they shoot just 42.7 percent from the field and 29.6 percent from three for a reason. The Scarlet Knights will have a hard time consistently scoring if Williams’ shot isn’t falling.

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