Badgers open Big Ten play against much-improved Scarlet Knights

As Big Ten play begins, Bronson Koenig and the Badgers will take on a Rutgers team that is significantly better than in years past.

Image By: Jessi Schoville

Futility and Rutgers basketball have been like Siamese twins, tied together by the hip for the past 15 years. The duo doesn’t go forward, though; almost every time the Scarlet Knights try to take a step in the right direction, they instead move one or two steps back. Only twice in that span has Rutgers finished a season with more wins than losses, and they haven’t accomplished that feat since the 2005-’06 season.

Whether in the Big East or Big Ten, the Scarlet Knights have had big problems. Yet, as they turn to conference play in the 2016-’17 season under the leadership of first-year head coach Steve Pikiell, a bright light is shining through the foggy clouds of Newark, East Rutherford and Piscataway. Rutgers is 11-2.

Last year, the Scarlet Knights allowed an astronomical 81 points per game as a team. Through 13 games, they have cut that number by almost 20 points to 61.8 per game. Last year, they scored a mere 67.7 points per game. This year they average almost 75.

Sure, the schedule has been relatively easy, and their two losses have come against their two toughest opponents, but Rutgers’ trip to Madison to face No. 14 Wisconsin (11-2) Tuesday evening won’t be the same cakewalk for the Badgers that it’s been in the past.

The Scarlet Knights are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, pulling in more than 13 per game. Junior forward DeShawn Freeman has been a force on the offensive and defensive glass, and junior 7-foot C.J. Gettys has been a solid rim protector as well.

Much of Rutgers’ scoring is a product of its offensive rebounding. The Scarlet Knights start three guards, all of whom are 6-foot-2 or shorter, who frequently drive to the basket to draw defenders away from their man.

Dribble drives not only provide kick-out options, but also draw opposing frontcourt players away to help, freeing up an easier offensive rebound opportunity in case a shot is missed.

UW’s length, though, should minimize the ability of Rutgers’ guards to attack the basket as well as their frontcourt players’ ability to clean off the glass. The Badgers have only given up 89 offensive rebounds through 13 games and have a plus-14 rebounding advantage per game.

Moments after their 53-point victory over Florida A&M, head coach Greg Gard said that UW’s season would only get tougher.

Matchups with No. 16 Indiana and No. 15 Purdue, two of the Big Ten’s best two teams are looming in the coming days for the Badgers. In the immediate future, though, Rutgers’ matchup against the Badgers Tuesday night has the makings of more than just a glorified exhibition game.

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