Sunday marks the first time in a decade that Wisconsin has faced The State University of New Jersey, more commonly known as Rutgers. Incidentally, the Badgers beat Maryland (home) and Rutgers (away) back-to-back in November and December of 2004 as the second half of a home-and-home series with each team. In 2015, Wisconsin will play each school just once in the regular season even though they are now all a part of the same conference. Ah, college sports ...
At any rate, Rutgers (9-7, 1-2 Big Ten) will have to pull out every trick in the book this weekend against No. 4 Wisconsin (15-1, 3-0) to avoid its first losing streak of the season under second-year head coach Eddie Jordan. Myles Mack leads the team in scoring, while Kadeem Jack and Greg Lewis head up a talented, if inconsistent, interior. The Badgers' counter begins -- as always -- with Frank Kaminsky, who hopes to recover from illness in time to post his 1,000th career point sometime in the first half.
Dave White, the basketball guru over at Rutgers site, On The Banks, joined us to discuss the first conference meeting between these teams.
B5Q: Have you been watching any Big Ten games that don't involve Rutgers yet? (Hello, BTN!) Are you able to access where the talent level is on this Rutgers team compared to what you've seen from the rest of the league?
On The Banks (Dave): This is an odd Rutgers team. There is talent on it. Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack, when they're going right, are Big Ten players. And Junior Etou has potential. Does it live up to the best of the Big Ten? No way. Maryland, Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State and, of course, Wisconsin have them beat by a mile. But when this team plays smart and well, it could be a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten squad. That said, the talent is nowhere near where it needs to be for Eddie Jordan to consistently win in this league. There is little depth and no third scorer.
B5Q: After a nice win over Vanderbilt in the Barclays Center Classic, Rutgers wasn't been able to generate much momentum but has also avoided any losing streaks so far this year. Has the team been performing up to expectations so far, or nah? What would make this first Big Ten season a success in your eyes?
OTB: Unfortunately, this is about what I expected. The wins are surprising (especially Vanderbilt), but the losses are mind-boggling (St. Peters? St. FRANCIS? WHAT?!). This team probably should be 12-4 with wins over St. Peter's, St. Francis and Northwestern. However, this team drifts at times and goes away from what works, turning into hero ball. That's not the way you win in college hoops. For this season to be a success, Rutgers needs to find its way to 5 or 6 Big Ten wins and needs a major upset. Eddie Jordan needs a win he can hang his hat on. In two years, he has yet to beat a ranked team -- though Penn State was receiving votes when RU beat them.
B5Q: The lack of offensive efficiency from the Scarlet Knights this year has to be frustrating. Senior forward Kadeem Jack, in particular, seems to have taken a big step backwards. Who would you redistribute some of Jack's possessions to if you had the chance?
OTB: I don't know that I'd redistribute Jack's possessions as much as change the way Jack plays. Too often this season, he's been taking outside shots, which isn't really his game. He needs to use his athleticism to attack the rim and get fouled. He is the king of rim-rattling dunks, but we haven't seen many this season. Not sure if that is a product of Jordan's offense (doubt it, Jack didn't do this last year) or Jack looking to expand his talents, but it has to change. Otherwise, Junior Etou needs more touches. Much more. And he needs to go to the rim too.
B5Q: Every Scarlet Knight with more than five three-point attempts is hitting fewer than one-third of those shots, severely handicapping Rutgers' ability to come back from a large deficit. We already saw the team struggle to score in an ugly 45-26 loss to Virginia, so what's the strategy if the Badgers get out to a big early lead in Piscataway?
OTB: It won't happen, but Rutgers should go to the rim and get fouled. Stop the clock and get to the free throw line. It's the only way they'll claw back in a game. Myles Mack can shoot the three and it'd be nice if he gets going, but it's unlikely to see.
B5Q: Do the Scarlet Knights miss any of the would-be seniors that left the program in the off-season?
OTB: No. I mean, there probably would have been more offensive punch, but the word was there were a lot of chemistry problems on the team last year. With these players gone, Eddie is probably focusing on getting the young guys to practice right and play the right way. By all accounts, Mack and Jack are great kids. I just think they fill certain roles that Mike Rice (the previous Rutgers coach) wanted from them. Jordan wants them to do something different -- but that something different doesn't fit their skill set (Mack is small and not a true point guard, but Jordan wants him to play as a pass first PG, for example).
B5Q: Led by 6'9" junior Greg Lewis, Rutgers is one of the top shot-blocking teams in the country. On the other hand, Wisconsin is the least blocked team in college basketball, due to the size of UW's best players. Do the Knights sell out to make blocks on defense, or are they more disciplined? Who wins this irresistible force vs. immovable object subplot on Sunday?
OTB: They don't sell out for blocks, no. Greg Lewis is probably the most improved player on this team, and plays great position interior defense. If there is one place that Rutgers can win the match-up it's on the defensive end in the paint. It's not a guarantee, but you shouldn't see Rutgers selling out for a block only to lead to weak side lay-ups by Wisconsin. That hasn't happened much this year.
B5Q: With Junior Etou struggling of late, do you foresee Myles Mack needing to resume more of a scorer's role in the offense or might one of the younger guards be able to step up and become a third option for Rutgers? Are these players good fits for the system Eddie Jordan wants to run at Rutgers?
OTB: I have a lot of hope for Mike Williams. He is a grinder and comes in with the reputation as a shooter. He hasn't shown it yet, but the potential is there and I can see him having a game or two where he finally gets hot from outside the arc. Williams and Etou are Jordan recruits and I think they definitely fit what Jordan wants to do. In fact, most of the kids Eddie has brought in fit his style, the problem is his seniors and stars don't. That's not on Jordan or the kids, and it's just unfortunate.
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