Happy Thursday Spartans. I hope you are not suffering too much withdrawal from having to wait 6 days between games. Good news is we are less than 48 hours from our next game and we are going to start kicking out some content again to you, our faithful & beloved readers. And since the last article of this sort was so popular (checking notes... 0 comments), we decided to run it back. So I sat down with Greg Patuto, writer for ‘On The Banks’, Rutgers’ SB Nation page and asked him 5 questions ahead of Saturday’s matchup at Madison Square Garden. Before we get to the Q&A, can we discuss the name of Rutgers’ site a moment? ‘On The Banks’? Did they get our fight song mixed up with their own? I’m sure there is a good reason for them using this name, and maybe we will ask about it in some future article. For today, it will remain a baffling mystery. Without further ado...
The Only Colors: Is the fanbase irritated by moving a home game from the RAC to MSG? Do a lot of students travel for this?
Greg Patuto: If they are, they shouldn’t be. Rutgers played Michigan at the Garden a couple years back and it counted as a road game for Michigan. Any chance to play at MSG should be welcomed for any team in the nation. It is an incredible venue for college basketball. Having the game be against Tom Izzo and Michigan State makes it even more exciting. A Saturday afternoon tip should make for a great atmosphere, especially with students having such a short trip to the game.
TOC: A couple weeks ago, MSU beat Rutgers 70-57 in East Lansing. Despite the win, the big thing many MSU fans took from that game was how dominating Rutgers was on the offensive glass. I see Rutgers currently leads the Big Ten in offensive rebounds, but in that game, you were even well above your average. Why is this team so good at collecting their own misses?
GP: In that particular game, Rutgers and its fans will likely mention right away that they do not want to have that many chances for offensive rebounds again. Shooting 34% from the field, 2-for-17 from three-point range, that’s not going to get it done in any game.
On the other hand, offensive rebounding is all about effort first and positioning second. Rutgers has been able to get it done because it has the personnel that wants to go after misses. It does not stop with Cliff Omoruyi. Mawot Mag is extremely active on the boards and so is Aundre Hyatt. He brings great size and versatility coming off the bench at 6-foot-6. Caleb McConnell is an all-around player who specializes in defense and rebounding.
The players have bought into Steve Pikiell’s methods of beating opponents in many ways. They are a defensive team that does not want to play games in the 80s or 90s.
TOC: Rutgers has had some big wins this year. And you are the only team who has beaten Purdue. But you have also lost to Seton Hall, Ohio State, and Iowa twice. Who is this team? What is its floor for this season? What is its ceiling?
GP: The ultimate ceiling for this team is getting a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament and making it to the second weekend with hopes of getting to the Elite Eight. There is no dominant team in the country this year and Rutgers has shown that it can compete with anyone, but it has also shown that it can get tripped up easily.
It is safe to say that Purdue is all but locked into the top seed in the Big Ten but Rutgers is fighting for the second, along with about eight other teams.
Fans were happy to see Rutgers get through the non-conference schedule without being tripped up by a lesser team. The toughest stretch came after the Indiana win. Rutgers lost to Ohio State on the road. Of course, that should not have been a loss because of a missed call by these Big Ten refs that seem to be having a tough year, but it counts as one in the standings regardless. The Seton Hall game was an in-state matchup where both sides played as hard as possible.
Unfortunately, Iowa just has their number and that’s been the case for years now. I think this game against Michigan State is extremely important. They got the better of Rutgers in the first meeting and it could be detrimental to drop another game.
TOC: Let’s talk about your top player, Clifford Omoruyi. He is scoring a career high this season, but his FG% is lower than it was his first 2 years. I am sure much of that has to do with volume. What is the best way to stop him from scoring?
GP: Cliff is one of the most athletic players in the nation. I don’t think that’s a crazy thing to say. He can jump through the roof and is clearly not afraid to dunk on anyone. That has been his main method of scoring. Cliff still struggles with his back to the basket. He has trouble handling the ball and has not shown consistent touch around the rim. There have been instances of this at times but as a whole, Cliff does not thrive in the post.
That will have to change if he wants to take the next step at the NBA level but in college, he is able to dominate using strength and athleticism at times. He has stepped out every now and then to shoot from the perimeter but that has happened less as the season has gone on. That might have been something he was trying out but is pulling back a bit. I think the best way to stop Cliff is to try and match his physicality, keep him off the boards as much as possible, and make him show a post move and make a difficult shot.
TOC: Rutgers has a pretty evenly dispersed set of scorers. Who is the one player, other than Omoruyi, who this team needs to have a good game in order to get victories? Who can get hot and really turn the tide in a given matchup?
GP: It is the backcourt, either Paul Mulcahy or Cam Spencer. Both have taken over at different times. Cam has hit big shots against Purdue and Northwestern in the final minute to win the game. He was leading the team in scoring up until a couple weeks ago when Cliff took over. Cam is near the top of the leaderboard in steals in the conference and is shooting 42% from three-point range. He has been everything Rutgers expected since transferring.
As for Paul, the team knows what they get with him and he continues to get better. Nearly five assists per game, almost two steals per game. Mulcahy can get it done in many ways. I mean, he finished with 15-8-6 against Purdue when they were the top team in the country.
Rutgers has gotten consistent play from the backcourt and that has been the main reason for success this season, along with their defensive ability.
TOC: Bonus Question: Predict the score for Saturday’s game.
GP: I think Rutgers shoots the ball better this time around. It is hard to get much worse. This game being on a neutral court makes it more even. Not to say that Michigan State won because it was home but that is clearly an advantage in college basketball. I expect a similar amount of points to be scored but swing some more toward Rutgers.
Final prediction: Rutgers 67, Michigan State 63
The Only Colors would like to thank Greg for his contribution to this article and we hope his prediction is horribly wrong. Okay, TOC Nation, let’s here your predictions.