Harty: Rutgers winning on Thursday seems like mission impossible
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Fran McCaffery would disagree with this statement, but it’s hard to think of any scenario in which the Iowa men’s basketball could lose to Rutgers on Thursday.
Actually, there is one: Iowa’s top seven players suffer from a sudden case of food poisoning and miss Thursday’s game in Piscataway, N.J. The depleted Hawkeyes hang tough despite having just seven bench players, including five walk-ons, but ultimately fall short in the end.
But since that is unlikely to happen, the Hawkeyes should face little resistance on Thursday.
They probably won’t surpass Purdue’s 50-point beat-down (107-57) over Rutgers on Monday, a game in which the Boilermakers had more rebounds (63) than Rutgers had points.
Iowa also might not beat the 20-point spread.
But the 9th-ranked Hawkeyes should soundly defeat a Rutgers team that has lost each of its last five games by at least 22 points.
Rutgers lost at home to Nebraska, 90-56. So combined with the Purdue demolition, that’s two Big Ten games that Rutgers has lost by 84 points.
Losing is one thing. But Rutgers hasn’t even been competitive in most of its games.
This game will test the Iowa players probably more mentally than physically.
Iowa’s No. 9 ranking is its highest ranking during the McCaffery coaching era, which started in 2010. A victory over Rutgers would make Iowa 6-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since the 1986-87 season.
So it seems clear that Rutgers isn’t anywhere close to being at Iowa’s level, or at Purdue’s level, for that matter.
“That’s an anomaly, that won’t happen to them again for the rest of the season,’ Iowa senior center Adam Woodbury said of Rutgers’ 50-point loss to Purdue. “We have to look past that and realize that it’s real good team that is capable of beating us if we don’t come prepared and have our best.”
McCaffery couldn’t have said it any better. Never one to short-change an opponent, McCaffery could make Rutgers sound like a cross between the Golden State Warriors and Duke.
Showering an opponent with praise is part of McCaffery’s mental approach to each game. He does it partly out of respect for his fellow opponents, but also to help set the tone and send the right message.
It’s easier for McCaffery to set the tone with four senior starters providing leadership.
Woodbury was asked on Tuesday is he was confident that his younger teammates were approaching Thursday’s game with the right frame of mind.
“I’m going to try and relay that message as soon as possible because every team is ready to beat us every night that we step on the court,” Woodbury said. “So we have to have our best every time out and the Big Ten is a tough conference.
“So one through 14, is capable of beating anybody.”
Woodbury then pointed out that Rutgers defeated 2015 NCAA runner-up Wisconsin at home last season. The Badgers were without star center Frank Kaminsky, but there still is no good explanation for the loss other than saying things happen sometimes that defy explanation.
So you never say never, but it’s also fair to say that Rutgers is one of the worst teams in the Big Ten for quite some time. Rutgers had to replace its two best players from last season in Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack, but that team only finished 2-16 in the Big Ten.
The addition of Rutgers to the Big Ten might have created more television revenue, but it’s been a disaster from a men’s basketball standpoint.
The only thing Thursday’s game really has going for it is that it’s a conference game, one of 18 on Iowa’s schedule.
It’s a game that Iowa should win easily, because let’s face it, Rutgers is setting a new Big Ten standard for being bad.