Iowa heads back on the road to face a veteran Rutgers squad
Scarlet Knights have come a long way under head coach Steve Pikiell
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – It sort of feels like Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr. having been playing for Rutgers for about a decade.
Some might feel the same about Jordan Bohannon and Luka Garza playing for Iowa because they’ve been around for a while, too.
Rutgers and Iowa are two of the most experienced and veteran teams in the Big Ten, and that is helping to fuel their current success.
Both teams are mature and battled tested.
Both teams are talented.
And both teams are poised to take their success to a higher level this season.
However, that’ll take winning a majority of their conference games, but that won’t be easy, especially when Iowa and Rutgers face each other, as will be the case on Saturday at the R.A.C. in Piscataway, N.J.
The 14th-ranked Scarlet Knights are 7-1 overall, including 3-1 in Big Ten play, and are a perfect 6-0 in home games, winning their last two home games by a combined eight points over Purdue and nationally-ranked Illinois
“They’ve got a veteran club,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “They’ve got multiple scorers. They share the ball. They’re a team that has an aggressing mindset at both ends. When you hear that, you always think defense and they’ve been a really good defensive team. But they’ve got a very aggressive offensive mindset as well.”
Perhaps the biggest concern for Rutgers, besides trying to contain Iowa All-America center Luka Garza, is injuries to Harper (sprained ankle) and starting center Cliff Omoruyi (sprained knee).
Harper ranks seventh in the nation in scoring at 23.4 points per game. But he hardly is a solo act as Rutgers showed by defeating Purdue 81-76 this past Tuesday without Harper
Fran McCaffery is preparing as if Harper will play on Saturday.
And with the 6-foot-6 Harper and the 6-4 Baker, Rutgers has two of the more experienced and established players in the conference.
Baker is healthy after being slowed by an injury earlier in the season.
“I think Harper is one of the best players in the country,” McCaffery said. “And I think they’re even better now because Baker is back. At the beginning of the year he was hurt.”
Senior Jacob Young helped to fill the void while Baker was injured, and McCaffery thinks Young has benefitted from that experience.
“It might have been a blessing for them because Young really blossomed, and now they’re all playing together,” McCaffery said.
Both head coaches will have the utmost respect for their opponent on Saturday.
“(Iowa) could be a national championship contender, without a doubt,” said Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell.
Iowa should be at full strength on Saturday as Fran McCaffery said sophomore point guard Joe Toussaint is ready to go after having suffered what appeared to be a minor injury in the 87-72 victory over Northwestern this past Tuesday.
Senior point guard Jordan Bohannon made six 3-point baskets against Northwestern and led Iowa with 24 points, including 19 in the second half.
Sophomore guard C.J Fredrick also played a big role against Northwestern, scoring 17 of his 19 points in the first half.
No. 10 Iowa surrounds the 6-11 Garza with multiple 3-point shooters, and when the shots are falling from 3-point range, the Hawkeyes are difficult to defend, because for opposing defenses, it often comes down to picking your poison.
But on the other hand, Rutgers ranks second in the Big Ten in 3-point field goal percentage defense at just 30 percent.
And though it’s still early in conference play, the winner of Saturday’s game will stay near the top of the conference standings, and will gain some much-needed momentum.
Iowa lost its only Big Ten road game so far this season against Minnesota, and did so in gut-wrenching fashion by blowing a seven-point lead with 45 seconds left in regular before losing in overtime on Christmas day.
A victory over Rutgers would help to offset the damage from that loss.
Fran McCaffery and Steve Pikiell both have performed an impressive rebuilding job at their respective schools, and now they both have two of the top teams in the conference.
Both head coaches have excelled at developing players, and at finding talent where others might not see it.
And when you put it all together, it should make for an intriguing matchup on Saturday.
Iowa vs. Rutgers
When: Saturday, 1:05 p.m.
Where: Rutgers Activity Center, Piscataway, N.J.
Radio: Hawkeye Radio Network
All-time series: Saturday will be the 10th meeting between Iowa and Rutgers. The Hawkeyes are 7-2 against the Scarlet Knights, including a 3-1 record in Piscataway, New Jersey. Iowa recorded a 71-69 win over Rutgers in its last visit to Piscataway, New Jersey on Feb. 16, 2019. Freshman Joe Wieskamp made his first 3-pointer of the game on a banked 3-pointer with 0.2 seconds left.