No. 7 Michigan (20-2, 9-2 Big Ten) dropped two spots in Monday’s AP Top 25 poll after Friday’s 74-59 loss at Iowa. The Wolverines face a quick turnaround and travel to New Jersey Tuesday night where they will face a plucky Rutgers (11-10, 4-7 Big Ten) team that has won three of its last four. The Wolverines dropped to 3-2 in their last five with Friday’s loss.
“Iowa was not a good game. It was probably our worst performance of the year,” said head coach John Beilein. “Maybe our worst defensive performance in over a year, maybe go back to the game at Nebraska last year.” Michigan lost to the Huskers 72-52 in Lincoln on January 18, 2018. The Wolverines did not lose another game by double-digits until the National Championship game vs Villanova.
“Offensively we were as inept as we’ve been maybe a couple other times this year,” Beilein added. “You go from that and you go to Rutgers, which hangs its hat on defense, and that is gonna be really hard to score.”
The Scarlet Knights are ranked 41st in defensive efficiency entering this game according to KenPom. Third-year coach Steve Pikiell is slowly but surely helping the program out of the depths of the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights won three consecutive Big Ten games for the first time in program history this season and have already set a program record for Big Ten wins in a season (four), it could have been four B1G wins in a row were it not for RU’s loss at Ohio State on Saturday. Beilein was asked about what makes the Knights different compared to prior seasons.
“The one constant they have had all three seasons is their defense,” Beilein replied. “They also ended Ohio State’s season two years ago as well. They just have a defensive presence, the bodies, the rebounding, it takes time to grow that, it takes time to grow your culture. They’ve lost a lot of close games over the years as well.”
It’s been an up and down campaign for the Scarlet Knights, but they have proven to be dangerous at the Rutgers Athletic Center this season against conference foes. Michigan knows it cannot perform how it did against Iowa and expect to leave Piscataway late Tuesday night with a victory. In an effort to try and fix some of the issues allaying his team, Beilein used Sunday’s practice to focus on Michigan in an effort to have his players work on individual development. Freshman Ignas Brazdeikis chimed in on what exactly went down at the Davidson Player Development Center Super Bowl Sunday.
“It was cool, usually after a two-day prep we focus on the other team and see what we can improve on but this time we were just working on us,” Brazdeikis said. “The practice intensity level was ramped up for sure, we did a lot of transition drills and it really changed up the flow of practice and it was fun for all of us.”
“He likes to call it a Michigan day,” said sophomore guard Jordan Poole.” “Just to get better, figure out ways that we can make our team better, getting out in transition better, figuring out ways we can execute our offensive and defensive plays better. Being able to have a coach that focuses on our individual development as a team says a lot about us.”
Michigan may be mired in a struggle right now but this program has been in far worse situations in early February in the past. A win at Rutgers in a somewhat convincing manner will go a long way in boosting the Wolverines confidence as the offense tries to regain its footing before taking on other Big Ten title contenders such as Wisconsin come Saturday. Nothing about Tuesday’s game will be easy, and a win is no guarantee. John Beilein is well aware of the challenges that beckon Tuesday night.
“Each time we’ve gone to Rutgers we have been fortunate enough to win and every game was just a gut-wrenching, down to the last second, the ball bounced our way and we won, it is gonna be very similar like that,” said Beilein.
Michigan and Rutgers tip off at 8 PM ET Tuesday in Piscataway inside a sold-out Rutgers Athletic Center. The game will be broadcast on Big Ten Network with Brandon Gaudin and Shon Morris on the call. Be sure to follow @WolverineLounge and @ByJaySarkar on Twitter for in-game updates and much more.