The Cincinnati Bearcats )13-3 1-2) hit the road Saturday night looking to snap a two game losing streak against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (11-3 2-1).
Unlike Notre Dame, Rutgers isn't a team that is going to wow you statistically, but head coach Mike Rice has a gritty bunch that knows how to grind out victories with a blend of veteran leaders and dynamic young guards. They are looking to build off the momentum of defeating Pitt in their conference home opener and following that up with a road win over St John's.
On the offensive end Rutgers finds themselves mostly in the middle of the pack compared to the rest of the conference, and do have a few holes that Cincinnati will attempt to exploit Saturday night.
The primary one will be a chance for head coach Mick Cronin's squad to return to the pressure style of defense that was a staple early in the season. After facing 3 of the top 4 teams in the Big East in protecting the ball it will put a Rutgers squad that is 13th in the league with 15.0 turnovers a night to the test. They also rank only 11th in the league in assists at 13.7 per so the Cincinnati defense will have an opportunity to make things difficult for 40 minutes.
Turning them over is doubly important because when they protect the rock they are #3 in the league shooting 47% from the floor and #1 from the charity stripe at 74%. They also connect at a solid 34.8% as a team from long range so there is a triple threat factor if they can settle into their offense and get comfortable.
Sophomore guard Eli Carter leads the way at 16.9 ppg and has the ability to hang 25 plus on any given night with a mix of deep range and creative shot making around the basket. He is a bit of a risk taker in terms of shot selection, connecting on 41% FG and 33% from three, but if he gets hot it is very tough to cool him down.
Another sophomore and New Jersey native is next on the list in the Rutgers arsenal in Myles Mack. Unlike the quick trigger on Carter, Mack is much more efficient shooting 54% from the floor and 48% from long distance. His 12.9 ppg is second on the team, and if Carter is playing under control Mack can be very deadly as a spot up shooter from the wing.
A trio of athletic and versatile forwards round out the starting rotation in seniors Dane Miller and Austin Johnson along with redshirt junior Wally Judge. While none of the trio present a threat from the perimeter, they are all efficient scorers connecting on over 50% of the shot attempts. Judge (6.6) and Miller (5.7) lead the way on the glass and also anchor the defense with the ability to defend multiple positions and cover for some gambling by the guards in passing lanes.
Rice goes with a solid 8 man rotation with former Cincinnati recruit Jerome Seagears being the primary sub at guard even though he has picked up a few recent starts to get in the flow earlier in the game. Kadeem Jack and Mike Poole see roughly 16 minutes a night each spelling the forward rotation . The bench group doesn't provide much scoring impact, but Seagears is a solid lead guard while Poole and Jack each have three years experience in the program and do well at filling their roles bringing some toughness on the glass and the defensive end.
As a team Rutgers allows opponents to shoot 40.3% from the floor and 30.5% from distance. They like to pack the lane to prevent driving angles and then use their length and athleticism to close out quickly on shooters from the perimeter.
The Scarlet Knights can be a bit vulnerable on the defensive glass without a true center that gets major minutes as they come in 11th in the Big East in defensive rebounding percentage at 66.7%. At 8.0 steals per game they are active in the passing lanes in the half court, and will use some full court pressure to speed an opponent up from time to time.
Expect this to be another grind it out style Big East rock fight, and Cincinnati is going to have to make plays down the stretch to end their recent struggles and get back to even in league play.