Rutgers (16-10, 10-6 CONF) at Michigan (14-11, 8-7 CONF)
Wednesday, February 23, 2022
Tipoff 7:00PM ET, Airing on BTN
This game will undoubtedly garner national attention, and not just due to the potential NCAA tournament bubble ramifications. Due to the altercation following Michigan’s loss at Wisconsin on Sunday, Michigan head coach Juwan Howard will be absent from the bench, as he is serving the first of his five game suspension. Michigan will also be without F Moussa Diabate and F Terrance Williams II, who are also suspended due to the Wisconsin incident. With both teams needing to win this game to keep their tournament hopes alive, there will definitely be a palpable tension in Ann Arbor tonight.
Rutgers and Michigan last squared off on January 4th, resulting in a 75-67 Rutgers victory. With Michigan short-handed due to positive COVID tests, Rutgers handled business with relative ease. Michigan never really seemed to get going on offense, shooting just 20% (3-15) from 3 point range. Hunter Dickinson and Moussa Diabate were the only bright spots for the Wolverines, combining for 40 points. However, after the game, Diabate got into a scuffle with some Rutgers players and was escorted off the floor. Even with Diabate suspended, there will definitely be some leftover animosity between these two teams.
Rutgers’ 4 game winning streak came to an end at the hands of #5 Purdue on Sunday. Purdue started off the game scorching hot, making 6 threes in the first 10 minutes of play. Rutgers battled back, but Purdue was able to stop Rutgers’ runs before they could claw back into the game. Rutgers’ offense played well, but their defense put up its worst efficiency grade of the season, in large part due to foul troubles for Caleb McConnell and Paul Mulcahy. The seemingly quick whistles put the Boilermakers on the line 12 more times than the Knights, leading to 11 more makes for Purdue. Michigan does not nearly have the amount of prolific shooters that Purdue has, so the Knights should be able to dramatically improve their defensive output. Rutgers will also likely be hoping to have a different crew of referees for tonight’s game to prevent such a dramatic difference in free throws again.
March Madness Implications
Rutgers and Michigan would both benefit greatly from a win tonight. Rutgers controls its destiny from here on out, as many bracketologists have moved them firmly into the tournament field and off the bubble. If Rutgers can win two more games, they will likely have done enough to punch their ticket to the big dance for a second consecutive year. Michigan, however, has more question marks surrounding its candidacy for the tournament. They sit on the very brink of the bubble, as ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Wolverines as one of his “Last Four In”. Michigan likely needs this game a little bit more than Rutgers does, but it will not be an easy hill to climb.
This is going to be a hard fought game. There is a lot on the line for both of these teams. Even with absences of key contributors, Michigan will not be a pushover. Rutgers is no stranger to losing to under-manned teams, as they fell to a Minnesota team with only 7 healthy players in January. The Scarlet Knights cannot afford a similar slip-up. I believe Steve Pikiell knows that and will put his team in the best position to win. Michigan will come out energized and fast early in the game and will force Rutgers to make plays. However, I believe the absence of Moussa Diabate will prove too much for the Wolverines, as they simply do not have many other scoring options. The Scarlet Knights defense will bounce back from its lackluster performance at Purdue in a big way. Rutgers pulls away in the second half of this one.