Rutgers (14-9, 8-5 CONF) at 14 Wisconsin (19-4, 10-3 CONF)
Tipoff 2:00PM ET Saturday February 12, 2022
Airing on FS1
After losing a heartbreaker at Northwestern, the Scarlet Knights have had a week better than anyone on the banks could have expected, defeating two top-25 teams at home. Wisconsin has continued to impress coming off a road win at Michigan St. giving them a 10-3 record in conference games, good for the BIG 10 regular season lead. Both squads are riding high after impressive performances, but only one team can get a step closer to their goals on Saturday. Tomorrow, the Scarlet Knights will take the flight up to Madison, Wisconsin to try and keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive.
Rutgers Road Struggles
The Scarlet Knights’ poor play away from Piscataway has been well documented. Rutgers is just 2-7 in road games this year, despite a veteran core that should be able to stand up to the challenge. While it is very difficult to win on the road in the BIG 10 conference, Rutgers cannot use this as the only excuse. Going back to November, the Scarlet Knights lost at UMass and DePaul, going 0-3 on the road in their non-conference play. The Rutgers stars shoot significantly worse on the road, with Geo Baker shooting 16% worse from deep, and Ron Harper Jr. shooting over 10% worse from the field on the road. Something will have to change for Rutgers to have a chance tomorrow.
The Emergence of Paul Mulcahy
Despite the road struggles, there is reason for optimism heading into Saturday. Junior point guard Paul Mulcahy has burst onto the scene and has shown that the future may not be so dull in Piscataway once the careers of Baker and Harper Jr. conclude. Mulcahy appeared off the bench in every game as a freshman and was a starter for his sophomore season last year. Throughout his Rutgers tenure, he has been known for being a strong role player who makes good decisions and plays with effort. Recently, Mulcahy has broken out and shown that he is a legitimate scoring threat as well. In his last three games, Mulcahy is averaging 19.3 points, 8.3 assists, and 5.7 rebounds per game. Rutgers can certainly compete with anyone in the nation if Mulcahy and the other Rutgers stars are on top of their game.
Penn State stopped Johnny Davis. Can Anyone Else?
Up until 6 days ago, Johnny Davis was practically unstoppable. On the year, Davis is averaging 20.8 pts and 8.2 rebounds and leads the Badgers in almost every statistical category. Then, in an uncharacteristic low scoring game against Penn State, Davis scored 4 points on 15.4% shooting. As what happens with many stars, Davis seemed like he was trying to do too much. Despite winning the game, Davis looked human. Against Michigan State, Davis returned to his normal form dropping 25 points in the Badger’s win on Tuesday. The Scarlet Knights will likely try to slow down Davis with BIG 10 POY candidate Caleb McConnell. With McConnell playing tough defense, the Scarlet Knights can hope to frustrate Davis and the Badgers and force him into taking bad shots. If McConnell struggles against Davis, it may be a long night for Coach Pikiell’s squad.
This game technically isn’t a “must win” for Rutgers, but looking at their remaining schedule a loss would mean that near perfect play would be required down the stretch to have a chance at the NCAA tournament. If Wisconsin shoots well and Davis gets going, Rutgers does not have much of a chance. However, the Badgers do not tend to blow teams out, even against inferior opponents at home. Rutgers has a chance to be in this game down the stretch, and the 10-0 run to close the game against Ohio State shows just how dangerous they can be when within striking distance. Rutgers likely will not shoot overwhelmingly well, but they can make up for that on the defensive end. Expect the Scarlet Knights to come out with intensity and try to be physical against a Wisconsin team that has not faced much adversity yet this year. This feels like a potential turning point in the Scarlet Knights season, and I think that Mulcahy and the Scarlet Knights will be up for the challenge of defeating their third straight ranked opponent.
Final Score Prediction: Rutgers 64 – Wisconsin 61