Rutgers (16-9, 10-5 CONF) at 4 Purdue (23-4, 12-4 CONF)
Sunday February 20, 2022
Tipoff 5:30PM ET, Airing on FS1
A little over two months ago, Ron Harper Jr. and Rutgers shocked the world and upset number one ranked Purdue at home. At this point in the season, I’m not sure anyone would be surprised if Rutgers were to beat Purdue at home. Lucky for the Boilermakers, Sunday’s matchup will take place in West Lafayette, Indiana. Rutgers showed again on Wednesday that they are a tournament caliber team and can beat anyone in the nation, defeating #12 Illinois by a score of 70-59. Now, Rutgers will attempt to extend its ranked team win streak to 5, and its road win streak to two, something that the Scarlet Knights have not been able to do all year.
Can anyone stop Rutgers?
If you had asked this question in the month of November, the answer would have most likely been that anyone and everyone could stop Rutgers. The same question today warrants a completely different answer, as the Scarlet Knights have propelled themselves into not only the conversation for an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament, but making a deep run in the Big 10 Tournament and March Madness. I fully believe that there is not a single team that would be able to go into the Jersey Mike’s Arena this weekend and defeat the Scarlet Knights. On the road, Rutgers is certainly beatable, but do not count them out. Rutgers plans for its next victim to be Purdue, a win that would put the Scarlet Knights in a great spot for the NCAA Tournament. Purdue is excellent at home, and Mackey Arena will surely be the toughest place that the Scarlet Knights have played this year. Sunday will be a tough test for Pikiell and the Scarlet Knights.
The first time around
I’m sure that if you are reading this article, you know what the outcome was of the first time Rutgers played Purdue this season. Let’s dive a little deeper into how the Scarlet Knights pulled off the 70-68 upset. Ron Harper Jr. was the star of the game, but not just because of his buzzer beating half court heave. Harper Jr. finished the game with 30 points and 10 rebounds and was clearly the best player on the court that day. His health will be a major factor in determining the outcome of this game. Suffering an injury to his non-shooting hand in the final minutes of the win over Illinois, Ron Harper Jr. is currently listed as day-to-day. There were also key contributions from Big 10 DPOY candidate Caleb McConnell, as well as Mawot Mag, who was filling in as a starter for the injured Geo Baker. Paul Mulcahy had 8 assists, and with the help of a packed JMA, the Scarlet Knights were able to play stellar defense down the stretch and come from behind to win.
Containing the Purdue Bigs
Despite Rutgers’ recent success, Purdue will certainly be the favorite on Sunday. The combination of Zach Edey and Trevion Williams is a one-two punch like no other in the nation. Rutgers will need to crash the defensive boards to prevent second chance points, something that they did not do a great job of in the first matchup, giving up 16 offensive rebounds. If Rutgers cannot limit the extra possessions of Purdue Sunday, the outcome may not be pretty. The Purdue big men also open space for standout guard Jaden Ivey and three-point sniper Sasha Stefanovic.
In the first matchup against Purdue, Paul Mulcahy had 0 points and the Scarlet Knights were without Geo Baker. Both of those issues have since been solved with the return of Baker and the emergence of Mulcahy. Obviously, the health of Harper Jr. greatly impacts this game, but over the past few weeks Rutgers has shown that they no longer rely on the 6’6” senior to carry the offense. Rutgers has now revealed that they have multiple scorers and can get key contributions off the bench any night. Going on the road to play the number 4 team in the nation would intimidate many teams, but with how Rutgers is playing it is just another opportunity to bolster their resume. Of course it is possible that Rutgers loses this game, but there are no signs of slowing down coming from this Scarlet Knights squad. Rutgers has won four straight games against Purdue and will extend both that streak and their ranked team win streak to 5 on Sunday.
Final Score Prediction: Rutgers 74 – Purdue 70