The new college basketball season enters its third week of play, and we are starting to gradually ease into the conference portion of the schedule. Tonight features a relatively light slate of action headlined by the Big Ten Conference opener between Rutgers and Maryland, followed by the Big East Conference opener between Marquette and Creighton.
Who has the edge in each matchup and who should you look to take tonight? Let’s dive into tonight’s doubleheader action.
#19 Rutgers at Maryland
Spread: Maryland -2
Total: O/U 137.5
Time/TV: 6:05 PM ET, Big Ten Network
The best conference in all of college basketball is back with the headline game of the evening when Maryland plays host to #19 Rutgers in the Big Ten conference opener for each school.
The two teams contrast each other in a manner that makes this matchup quite intriguing. Maryland enters tonight’s game with a 4-1 record but is coming off a disappointing 67-51 loss to Clemson in their one true test of the season thus far. The 51 points scored in their defeat at the hands of the Tigers was their sixth-lowest offensive output since Mark Turgeon took over as Maryland coach back in 2011.
Even with their clunker of a performance against Clemson, Maryland still features one of the more efficient offensive units in all of college basketball. In the most recent rankings from college hoops analytics guru Ken Pomeroy, the Terps feature the 9th most efficient offense in the country highlighted by their blistering 60.2% shooting percentage from inside the perimeter (14th overall in the country), and near 41 percent shooting percentage from three-point range. The numbers, however, could be slightly boosted by their weaker non-conference schedule that saw Maryland earn victories over Old Dominion, Navy, Mount St. Mary’s, and Saint Peter’s – all of whom rank outside the KenPom top 100.
Rutgers, on the other hand, has continued their strong play from a season ago with a 4-0 start to their season headlined by a 79-69 win over Syracuse last Tuesday night. Where Maryland is an offensively driven team, Rutgers is the direct opposite, looking to bully teams, clean up the glass and defend opponents up and down the floor on the way to easy buckets.
While the Terps are decent enough on defense to give teams issues from time to time, Rutgers is one of the best defensive teams in all of college basketball. A season ago they ranked 6th in defensive efficiency, this season they check-in as the 13th best defensive unit putting them at roughly the same pace as they were a season ago.
Rutgers Players to Watch
The Scarlet Knights returned several key contributors from last season’s team that was poised to end a 30-year NCAA Tournament drought, but none are more important than Rutgers’ trio of talented guards Ron Harper Jr. (22.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg), Montez Mathis (16.3 ppg), and Jacob Young (16.0 ppg).
The straw that stirs Rutgers’ drink is that of Ron Harper Jr., who you might have guessed from the name is the son of former NBA Champion Ron Harper. The 6-6 tweener is the lifeblood of Rutgers’ entire roster and the team usually goes how he goes. Through the first four games of the season, Harper has already shown improvement on his outside shot as he has tallied 11 three-point shots on the season already when he only made 68 threes the previous two seasons combined.
Harper’s outside shooting gives Rutgers a much-needed threat from outside, as a season ago Rutgers was amongst the worst shooting teams in all of college basketball as they ranked 295th in the nation in three-point shooting. This season that number has improved substantially up to 175th, but outside of Harper they are still not a good shooting team from the perimeter as only three other players have connected from distance this season.
The Scarlet Knights are also downright abysmal from the free-throw line, which is a gambler’s worst nightmare in a close game with an even tighter point spread. As a team, Rutgers shoots under 60% from the stripe, good for the 290th overall ranking in college basketball. Gross. Gross. Gross.
Maryland Players to Watch
No one in the Big Ten lost more from the sudden cancelation of the 2019/20 college basketball season than the Maryland Terrapins. Not only was Maryland on the verge of potentially making a run at a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but they also lost two of the program’s biggest contributors since Turgeon took over some ten years ago when Anthony Cowan graduated from the school and star big man Jalen Smith departed for the NBA.
As a result of those two big departures, last season’s role players had to step into the new shoes of being a leader on this team. Through the first five games of the season, juniors Eric Ayala (13.4 ppg, 40% 3PM) and Aaron Wiggins (9.8 ppg) have done just that. The veteran leadership on the roster has allowed for younger talent like Hakim Hart (12.2 ppg) and Donta Scott (11.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg) to step up and immediately contribute.
Rutgers – Maryland Prediction
While the Terrapins 4-1 start to a season that expected to be a soft rebuild of sorts for Turgeon is certainly promising, there were a lot of concerns that surfaced when Maryland finally played against some competition with a pulse. Clemson harassed the Maryland backcourt all game and smothered a Terrapin offense into just 40 percent shooting and 15 turnovers. That may not bode well considering Rutgers plays a very similar style that Clemson does.
Conversely, a season ago, Rutgers was an entirely different team when they left the friendly confines of the RAC. At home, Rutgers finished the season with a perfect 18-0 record. When they left Piscataway though, especially in conference play, they went a meager 2-8.
There will not be any fans in attendance for this evening’s game, so perhaps that mitigates some of the road struggles that Rutgers faced a season ago, but until Rutgers proves they can win on the road in the Big Ten, I will side with the slight home fav and look for them to bounce back following their worst performance of the young season.
Prediction: Maryland 74, Rutgers 70
Best Bet: Maryland -2
Marquette at #9 Creighton
Spread: Creighton -7.5
Total: O/U 151
Time/TV: 9:05 PM ET, FS1
Marquette and Creighton will kick off the start of their respective Big East Conference schedules when the two sides tangle from Omaha tonight.
The Bluejays enter tonight’s contest with a 4-1 record on the season and a Top 10 ranking in the recent polls. Their lone loss of the season came in heartbreaking fashion a week ago when Creighton’s Marcus Zegarowski missed the game-tying free throw in the waning moments of a 73-72 loss to 5th ranked Kansas last Tuesday.
Marquette meanwhile is 4-2 to start their young season with an impressive 67-65 win over #4 Wisconsin nestled in between losses to Oklahoma State and UCLA being the highlights of their young season thus far.
Marquette Players to Watch
Steve Wojciechowski entered the new season with the daunting task of replacing Markus Howard, the best scorer in school history and one of the best scorers in the history of college basketball, but Howard’s departure has allowed Wojo to return to his roots and create a more balanced team going forward.
The Golden Eagles are led by the inside-outside attack from senior guard Koby McEwen (15.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and freshman big man Dawson Garcia (12.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg). Garcia is a slender 6-11, 230 pounds with outside range and could present a host of challenges for a Creighton side that likes to play small and rolls out a guard-heavy lineup.
Another name to keep an eye on this evening is that of Ohio State transfer D.J. Carton (10.3 ppg) who struggled out of the gates initially but just had his best performance of his young Marquette career with an 18-point night in their loss to UCLA.
Creighton Players to Watch
If you’ve never watched Creighton play basketball, do yourself a favor and tune-in tonight. In all of college basketball, there may not be a team that plays a more entertaining brand of basketball than Greg McDermott’s Bluejays.
Creighton has a bevy of three-point snipers, including four starters shooting better than 38% from distance this season with star guard Marcus Zegarowski (15.0 ppg, 40.5% 3PM), Denzel Mahoney (15.0 ppg, 40% 3PM), Christian Bishop (13.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 50% 3PM), and Damien Jefferson (10.8 ppg, 38.5%) lighting up the scoreboard with great regularity from downtown.
All of this mentions the fact that last season’s best shooter, senior Mitch Ballock, is actually in a shooting slump to start the season and is only shooting 30% from distance in comparison to the scorching hot 43.5% three-point shooting percentage he posted a season ago.
Marquette – Creighton Prediction
If Creighton has a night where all of their shooters are on, they can beat anyone in the country and beat them quite decisively.
For Marquette to have any realistic chance of pulling the road upset in their conference opener, they will need to continue their feisty defensive play and hope that Creighton is simply off the mark tonight.
Considering this is the second consecutive road trip for a Marquette team still trying to transition back to a team that isn’t so dependent on one guard’s scoring, I’m not sure this is the best time for Marquette to be running into Creighton.
I think Creighton is one of the most underrated teams in all of college basketball and they will remind us all of that tonight with a big home victory.
Prediction: Creighton 83, Marquette 73
Best Bet: Creighton -7.5 (Like it as high as -9)