BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – There are "horses for courses'' and "different strokes for different folks.'' There are also things that just don't fit together, like big guys in small cars, pineapple on pizza or ketchup on hot dogs.
In basketball, it's the same thing. Sometimes there are just bad matchups. You see it all the time. Just look inside the Big Ten this season. Ohio State is 18-5 and has been great all year – but the Buckeyes have lost TWICE to unranked Purdue. Iowa is 17-6 and rolling, but the Hawkeyes have lost TWICE to unranked Indiana.
And it happens a lot more often than you think. Sometimes, it's just a bad matchup. And we see a lot of that with Indiana and Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights, who haven't made the NCAA Tournament in 30 years, seem to have Indiana's number lately.
The two teams get together on Wednesday night in Piscataway, N.J., During the past four years, Rutgers is 4-2 in the series, but for the purposes of this article, we'll focus on the past two seasons because the lineups have basically been the same for both teams.
Here's the recent history:
- Jan. 24, 2021: Rutgers 74, Indiana 70
- Jan. 15, 2020: Rutgers 59, Indiana 50
- March 10, 2019: Indiana 89, Rutgers 73
- Jan. 30, 2019: Rutgers 66, Indiana 58
- March 1, 2018: Rutgers 76, Indiana 69
- Feb. 5, 2018: Indiana 65, Rutgers 42
Rutgers knows what it takes to beat Indiana, and to win the last two meetings since Trayce Jackson-Davis arrives says a lot about where this rivalry stands. The Scarlet Knights are a problem, and it's going to be interesting to see if Archie Miller and the Hoosiers will have some new answers to the same old questions on Wednesday night.
Here's why this matchup is such a problem:
1. Because Myles Johnson can guard
Trayce Jackson-Davis is one of the top offensive threats inside in the country. He's averaging 20.2 points per game this season, but in two games against Rutgers, he's really struggled. He only scored four points in the 59-50 loss to Rutgers a year ago, and this year he made just 4-of-10 shots and scored only 13 points. He had his first two shots blocked by Rutgers center Myles Johnson, who had five blocks in the game.
Johnson is a tremendous defensive center, certainly the best in the conference and maybe the best in the country. He causes such huge problems for Indiana's offense because he can guard Jackson-Davis without help. He's that good.
"I think that Myles Johnson is one of the best interior defenders in the country, and I've been saying that since he was a young guy,'' Miller said after that first loss to Rutgers in January. "He has unbelievable instincts in stealing the ball.
"He can stay between you and the basket with his size, but he also has unbelievable timing with blocking shots. Early in the game, it takes time to get used to playing against. Defensively, they are known for their stickiness, and he definitely impacts the game on the defensive front.''
Jackson-Davis likes to get all of his points right at the rim, but that's very hard to do against Johnson. It's that one matchup all year where Jackson-Davis needs to hit a few mid-range jumper, and Miller needs to put him in better spots.
Can that happen?
2. Because they're so good off the bounce
Everyone in the Rutgers lineup can put the ball on the floor at attack the basket. So can the guys who come off the bench. They are in attack mode from the first tip to the last possession.
That can be a problem. It was a huge issue in the 74-70 loss in January. Starting guards Al Durham and Rob Phinisee really struggled keeping the ball in front of them, and reserves Khristian Lander and Jerome Hunter really struggled on the defensive end, too.
"Every team is different, but Rutgers is a driving team. They have tremendous one-on-one players, and that's how they play,'' Miller said. "Ron Harper at the four is a tough matchup for anybody. (Geo) Baker, (Jacob) Young, (Caleb) McConnell, (Montez) Mathis, those guys are all hard-attacking driving guys.''
In Miller's postgame interview after that loss, he was very specific about Indiana's defensive breakdowns.
"We got whipped straight lines,'' Miller said. "We had bad breakdown in execution of coverage, and on switches. I thought we were bad in execution of the system. Rutgers is a good driving team.
"I thought our defense would be tighter, and it wasn't. And they also got us in a lot of defensive rotations that shouldn't have happened. We didn't need to be in so many rotations.''
3. Because Rutgers isn't intimidated
Rutgers came to Bloomington on a five-game losing streak in late January, and that didn't matter one bit. Rutgers plays with an attitude, with a swagger, whether they're playing well or not.
They came to Assembly Hall that night and they were woofing and trash-talking and pushing the entire night. Those five banners hanging in the north end zone? They could care less about those. That Indiana name on the front of those jerseys? They could really care less about those.
The Rutgers players feel like they are dramatically better than Indiana's lineup. They enter every game planning on winning. That will be the case again on Wednesday night.
And what will Indiana's answer be to that?
Rutgers is on the skids again, losing three of four games and really struggling to shoot from the outside. They are just 18-for-81 from three in their last four games, just 22.2 percent.
So, yes, as sad as it is to say, Rutgers is probably looking forward to seeing Indiana on Wednesday night.