The no. 3 Michigan Wolverines will try to get closer to a Big Ten regular-season championship when they host the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Thursday. The Wolverines are listed as 10-point favorites at home, with the over/under for the game set at 136.5 points.
Michigan recently had an extended hiatus because of COVID-19, but they came back strong last weekend, beating Wisconsin on the road 67-59. Juwan Howard’s team is now 14-1 overall and 9-1 inside the Big Ten. However, since they missed so many games during their three weeks away from the court, they are tied with 11-3 Illinois atop the Big Ten standings, so the race for the regular-season title remains tight.
Meanwhile, the Scarlet Knights are hoping to finally secure their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1991. Rutgers has endured an up and down season, losing five in a row early in the conference season. However, the Scarlet Knights have responded with five wins in their last six games, bringing them to 12-7 overall and 8-7 in the Big Ten. But they need to finish strong, and a win over a top-5 team would go a long way toward punching their ticket for the Big Dance.
I Know That Name
The Scarlet Knights have been led all season by Ron Harper Jr., the son of a longtime NBA player. The younger Harper is a three-level scorer who averages 16.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. He’s a capable jump shooter but can also score buckets in the paint with his 6’6’’ and 245 lb. frame. However, his production has slowed down lately, with Harper scoring below his season average of 16 points in 10 of his last 11 games.
Fortunately for Rutgers, they are much deeper than they were a year ago with five players who average at least eight points per game. Senior Jacob Young can pick up the slack at times, averaging 14 points per game. Center Myles Johnson is also capable, if inconsistent, recording a double-double in three of his last five games. On the other hand, Harper is the team’s best outside scorer, so they’ll need him to be at his best against a top-5 team.
As mentioned, the Wolverines didn’t miss a beat after their three-week layoff, shooting over 40% against Wisconsin and only committing six turnovers. The trio of Isaiah Livers, Hunter Dickinson, and Franz Wagner all scored in double figures as those three players continue to take the lead. The 7’1’’ Dickinson has been a revelation as a freshman, averaging 14.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. Meanwhile, Livers has taken charge, scoring at least 20 points in his last three games.
Michigan also boasts a fair amount of depth. Eli Brooks, Chaundee Brown, and Mike Smith all average at least eight points per game, with Brooks and Smith combining for nine assists per game. Those two are instrumental in helping to set up Michigan’s top scorers. Plus, all three are capable outside shooters and can make teams pay for giving Livers or Dickinson too much attention.
More of the Same
In ten Big Ten games, Michigan has won by more than 10 points seven times. Outside of a slip up on the road against Minnesota, the Wolverines have dominated, and they were nothing short of impressive against Wisconsin over the weekend after a three-week hiatus. Bet on Michigan to win and cover the 10-point spread against Rutgers.
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