No. 24 Rutgers puts new ranking on line at No. 19 Iowa
It took No. 19 Iowa only three weeks to get back into the AP Top 25.
No. 24 Rutgers needed a little longer -- 40 years.
When the two teams meet in a Big Ten Conference game in Iowa City on Wednesday, the Scarlet Knights (14-4, 5-2) will enter ranked for the first time since the Jammin' James Bailey 1978-79 NCAA Tournament team finished the season at No. 18.
"I'm proud of the progress we've made as a program and I'm really happy for the guys on our roster," fourth-year Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said in a statement after the poll was released Monday.
"The ranking is a testament to the hard work and sacrifices our guys have put forth this year. We are enjoying this journey and we are excited to face the many challenges that lie ahead in the best conference in the country."
Rutgers' next challenge will be one of its biggest.
Iowa 6-foot-11 center and All-America candidate Luka Garza has been among the best big men in college this season and is the primary reason the Hawkeyes (13-5, 4-3) have reached their highest ranking of the season after previously peaking at No. 23.
Garza entered the week ranked first in the Big Ten and sixth in NCAA Division I in scoring at 22.9 points per game. He's averaging 10.2 rebounds and was tied for first in Division I with seven games of at least 20 points and at least 10 rebounds. He was one of five players averaging 20 and 10, one of two in a Power 5 conference.
Garza scored 33 points in a 90-83 win over No. 19 Michigan on Friday, the Hawkeyes' third straight victory and seventh in nine games. That loss knocked then-No. 19 Wolverines out of the Top 25 and helped ensure Rutgers' arrival.
"Once we locked in on the defensive end and put some baskets together, we were right back in it," said Garza, who had seven points during a late 13-2 run to spark the victory.
Redshirt freshman guard CJ Fredrick's return to the lineup last week was a boost. He tied a season high with 21 points against Michigan after scoring 11 in a victory over Northwestern. He had missed the previous two games with a foot injury.
The Hawkeyes had success with a big lineup against Michigan, when 6-10 senior Ryan Kriener came off the bench to score 14 points in 22 minutes.
"The thing about it is, both those guys can make 3s, can pass and catch," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of teaming Garza and Kriener. "There's times when you want to be smaller, but going big is not a bad way to go for us, especially with those guys."
The game with feature a distinct difference in styles. Iowa leads the Big Ten, and is 21st in Division I, in scoring at 79.9 points a game. Rutgers leads the league, and is seventh in Division I, in fewest points allowed (58.7).
The Scarlet Knights have won two straight and eight of nine while leading with defense. None of their last eight opponents have shot better than 36.1 percent overall, starting with a 68-48 victory over No. 10 Seton Hall.
"This team sacrifices," Pikiell said. "They play together. They play the right way."
Ron Harper Jr. (11.8 ppg.) and Geo Baker (10.8 ppg.) lead a balanced Rutgers scoring attack. Myles Johnson averages 9.2 points and 8.2 rebounds. Eight players average at least 19 minutes a game.
The Scarlet Knights are seeking their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1991. They are 13-0 at home but have lost four of five on the road.
--Field Level Media
Updated January 20, 2020