Every game Rutgers plays, it goes up against a high-caliber center who can affect the game in unique ways.
The Big Ten is a gauntlet for big men, presenting challenge after challenge night after night.
Steve Pikiell has a unique luxury — the Scarlet Knights head coach can deploy two 6-11 centers.
“You’ve got to have that kind of depth in this league,” Pikiell said during a virtual news conference Tuesday.
The tandem of Myles Johnson and Cliff Omoruyi provides an advantage for Rutgers now that Omoruyi is back healthy from his knee injury and is rounding back into form following the time off the court.
The Scarlet Knights will need another solid performance from both of them against Michigan State Thursday night at Rutgers Athletic Center (7 p.m., FS1) as they try to build off a win over Indiana that snapped a five-game skid.
Michigan State idle since Jan. 8
This will be the first game since Jan. 8 for Tom Izzo’s team after the Spartans (8-4, 2-4 Big Ten) had three games postponed because of COVID-19 issues, and right now it’s unclear who exactly they will have available.
The Scarlet Knights (8-4, 4-6) lost to Michigan State by 23 points earlier this month in East Lansing, but both teams will enter Thursday’s game in very different situations.
Rutgers would be thrilled if Johnson and Omoruyi can play like they did against Indiana.
The duo helped limit the Hoosiers’ bigs, particularly Trayce Jackson-Davis, who had 13 points and seven rebounds in 33 minutes.
Rutgers also won the rebounding battle 32-29.
“Both guys were really active, obviously blocking shots and altering some shots,” Pikiell said. “Those guys played really well.”
Johnson has helped mentor Omoruyi, but he’s also benefitted from what the freshman has brought.
“He and Cliff have a real respect for each other and they battle every day,” Pikiell said. “I think it’s been really good for Myles and it’s been really good for Cliff too. I think every day when you’re going up against one of the premier shot blockers, and both of them are, I think that really helps.”
No shortage of quality big men in league
Johnson (8.1 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.2 blocks per game) has been strong all season, while Omoruyi continues to learn — and in the Big Ten, there’s plenty to learn.
The league features a center in Luka Garza who’s one of the top players in the country and shoots 46.2 percent from the perimeter. There’s 7-foot-1 Hunter Dickinson at Michigan, a freshman who’s averaging 15.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. And then there’s a player like Nate Reuvers at Wisconsin who’s shooting 93.8 percent from the foul line.
And those are only a few examples.
“Each one gives you something a little bit different,” Pikiell said. “Myles has guarded all of those guys so he’s got that experience. Cliff is finding out now everyone’s different in the conference. Our bigs can score too. We’ve got to continue to get them the ball, we’ve also got to continue for them to rebound offensively and finish and get putbacks. But it’s a challenging league in every way.”
Rutgers’ bigs might not score as much as many of their Big Ten counterparts, but together they can deliver an equally important impact.
Omoruyi started the first six games of the season until suffering his knee injury, and now Johnson is back in the starting five.
Pikiell has played them together at times, and said that’s likely to occur more now that Omoruyi is healthy.
But if one gets into foul trouble, Pikiell can call on the other to provide elite size in the low post.
This is a grueling league for centers.
Rutgers needs everything it can get from Johnson and Omoruyi.
“We have the most unique set of big guys and every night that big guy is very, very different,” Pikiell said.
Email: email@example.com Twitter: @chrisiseman
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Rutgers basketball: How Myles Johnson, Cliff Omoruyi provide unique advantage in Big Ten