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Rutgers Men's Basketball Game Preview: Michigan

Rutgers is looking to end their 22 game conference losing streak, as well as picking up their first Big Ten road victory ever.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch & Listen

TV: 7:00 pm on BTN

Radio: Rutgers IMG Radio Network WOR (710 AM) & WCTC (1450 AM); WRSU (88.7 FM)

Spread: Michigan - 24

Injury Update

Deshawn Freeman, Shaq Doorson, and Ibrahima Diallo have all been declared out for the season. Rutgers has eight active scholarship players for tonight's game.

About Michigan (KenPom Ranking #29)

Michigan enters tonight's game with a 5-2 record in the Big Ten and a 15-5 record overall. Michigan is 10-1 at home this season, with their only loss coming against #7 Xavier. Their biggest win of the season was against #3 Maryland on January 12th.  The most impressive part of that victory is they did so without their leading scorer, senior guard Caris LaVert, who is out with a lower left leg injury.  LaVert is a major loss for the Wolverines, as he leads the team in scoring and assists, while also second in rebounds and steals. He will miss tonight's game as well.

Michigan is not a strong rebounding team, averaging just 33 a game and in LaVert's absence, only have Walton Jr. averages over 5 boards a game.  However, they are strong from the perimeter with big guards who can shoot and are smart with the basketball, averaging just 10 turnovers per game. As a team they shoot 49.1% from the field, with four of their seven regular rotation players shooting over 50%.  They also shoot 41.8% from three-point range and 73.9% from the free throw line.

Junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. has taken the reigns in LaVert's absence, as he is averaging 17 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 steal in his past four games. The versatile Walton is a threat from deep, averaging 46.1% from three-point range. Sophomore guard Duncan Robinson has also stepped up in his absence, averaging 15 points in his last four games. Robinson has a ridiculous shooting line, as he averages 50.6% from the field, 51.1% from three-point range (67-131), and an almost perfect 94.7% from the free-throw line.  6'8" Robinson is a match-up nightmare for Rutgers. Zak Irvin is also a balanced player who can lead the team in scoring in any game as well, as the 6'6" junior guard averages 10.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game.

Keys To The Game

Stop The Bleeding on Defense

Rutgers is allowing 89.6 points a game in Big Ten play, a truly abysmal statistic. Opponents consistently find wide open looks on the perimeter and Rutgers has major trouble getting back on defense in transition.  Of all the issues this season, their defensive play is the worst of them all.  Blame injuries all you want, it runs much deeper than that. It comes down to effort, fundamentals and strategy.  It seems Eddie Jordan has mostly given up on playing zone, which is baffling considering the lack of size Rutgers has due to three frontcourt players out for the season. In addition, Rutgers plays terrible help defense. Once the opposing player beats their defender, they are treated to all the open space a component scorer needs to finish. If Rutgers allows Michigan open looks on the perimeter tonight, it will get out of hand very quickly.

Attack the Paint

Rutgers amazingly shot 48.4% from the field against #3 Iowa last Thursday and it was because they outscored them in the paint.  It was probably Rutgers best game with attacking the rim on a consistent basis.  The return of Jonathan Laurent was a huge boost, as he has a knack for scoring around the rim, and finished with 14 points. However, it was a concerted team effort, as D.J. Foreman and Mike Williams repeatedly knifed their way to the basket, finishing and drawing fouls. More of the same is needed tonight, as Rutgers must attack Michigan and not settle for three-point shots.  They were just 4-17 (23%) against Iowa and are one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country. The offense needs to spread the floor and look to attack the rim, which leads us to....

Corey Sanders Dishing & Driving

Sanders flashed his point guard skills in a big way against Iowa, finishing with a career high 9 assists.  It was long overdue, as Sanders had gotten away from one of his strengths, driving to the rim and creating open shots for his teammates.  When he is looking to attack and get everyone involved, the Rutgers offense jumps a couple levels.  He still gets a little jump shot happy at times, as he went 0-6 from three-point range Thursday.  He needs to keep focusing on attacking the rim and getting the ball in the hands of Foreman and Laurent near the basket. He also needs to find Omari Grier on the perimeter, as he is the only Rutgers player shooting over 40% from three-point range. Sanders cannot allow the offense to get stagnant and settle for contested jump shots, something that has happened much too often this season.

Team Rebounding

After losing the rebounding battle to Purdue by 40 boards, Rutgers responded with a much better effort against Iowa. It is imperative that all five players crash the boards after a shot and fight for the ball after misses.  Michigan is big around the perimeter but are more of a finesse team.  Rutgers needs to bring a blue collar work ethic tonight, scrapping and clawing for the ball.  All five starters had four or more rebounds against Iowa, with Foreman finally asserting himself and leading the way with nine.  They need to do the same tonight, all hands on deck, which leads to...

Play Together

This is an obvious one, but painfully not a given with this team this season. Playing on the road in the Big Ten is never easy and tonight at Michigan will be no different.  This team is at a crossroads, as they have faced a tremendous amount of adversity so far.  They responded after the worst home loss in program history with a spirited effort against one of the best teams in the country.  Rutgers needs to build off of that effort, and after six days since their last game, they should come out fresh and hungry. We will know how much fight this team has left by their performance tonight.  They need to play smart and stick together when Michigan makes a run, absorb it and make a run of their own. Rutgers cannot get caught up in a fast paced, up tempo game.  They need to focus on playing a slow down, rugged game against Michigan. Otherwise, a 20+ point loss that every other Big Ten fanbase thinks is inevitable, will be come a reality.