This matchup is a part of the Gavitt Games, an annual series between the Big East and Big Ten conferences, in honor of Dave Gavitt, who founded the Big East.
How To Watch & Listen
Rutgers (2-0) At DePaul (1-0)
Tip-off: Thursday 8:30 p.m. ET
TV: FS1 with Tim Brando and the great Bill Rafferty
Radio: WCTC 1450 AM - Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan
KenPom Rankings: DePaul #181; Rutgers #171
KenPom Prediction: DePaul 77 Rutgers 74; 39% chance to win
Vegas Line: DePaul -3
Series History: Rutgers is 6-4 against DePaul all-time and won their last meeting 76-57 in the first round of the 2013 Big East Tournament.
Head Coach Dave Leitao was an assistant at UConn when a young, scrappy guard joined the program by the name of Steve Pikiell. They were both a part of the teams that helped establish UConn as a college basketball power under legendary coach Jim Calhoun. Leitao was still on the staff when Pikiell himself became an assistant under Calhoun. It’s safe to say these two go way back and there will be little the other does in this game that surprises the other.
Rutgers associate head coach Karl Hobbs also coached with Leitao for many years, while both were assistants at UConn.
DePaul entered the season with few expectations, as they were picked to finish last in the Big East conference. They won their season opener over Robert Morris 78-72. They are led by guards Eli Cain and Billy Garrett Jr. Cain led DePaul with 21 points in the opener and Garrett Jr. was named to the Big East preseason second team. They can play and will be a major challenge for Rutgers, which I’ll go into more detail below. In the frontcourt, JUCO transfer Tre’Darius McCallum flashed his versatility in his DePaul debut, contributing 12 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals.
Keys To The Game
Robert Morris held a rebounding margin of +6 over DePaul on Sunday. On the flip side, Rutgers grabbed 56 rebounds in their victory over Drexel, the most for the program in a game since 1992. Through two games, there are seven players on Rutgers averaging 3+ rebounds a game and four players averaging 5+. Deshawn Freeman and CJ Gettys are the best rebounders on the team and need to set the tone early on the glass. If Rutgers can dominate in this area and capitalize with second chance points on offensive rebounds, it will give them a good chance to win this game.
Both teams have struggled in this area. DePaul had 16 turnovers in their opener and Rutgers committed 17 in the win over Drexel. Corey Sanders, Jonathan Laurent, and Freeman have all had too many turnovers so far. Part of that has been guys rushing on offense and playing too fast, causing some unforced errors. The entire team has pressed a bit and forced the action at times, which is to be expected so early in the season. After having a couple of games under their belt, they all need to take a breath, slow down, and play more under control. Limiting turnovers will be key in this game. At the same time, they must continue their strong defensive play and take advantage of any turnovers they cause by scoring in transition. If they become undisciplined and take too many risks on both ends of the floor, it will be their undoing in this game.
DePaul has a strong backcourt with Garrett and Cain, who will provide a stiff test for Corey Sanders and Nigel Johnson. Pikiell has preached defense and even set the goal for Corey to aim to be the best defender in the Big Ten this season. After struggling on offense against Drexel, Sanders needs to come out focused on the defensive end. He needs to avoid foul trouble and get into a rhythm with Johnson, who has flourished through two games. If they can play off of each other and get going like we have all envisioned, they have the potential to take over this game.
I expect this to be a close game and it could easily come down to which team shoots better from the free throw line. Knocking down free throws early on will help build the team’s confidence in believing they can win this game on the road. They were bad from the line in the opener, shooting just 58% on 36 attempts. There was improvement in game two, as Rutgers shot 70% on 27 attempts. However, they really need to shoot 70% at a minimum against stiffer competition and tomorrow is as good a time to start as ever. DePaul was an impressive 79% from the charity stripe on 34 attempts in their opener, so if Rutgers gets overzealous and fouls too often, the Blue Demons have the ability to make them pay.
In The Bonus
A big question for this game is how the players will react in their first road game? Things have changed in recent years with top high school players travelling so often for AAU games, but there could still be an adjustment period for freshman like Issa Thiam and Eugene Omoruyi. The game is in the big city of Chicago and will be played at Allstate Arena, which seats 18,500. Even JUCO transfer Candido Sa has probably never played in that type of environment. How those three perform in a larger setting, as well as how the team overall handles the first road game of the season, will be things to watch for.