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Rutgers Basketball Game 4 Preview: Niagara

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NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at DePaul Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch, Stream & Listen

Niagara (0-3) At Rutgers (3-0)

Tip-off: Sunday at Noon EST

TV: BTN - Greg Amsinger & Bob Wenzel

Stream: BTN2GO

Radio: WCTC 1450 AM - Chris Carlin & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #156; Niagara #314

KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 75 Niagara 63; 87% chance for Rutgers to win

Vegas Line: Rutgers -13

Series History: Rutgers leads 1-0, winning 73-61 on December 18, 1969

About Niagara

Last season, Niagara had the same record as Rutgers at 7-25 and finished in second to last place in their conference. The Purple Eagles play out of the MAAC and have started the season with three consecutive losses. They dropped games to Buffalo by 10, Brown by 9 and lost to Hartford by 4 in overtime.

They play a deep rotation, with ten players averaging ten minutes or more per game. Niagara is led by 6’4” junior guard Matt Scott from Brooklyn, who averages 17.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.0 steal per game so far this season. His shooting percentages have improved from last season in the early going, as he averages 45.7% from the field and 37.5% from three-point range. He is paired in the backcourt with 6’0” junior guard Kahlil Dukes, who is averaging 13.3 points and has almost identical shooting stats as Scott.

Their best frontcourt player is 6’8” sophomore Dominic Robb, who is the only other Niagara player scoring in double figures. He averages 10.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks per game. Another frontcourt player to know is 6’6” senior Maurice Taylor Jr, who averages 5.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, and is shooting a perfect 7-7 from the field this season.

Keys To The Game

Dominate The Glass

Through three games into this season, Rutgers is a drastically improved rebounding team. In fact, they are currently ranked #1 in country in offensive rebounding percentage at 53.2%, according to KenPom. They are the only college basketball team grabbing more than half of their available opportunities for an offensive rebound. Yes, Rutgers hasn’t played a good team yet, but that didn’t prevent them from being a terrible rebounding team last season against weaker opponents. Niagara averages just 36 rebounds per game, while Rutgers is at 49 per game. There is no reason they shouldn’t dominate on the glass against the Purple Eagles, who are a small team and have only one player taller than 6’8”. Rutgers needs to listen to John Kreese and have “no mercy” when crashing the boards in this game.

Time To Settle Down & Limit Turnovers

Despite beating Drexel easily and controlling most of the game against DePaul, turnovers have been a major issue for Rutgers. The committed 17 turnovers against Drexel and committed 15 turnovers versus DePaul. That resulted in a minus-4 turnover margin in both games. That’s a problem and a major cause for concern for when Rutgers starts playing better teams. They need to get it fixed now.

I believe part of the issue is a lot of the players are still getting comfortable on the court in game action. A lot of the turnovers have been due to rushing things, simply going too fast on offense and losing control. Jonathan Laurent suffered three traveling violations in the first half against DePaul. Guys are still feeling things out and learning how the coaching staff wants them to play on offense, as well as learning how to play with their new teammates. Some might be thinking too much and although they have done a great job of playing hard, they need to slow down a bit with the ball in their hands. The good thing is there have been less bad passes so far, so it gives hope they can improve in this area as the season progress. This game would be a good time to start.

Stop The Shooters

Niagara is not a good team, but any chance they have to win this game is with their backcourt shooting lights out. Scott and Dukes are gunners and capable of scoring in bunches. Rutgers needs to prevent them from getting on a roll early. Corey Sanders put up a tremendous defensive effort against DePaul’s Billy Garrett Jr, as the second team All-Big East preseason selection shot just 1-11 from the field and finished with only 5 points. Scott, like Garrett Jr., is a bigger guard, but Sanders didn’t seem bothered by it in the least in the DePaul game and used his quickness is an asset. Nigel Johnson and Mike Williams have been solid defensively so far as well. The entire Rutgers backcourt needs to shut down Niagara to prevent any chance for the upset.

Get Issa Going

This is more a key to the season then solely just this game. The 6’9” freshman has been declared the best shooter on the team by head coach Steve Pikiell and has started all three games this season. Despite starting, his minutes per game average at 15.7 is just eighth on the team. It’s not that Issa has played poorly, but rather he hasn’t gotten comfortable and found his groove yet. He needs to build confidence in the non-conference portion of the schedule to help prepare him to be a factor in Big Ten play. He is shooting a solid 38.5% from three-point range on 13 attempts and I think he can be a major factor for this team as the season progresses. Rutgers needs to find some consistency behind the arc and It would be great to see Issa break out some in this game.

In The Bonus

After the first 3-0 start since 2008-2009, it will be interesting to see if the attendance figures increase for this game. Rutgers barely broke the 4,000 mark in the second home game, so perhaps there was a wait and see period for some fans. That’s somewhat understandable after the past few seasons. However, it’s obvious that this team is much more enjoyable to watch and plays hard on every whistle under coach Pikiell. It’s time to get out to the RAC and support this team, starting this Sunday at noon against Niagara.

Update: Per Rutgers, any fan who presents a ticket stub from the Penn State football game will gain free admission to this game.