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Rutgers Basketball Game 5 Preview: North Texas

NCAA Basketball: North Texas at Creighton Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch, Stream & Listen

North Texas (1-2) At Rutgers (4-0)

Tip-off: Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. EST

TV: BTN Plus

Stream: BTN2GO

Radio: WCTC 1450 AM - Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #150; North Texas #287

KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 75 North Texas 64; 84% chance for Rutgers to win

Vegas Line: Rutgers -14

Series History: 1st meeting is tonight.

About North Texas

The Mean Green, yes that’s their nickname, went 12-20 last season and play in the Conference USA. North Texas lost to Drexel by 21 points in their last game this past Sunday. That’s the same Drexel team that Rutgers beat by 21 points the previous Sunday. Their lone win was over Division II Sul Ross State. They also lost to Big 12 member Texas Tech by the score of 70-43, in a game they shot just 31% from the floor.

Even so, this team has a few players and on the right night, could certainly beat Rutgers if they don’t come out ready to play. North Texas plays a nine man rotation, which includes a total of five juniors and seniors. They average a whopping 19 turnovers per game and shoot just 30.9% from three-point range.

This team is led by 6’4” senior guard Deckie Johnson, who leads the team with 14.0 points per game, but is only shooting 33.3% from the field, including 20% from behind the arc. 6’5” freshman guard A.J. Lawson is off to a solid start in his college career, as he averages 10.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.0 assist, and 1.0 steal per game and is shooting 52% from the field.

The frontcourt for North Texas will provide a solid test for Rutgers. They are led by 6’7” junior forward Jeremy Combs, who averages 11.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. He is also shooting a blistering 61.1% from the field, which is no fluke. Combs shot 60.1% on 291 field goal attempts last season, when he averaged a double-double with 14.9 points and 10.5 rebounds a game. Rutgers will look to capitalize on his penchant for turnovers. The big man has committed 14 turnovers in just three games this season. Combs plays alongside 7’1” sophomore center Ricky Brice Jr, who averages 8.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game. It’s safe to say he and C.J. Gettys will be a matchup worth watching in this contest.

Keys To The Game

Clean It Up

Rutgers is averaging 14 turnovers a game, which is a number they must continue to reduce through non-conference play. They did show some improvement in their win over Niagara, giving it up only 3 times in the second half after an 8 turnover first half.

Another issue that hasn’t burned them yet is that Rutgers is fouling at a high rate. The past two games, they have had two players each with 3 and 4 fouls in the game. They’ve also totaled 21 fouls as a team in both games. If they continue down this road, they will run into trouble against better teams, who will make them pay from the free throw line.

The last issue was the three technical fouls that happened in the win over Niagara. Corey Sanders cannot get caught up in silliness like he did last Sunday. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt that it was a learning experience, but he needs to prove it starting tonight. Same for Deshawn Freeman, who carelessly slapped the ball out of a players hands. This team can’t afford such bad mental mistakes once the competition ramps up.

Get Deshawn Freeman Going

Speaking of Freeman, a minor cause for concern has been his recent decrease in production. He has scored 13, 10, 9, and 6 points in the first four games of the season. After registering two double-doubles and averaging 9.7 rebounds in the first three games, he had 0 rebounds against Niagara. Every player has off games, but it would be nice to see Freeman get back on track against a solid frontcourt in tonight’s game.

Defend the 3

After holding their first three opponents to 33% or less from three-point range, Niagara was 8 for 16 for 50%. Niagara had two good shooters in Matt Scott and Isaiah Dukes, who produced a combined 7 for 10 from long range. We know how terrible Rutgers was in defending behind the arc last season, and obviously the defense has been much improved so far. However, it’s something to keep an eye on before Rutgers runs into Miami, who is traditionally a good three-point shooting team and has started the season at 36%.

Keep Them Under 60

Pikiell has said that he challenges his team to hold each opponent under the 60 point mark. North Texas only scored 43 points against Texas Tech and shot just 30.9% from the field. If Rutgers comes out committed on the defensive end and can dominate the glass, they have the opportunity to make scoring very difficult for the Mean Green.

In The Bonus

Rutgers came out a bit flat in their last game and Pikiell said he didn’t “like the energy of the starters” against Niagara. You can be sure he will challenge them to respond tonight and come out strong. This team can’t take anything for granted, regardless of the opponent. That’s what is great about college basketball, the underdog always has a chance. #3 Indiana losing to Fort Wayne (who has a higher KenPom ranking than Rutgers, by the way) last night gives Pikiell a perfect example to remind his players of that fact. The advantage of having a nine or ten man rotation is that no one is playing 30+ minutes per game. The next game is Friday at 1 p.m. against Hartford, so having fresh legs in that one will be harder to achieve if North Texas makes this a game. Regardless, just win and get to 5-0!