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Rutgers Basketball Game 6 Preview: Hartford

Hopefully, Rutgers can carry their unbeaten streak into the weekend.

NCAA Basketball: Hartford at Notre Dame Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch, Stream & Listen

Hartford (1-4) At Rutgers (5-0)

Tip-off: Friday at 1:00 p.m. EST

TV: None

Stream: ESPN3

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

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #146; Hartford #334

KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 78 Hartford 62; Rutgers 93% chance to win

Series History: Rutgers leads 1-0, beating Hartford 63-53 on December 13, 2001.

About Hartford

Hartford has struggled this season and have only one win in five tries, defeating Niagara 82-78 in overtime. That game took place at 6:30 a.m., as part of ESPN’s 24 hour college basketball marathon to celebrate the start of the season. To be honest, they are not a good team at all. They have suffered double-digit losses to Central Connecticut State, Rider, and Drexel. The Hawks played Wednesday afternoon and lost by 9 points to Appalachian State.

Their best player by far is 6’0” senior guard Jalen Ross, who averages 23.2 points per game and is shooting 46% from the field, including 48% from three-point range. He averages 38 minutes per game and is contributing 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals to complement his scoring. Ross has turned the ball over more than 3 times per game, but he also is in possession of the basketball the majority of the game.

6’4” sophomore guard Jason Dunne is the only other Hartford player scoring in double figures, as he averages 12.4 points on 45% shooting from the field. The Matawan, New Jersey native is a good rebounding guard, averaging 6 boards per game. Like Ross, he shoots a lot from behind the arc, but has struggled early on and is at just a 32% clip heading into this game.

An intriguing player is point guard J.R. Lynch, the 5’10” freshman from Hoboken, New Jersey. He is a good distributor of the basketball and can hit his shots. He hasn't broken out yet, but the Rutgers backcourt needs to be aware of his ability.

Hartford only has two players standing at 6’8” in forwards John Carroll from Ireland and George Blagojevic from Australia. The duo combines for close to 11 rebounds per game. The Hawks are only averaging 34 rebounds as a team. Their lack of depth and size is a major advantage Rutgers must exploit.

One interesting tidbit, Steve Pikiell has won his last 7 games against Hartford during the previous three seasons when he coached at Stony Brook. Both schools are members of the America East conference.

Keys To The Game

Attack The Rim

The good news about the win over North Texas is that Rutgers was taking mostly good shots, but they struggled badly from the field. I’m all for the old adage that shooters have to keep shooting. However, with Rutgers coming off a 3-20 performance from three-point range on Wednesday night, I think they should focus on attacking the rim as much as possible against Hartford. It will be less than a 48 hour turnaround from that game until this one tips off and it’s likely Rutgers will have some tired legs at some point on Friday. They should try and dominate the points in the paint against a small Hartford team. Take jumpers when they come, but I would love to see guards Corey Sanders, Nigel Johnson, and Mike Williams slash to the rim as much as possible, either to get close looks near the basket or generate ones for their teammates.

Dominate The Glass

Rebounding has been a major focus under Pikiell and with good reason. Rutgers shot just 36.5% from the field on Wednesday, but won by double figures in large part due to their +25 rebounding margin against North Texas. There is no reason they can't do the same against an undersized Hartford team. Their ability to dominate on the offensive glass has also helped tremendously during prolonged stretches where Rutgers has struggled shooting the ball. They scored 36 points in the paint on Wednesday, more than half of their total points for the game. It's a major reason this team is much improved so far this season and needs to continue.

Corey Sanders - Defensive Stopper

Pikiell believes Sanders can be an elite defender in the Big Ten and he has shown flashes throughout the first five games of being able to achieve that level. It’s likely he will be the primary defender on Hartford’s Jalen Ross, who already has had two 30 point games on the season. If he can play lockdown defense from the start and frustrate Ross, it will make it very difficult for Hartford to keep up with Rutgers. On the flip side, he needs to use his quickness and be smart to avoid getting into foul trouble. This team needs him to be able to lockdown the best guards in the Big Ten and tomorrow will serve as a good test for him.

Destroy Hartford’s Will Early On

After trailing North Texas at halftime, the first time they haven't had the lead at the break all season, it would be great to see Rutgers jump out to a solid lead early on. They need to work on starting games with the same intensity they've brought more commonly in the second half of contests. With Miami the next team on the schedule, Rutgers will need to start fast to be competitive on the road in that game. After the shortest turnaround they will deal with all year, Rutgers asserting their will on Hartford from the opening tip would be an encouraging sign.

In The Bonus

It’s an early afternoon start on Black Friday, so hopefully the attendance will be the best of the young season. There won't be many students around due to the holiday, but it would be nice to see local fans who are off of work filling seats up at the RAC. This team needs some positive energy to feed off of in helping to getting out to a good start. Having a good turnout for what will hopefully be a solid win will only instill confidence in this team before they fly to Miami next week, in what is easily the biggest game for Rutgers so far. Either way, get to 6-0 ahead of a five day break!!