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Rutgers Basketball Game 9 Preview: Central Connecticut State

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NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch, Stream & Listen

Central Connecticut State (2-4) At Rutgers (7-1)

Tip-off: Tuesday 12/6 at 7:00 p.m. EST

TV: None

Stream: ESPN3 - Doug Sherman & Rob Kennedy

Radio: WCTC 1450 AM - Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM - Gabe Sustick and Ryan Moran

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #148; CCSU #337

KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 73 CCSU 58; Rutgers is given a 92% chance to win

Series History: Rutgers leads 1-0, winning last season 75-59 at the RAC on December 8, 2015.

About Central Connecticut State

Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell was an assistant coach at CCSU from 1997-2001 under longtime head coach Howie Dickenman, who retired after last season. Their first year coach is Donyell Marshall, who starred at UConn when Pikiell and associate head coach Karl Hobbs were assistants there.

As for their record, CCSU, like Rutgers, played Hartford and won 75-60 in the season opener. Their only other win was a 21 point victory over Maine. As a team, CCSU is shooting 46% from the field and 37% from three-point range.

They are led by 6’3” sophomore guard Austin Nehls, who scores 14.2 points a game and is shooting 49% from the field, including a scorching 47% from behind the arc. 6’3” senior guard Khalen Cumberlander is also a viable threat from three-point range, shooting 44% and scoring 11.8 points per game.

Their frontcourt is led by a trio from New York in 6’8” senior Tafari Whittingham, 6’7” senior Tidell Pierre, and 6’7” junior Mustafa Jones. The three forwards each average between 8-10 points and 4-6 rebounds per game.

Things To Watch For

Improve First Half Performance

Rutgers trailed past the midway point in the opening frame of their last three home games against North Texas, Hartford, and Morgan State. Not exactly a murderer’s row, that’s for sure. Give this team credit for pulling it together and winning those games, but it’s a disturbing trend that will bury them against better competition. I believe that who starts the game doesn’t matter nearly as much as who finishes, but perhaps it’s time to shake things up a bit.

The starters for every game this season have been Corey Sanders, Issa Thiam, Jonathan Laurent, Deshawn Freeman, and CJ Gettys. Issa hasn’t scored in the past two games and Laurent has been an enigma all year, rarely being a major factor in the action. Rutgers has played Sanders, Nigel Johnson, and Mike Williams on the court together 21% of the time this season, according to KenPom. It might be time to start the latter two over Issa and Laurent, in an effort to get off to a better start.

If Pikiell does keep the starters the same, Rutgers needs to find a spark and rhythm earlier in games some way. Otherwise, they will probably lose at least once in upcoming games against Stony Brook, FDU, and Fordham. All are teams a notch or two above the other opponents Rutgers has played at home so far.

Get The Guards Going

In the win against Morgan State, the backcourt of Sanders, Johnson, and Williams, as well as Issa, who I count along with them, as he is primarily a perimeter player, shot a combined 7-34 for 21% from the field. That includes 1-13 from three-point range. That will spell major trouble against better teams, as Rutgers will not be able to dominate the interior with Freeman and Gettys the way they have against lesser teams. Just look at the Miami game, when the frontcourt duo scored just 15 points and grabbed 7 rebounds combined. The guards need to provide a consistent scoring punch from the perimeter to open up the paint for the big men. Last season, Sanders had a huge game against CCSU with 18 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, and 4 steals. It would be nice to see him break out tonight, as well as Issa rediscovering his stroke from three.

Dominate The Glass

Rutgers is still holding on to being the top offensive rebounding team in the country at 14.6 per game, right above Kentucky and North Carolina. However, they need to do a better job of limiting offensive boards from the opposition, as Morgan State grabbed 16 against them on Saturday. CCSU is not a big team up front, so Freeman and Gettys need to set the tone earlier, as well as Candido Sa off the bench.

Defend The 3

CCSU can shoot and Rutgers has struggled defending behind the arc most of the season. Morgan State was just 5 of 27 from three-point range, but they had plenty of open looks that didn’t fall. Hartford almost beat Rutgers behind their 12 of 26 performance from behind the arc for 46%. Upsets happen in college basketball when the underdog gets hot from three, so Rutgers needs to be careful to not let CCSU, in particular Nehls and Cumberlander, to get too many open looks or it could be a struggle all night.

In The Bonus

The RAC is starting to awaken and the attendance for Saturday’s game was 5,081 against Morgan State. That is progress and hopefully the good vibes continue tonight. If the students continue to come in larger numbers, the environment for home games will continue to improve. After tonight, the next games at the RAC are FDU on December 14th and Penn State on New Year’s Day.