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Rutgers Basketball Game Preview: Ohio State

Rutgers looks to end their 26 game Big Ten losing streak today at the RAC at 4pm.

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch & Listen

TV: 4:00 pm on BTN

Radio: Rutgers IMG Radio Network WOR (710 AM) & WCTC (1450 AM); WRSU (88.7 FM)

Spread: Ohio State - 12

Injury Update

Deshawn Freeman, Shaq Doorson, and Ibrahima Diallo have all been declared out for the season.  Rutgers has eight active scholarship players for today's game.

Rematch With Ohio State

Game #1 recap: Ohio State 94 Rutgers 68

The Buckeyes enter today's game with a 15-10 record overall and 7-5 in the Big Ten.  They are a young team that has beaten up the bottom half of the league and lost to the top teams. They struggled in the first half of their last game against Northwestern, trailing 33-26 at the break. Ohio State's coach Thad Matta is one of the best in the country, and the Buckeyes made adjustments at the half. They dominated the second frame, outscoring Northwestern 45-30, spurred by their full court press on defense. All five starters scored in double figures. It was very similar to how Ohio State beat Rutgers in January, after trailing 41-39 at the half.

Like Rutgers, Ohio State is a very young team, as their top seven players include two freshman, four sophomores, and a junior. Their production is balanced, with four players averaging in double figures in scoring and six players averaging four or more rebounds per game. They feature two centers in Trevor Thompson and Daniel Giddens, who are 6'10 and 6"11 respectively. In their first meeting against Rutgers, six players scored in double figures, they produced 10 steals and turned it over just 7 times. If the Buckeyes continue that balanced and disciplined play, it will be difficult for Rutgers to match.

Keys To The Game

Scoring Balance

Corey Sanders has blown up the past two games, scoring a combined 67 points and has looked unstoppable at times. The problem is he hasn't had enough help from his teammates in the scoring column. Jonathan Laurent, Mike Williams and Omari Grier did combine for 56 points in the triple overtime loss to Illinois. However, D.J. Foreman and Bishop Daniels both were shutout, something that cannot happen if Rutgers is going to win. Even worse against Nebraska in their last game, there was only one player to score in double figures other than Corey, as Daniels had a solid 13 points off the bench.  Laurent, Wiliams, and Grier took a major step back, combining for just 13 points in that game. Eddie Jordan said after the Illinois game that the team needs their top seven players to all have strong games for them to win.  It's not just about scoring, but if Corey Sanders is the only one that is producing consistently, it will not result in winning basketball.

Corey Sanders V. JaQuan Lyle

Today is a matchup of the best two freshman point guards in the Big Ten.  Lyle is leading the conference in assists while Sanders is second. Sanders is leading the entire conference in steals, and all freshman in scoring. The last time these two squared off, Lyle had a triple-double, with 16 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists. He also committed just 1 turnover.  Sanders had a tremendous first half but cooled in the second, finishing with a game high 20 points, including four three-pointers.  While he did have 2 steals, Sanders only had 2 assists.  The reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week will surely want to outplay Lyle today, but he needs to be careful not to force things.  He has flourished the past few games attacking the rim and keeping his teammates involved.  Their matchup today is must see TV!

Adjust to Defensive Changes

Rutgers has struggled all season in adjusting on offense when their opponent switches on defense.  Last Saturday against Nebraska, Rutgers was leading 33-27 late in the first half.  Nebraska switched to a 2-3 zone and Rutgers stopped attacking the rim, became stagnant, and essentially fell apart.  Granted Sanders was on the bench for the start of that switch, but when he came back in the team wasn't much more effective against it.  We have also seen the 1-3-1 zone and full court press completely throw Rutgers out of rhythm in multiple games this season. Hopefully, Eddie Jordan used this full week off to work on attacking multiple defenses. They should expect nothing less from Ohio State today and they must be prepared to handle it.

Don't Get In A Track Meet

Rutgers outplayed Ohio State in the first half of their first meeting by slowing down the game and spreading the floor on offense.  As soon as the second half started, they decided to get into a fast paced, up tempo game and they got trounced.  Their shot selection was terrible and the game was over by the first TV timeout of the second half. They must stay disciplined in their halfcourt offense, and not allow so many easy baskets.  While Rutgers has been victimized repeatedly behind the arc by opponents, the Buckeyes brutalized them in the paint.  The same thing will happen today if they don't play strong transition defense. Letting the game turn into a track meet will be another disaster.

Overcome A Tumultuous Week

In what should have been a quiet off week that this team could focus on getting better, drama and bad headlines became the story. First, it was announced that Deshawn Freeman was suspended indefinitely for the rest of the season. While he is out already with a season ending injury, Freeman is a key part of the program moving forward.  The suspension makes his future at Rutgers cloudy at best. Then on Thursday, Eddie Jordan went off in talking to reporters after practice, saying he was sorry that fans were losing patience but said "then I don't give a crap about what they think", in reference to not understanding the matchup disadvantages the injuries have put the team in. On top of all of that, Rutgers is still searching for it's first conference win in 27 games.  This team is dealing with a ton of adversity, on top of missing three frontcourt players due to injury.  Today will be a huge test to see what type of intestinal fortitude this team has.  With all the negativity swirling around this program, the only way to put a stop to it is win.  It will take a total team effort to do so, let's hope they are ready for the challenge.