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Rutgers Men's Basketball Game Preview: Penn State

Is today the day Rutgers finally ends their epic Big Ten losing streak, which currently stands at 28 games?

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch & Listen

TV: 1:00 pm on ESPNU

Radio: Rutgers IMG Radio Network WOR (710 AM) & WCTC (1450 AM); WRSU (88.7 FM); Sirius Channel 93; XM Radio Channel 195

Spread: Penn State - 8

Roster Update

Corey Sanders is suspended for two weeks and will miss today's game. Deshawn Freeman, Shaq Doorson, and Ibrahima Diallo have all been declared out for the season.  Rutgers has seven active scholarship players for today's game.

About Penn State (KenPom #133)

The Nittany Lions come in on a high after upsetting #4 Iowa 79-75 at home on Wednesday. They also beat #22 Indiana at home on February 6th, who was also in first place in the Big Ten the time of their victory. Penn State currently has a record of 13-13 overall and 4-9 in the Big Ten. It's a young team that is starting to improve after early season losses to Radford and Duquesne.

6'6" senior guard Brandon Taylor leads the team in scoring and rebounding, averaging 16.5 points and 6.2 boards per game. Sophomore guard Shep Garner leads the team in minutes played and assists, averaging 13.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game. Their only other player to average more than 6 points a game is sophomore forward Payton Banks, who scores 10 points and grabs 4.6 rebounds per game.

One positive for Rutgers is that Penn State is the worst three-point shooting team in the Big Ten, as they average just 29.3% from behind the arc. However, they did just knock down 10 from long range against Iowa, so Rutgers still needs to prevent open looks from deep. Penn State is also last in scoring in the conference, averaging just 65.5 points per game, over 3 points less than Rutgers. However, they are a solid defensive team, as KenPom has them ranked 86th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency.

Rutgers gained their first ever Big Ten win against Penn State last season, beating them 50-46 at the RAC.  The Nittany Lions blew Rutgers out in the rematch at State College, winning 79-51.  This is the 69th meeting between the former Atlantic 10 rivals with Penn State holding a 38-30 advantage.

Keys To The Game

Seniors Must Step Up

In their first game without Corey Sanders, Bishop Daniels was the only senior to play well and lead the team.  He played 38 minutes and scored 15 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals. While he took a couple bad shots and had 4 turnovers, consistent issues throughout his career, Daniels made an effort to get Rutgers into their offensive sets.  Grier had a disappointing game, scoring just 4 points on 1-7 shooting from the field.  He had just 1 assist and turned the ball over 3 times.  Greg Lewis, who had 16 rebounds in the triple OT loss the first time they played Illinois, had just 3 rebounds on Tuesday.  If Rutgers is going to win today against Penn State, all three seniors must play well. This is the third to last home game of their careers, they need to play with a passion and hunger worthy of that fact.

Feed Laurent All Day

Freshman forward Jonathan Laurent probably wishes he could play against Illinois more often.  He followed up his 23 point and 8 rebound performance in their first meeting with 18 points and 11 rebounds in their second meeting.  He was so effective in getting to the rim it was disappointing Laurent only took 10 shots from the floor Tuesday.  A focus today for the guards should be to feed Laurent in the paint.  He isn't a traditional post up player, but he can slash his way to the rim as his athleticism is difficult to contain. He has shown flashes of greatness this season and it would be a key development to see him raise his level of play down the stretch.

Make Adjustments

Rutgers has failed miserably all season in not only recognizing their opponent switched into a zone defense, but then also figuring out how to attack it.  It happened again Tuesday night against Illinois, when the Illini switched to a 2-3 zone after a timeout.  As TV color man John Crispin pointed out, Rutgers didn't recognize the zone for the first 15 seconds of the possession, leading to a terrible shot.  Illinois also pressed during that same stretch after a made basket, and Rutgers fell apart.  The game before, Ohio State coach Thad Matta started pressing when Rutgers got close and they unraveled then as well. That was with Corey Sanders.  Let's hope Eddie Jordan stressed defensive recognition and how to adjust and attack the press and the zone.  If they don't handle these adjustments better today, it will be their undoing yet again.

Limit Extended Runs

Rutgers cannot afford to allow their opponents to go on extended runs for multiple stretches in games.  Illinois had runs of 13-0 and 19-4 in the first half, dropping Rutgers into a hole they could never recover from.  They simply don't have the firepower to make a big comeback.  They need a spirited effort on defense today to clamp down on Penn State and make them work for every score.  Of course, I say this all the time and it rarely happens.  But it must happen if Rutgers is ever going to win a conference game.  They also cannot allow Penn State open looks on the perimeter, but again this has been Rutgers achilles heel on defense all season.  Getting back on transition will be key as well, as Penn State struggles in the halfcourt, so they need to limit their fast break points.  This is a game Rutgers can win if they put forth the necessary effort on defense.