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Rutgers Men's Basketball Game Preview: At Minnesota

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Rutgers travels to Minnesota in search of ending their 29 game Big Ten losing streak and to win their first conference road game ever.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch & Listen

TV: 8:30 pm on BTN

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

Spread: Minnesota - 12.5

Roster Update

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

About Minnesota (KenPom #170; Rutgers #293)

The Golden Gophers decided against having a battle of the winless teams tonight against Rutgers, as they stunned then #6 Maryland last Thursday at home.  They are currently 7-19 overall and 1-13 in the Big Ten.  And yet, they are double digit favorites at home against Rutgers. Can't blame Vegas on this one, as it just highlights how little Rutgers basketball is thought of. Minnesota's margin of defeat in their 13 Big Ten losses is 11.2 points per game. Rutgers has a margin of defeat of 21.1 points per game, almost double that of the Gophers. Embarrassing is an understatement.

Minnesota is led by sophomore point guard Nate Mason, who is tops in scoring and assists on the team, averaging 13.8 points and 4.6 assists per game. Senior forward Joey King is the heart of the team, as evidenced by his emotional reaction after their upset of Maryland, and averages 11.4 points, 3.6 rebounds and a deadly 90% from the free throw line. Freshman Jordan Murphy won Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the second time of the season last week and has seven double-double's on the year.  He will be a tough test for D.J. Foreman, as Murphy is a banger and averages 11.1 points and 7.8 rebounds, and 1 block per game.

Both team lose in a lot of the same ways, as they are the last two in the conference in scoring margin, struggle shooting from behind the arc, as well as defending it, and are near the bottom in rebounding the basketball.  One thing Minnesota does well is take care of the basketball, as they are 26th in the country at just 10.7 turnovers per game and 5th in the Big Ten in turnover margin at +1.3. Rutgers is 11th at -1.7 per game. As much as Rutgers has missed Corey Sanders during his suspension, tonight will probably hurt even more.  Mason is getting better by the game and if he is able to run free tonight, it will be another double digit loss for Rutgers.

Keys To The Game

Contain Nate Mason

Mason is similar to Corey Sanders in that he leads his team in scoring at the point and likes to shoot long jump shots. He can also fill up the stat sheet, as evidenced by his 18 point, 6 rebound, 6 assist, 2 steal performance against Maryland last week.  If I were Eddie Jordan, I  would put Mike Williams on Mason and pull a Norman Dale, demanding to know what flavor of chewing gum Mason is by the end of the game. Williams is Rutgers best defender and if you haven't noticed, has been ice cold from the field, combining for 12-44 for 27% from the floor in his past four games. Focus his effort where it will help the team most, and have him guard Mason relentlessly.  If Mason has too much room to operate, he will carve up the soft boiled egg that is the Rutgers defense, and they will have no chance to win.

Let Jonathan Laurent Eat

Laurent has flourished the past two games with Sanders absent, scoring 37 points total on 13-20 shooting from the floor (65%).  He has also been effective getting to the free throw line, shooting 11-14 for 79%. Plan A on offense should be to get the ball to Laurent as much as possible.  He isn't a traditional post up player and needs room to slash to the rim, something he has been very effective in doing lately. Bishop Daniels has done a decent job the past two games in running the offense and has been effective with dribble penetration.  He needs to worry less about his shot and more about feeding Laurent, who has an uncanny ability to finish near the rim.

Attack The Rim & Get To The Line

In addition to Laurent, Rutgers needs to continue to focus on getting to the rim and force the opposition into contact in hopes of drawing fouls. In losses to Illinois and Penn State their past two games, Rutgers manufactured 37 free throw attempts, equal to their opponents attempts. However, Rutgers made only 25 for 68%, which is exactly their season average.  Their opponents hit 30 for 81%.  Not only has Rutgers gotten murdered in three-point differential, they are losing the free throw battle as well.  We know Rutgers isn't going to suddenly start lighting it up from behind the arc, so they need to maximize their opportunities at the free throw line. Omari Grier and Mike Williams shoot 81% and 78% respectively, and Laurent shoots 71%.  D.J. Foreman is only 58% for the season, but has gone 8-10 in his last three games before Penn State, when he never got to the line. On the flip side, Minnesota's star freshman Jordan Murphy has a tendency to get into foul trouble.  Rutgers needs to attack him and the interior, get to the line and finish from the charity stripe, in order to have a chance to win this game.

Seniors Must Step Up

There hasn't been a game all year when all three seniors have stepped up at the same time, and Rutgers is unlikely to win during this stretch without Sanders unless that changes. Bishop Daniels deserves credit for playing well during Sanders absence, averaging 14 points, 5.5 assists, and 2 steals, while shooting 50% from the field.  He needs to continue his improved shot selection, drive to the basket and forget about his favorite hobby, shooting a contested jump shot one foot inside the three-point line. His one issue in replacing Sanders has been his 8 turnovers in two games. Turnover prone Daniels needs to take care of the basketball and not allow Minnesota to get out on the break and score easy transition baskets.

Omari Grier has been disappointing since the Sanders suspension, scoring a mere 7 points combined on 2-11 shooting from the floor, including 1-5 from long range. He was on a stretch of scoring in double figures in seven of eleven games, but hasn't scored more than 6 points in his last four games. If anyone has the ability to knockdown a few critical shots from behind the arc, it is Grier.

Captain Greg Lewis looks like he is running on fumes and his bad knees are limiting him. Eddie Jordan has wisely reduced his minutes to less than 18 the past two games, as Lewis has taken some terrible jump shots as well.  If Lewis can be used in spurts, he can be effective on the boards.  His assignment tonight should be to give this team a lift by holding down the paint on defense and crashing the boards in short 3-4 min spurts, leaving the scoring to the rest of the team.