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Rutgers Basketball Game Preview: At Northwestern

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The conference losing streak is currently at 30 games. Can Rutgers pull the upset in their last road game of the season?

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch & Listen

TV: 2:00 pm on ESPNU

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

Spread: Northwestern - 18.5

Roster Update

Corey Sanders is suspended for two weeks and will miss his fourth consecutive game today, the last of his suspension. Deshawn Freeman, Shaq Doorson, and Ibrahima Diallo have all been declared out for the season. Greg Lewis missed Tuesday's game at Minnesota and there has been no word on his status for today's game. Rutgers will have no more than seven active scholarship players for today's game.

About Northwestern

(KenPom #89 v Rutgers #301)

There is no happier team in the conference about Rutgers being in the Big Ten than Northwestern.  They were the perennial league doormats for many years and own two winless conference seasons.  They also owned the modern conference game losing streak of 28 games, until Rutgers broke it last week.  Still, as bad as Rutgers 25 year NCAA tournament drought is, note that Northwestern has never made it.  Never.  Second year coach Chris Collins has brought hope to the Wildcats and they enter the game with a 17-11 record, but are just 5-10 in conference play. Northwestern had a very easy non-conference schedule and their best win of the season is Wisconsin, before they caught fire and won 9 of their last 10 games.

Senior center Alex Olah will give Rutgers trouble tomorrow. The 7'0" foot Romanian has scored in double figures the past four games in a row and averages 11 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game this season.  Rutgers has no one at all to match up with him. In the backcourt, Northwestern is led by guards Tre Demps and Bryant McIntosh. Both average over 35 minutes played, 14+ points, 3+ assists, and 3+ rebounds per game. McIntosh is actually second in the Big Ten with 6.6 assists per game.

Statistically speaking, Northwestern doesn't do anything particularly well and are in the middle of the pack in the conference in most categories. Their strength is they don't turn the ball over much at only 10 per game, but they also don't force many either.  Their opponents only average 10+ turnovers per game as well. While they shoot only 34.7% from three-point range, ranked 10th in the conference, they shoot the 2nd most three's and average 8.5 made per game. That should be a major concern for Rutgers tomorrow, as guarding the three-point line has been a major issue all season.

Keys To The Game

Balanced Scoring

In the past three games, which were all against bottom tier opponents in the Big Ten, Rutgers hasn't had more than three players score in double figures in any game. It's incredible because 5-6 players are averaging around 30 minutes of the game.  If Rutgers is going to win tomorrow, Jonathan Laurent, Bishop Daniels, D.J. Foreman, Mike Williams, and Omari Grier all need to score in double figures.  The only exception would be if Laurent or Daniels go off for 20+ points, which has happened but hasn't been enough to impact the outcome. One plus from Tuesday was freshman guard Justin Goode finally contributed scoring wise, shooting 3-3 from three-point range for 9 points. Perhaps he just needed more game action to get comfortable and if he is able to consistently hit from deep, it would be a major boost for this team.

Win The Free Throw Battle

Northwestern is last in the conference in free throw shooting percentage at 66.4% and only Michigan has taken less attempts on the season.  Rutgers isn't much better at 68% and 11th in attempts, but winning the battle from the line is a tangible way for them to have a chance.  Rutgers did a good job in the first half on Tuesday against Minnesota in attacking the rim and getting to the foul line, but made just 7 of 12 from the line.  It didn't get much better in the second half, making just 5 of 10. They need to capitalize on a high percentage of opportunities that they get from the charity stripe.

For God's Sake Defend The Three

As I mentioned above, Northwestern shoots a ton of three's, as they average almost 25 attempts from deep per game.  If Rutgers continues their stubborn ways on defense, the Wildcats will have plenty of space on the perimeter for what Jerry Carino calls "target practice". There were several instances in Tuesday's game when a Rutgers defender took only one casual step towards a wide open shooter behind the arc and made little effort to put a hand up.  Northwestern might shoot under 35% but they surely aren't accustomed to wide open looks like they will probably see tomorrow.  If they get hot early, this game will get ugly quick.  I've complained multiple times about Eddie Jordan's stubborn refusal to play a 2-3 zone, which would help guard the perimeter, as well help keep his limited roster stay out of foul trouble and from running out gas early in games. It also prevents one on one mismatches that have been occurring due to Rutgers lack of size.  If Eddie actually plays a zone tomorrow, and I'm sadly not counting on it, they have a chance to limit open looks from behind the arc and prevent any sustained runs by their opponent. Considering Rutgers is terrible themselves from three-point range, you would think limiting their opponent from having an advantage in that area would be a priority.

Avoid Second Half Collapse

This team has the tendency to get run off the court as soon as the second half begins.  A major reason is Eddie Jordan and his staff don't make adjustments coming out of the break.  It is mind blowing how regardless of the opposition and their strengths, Eddie continues to implore the same generic strategy hoping for different results. Packing it in the paint and allowing open shots from the perimeter hasn't worked all season, so why continue to do it? Also, despite having anywhere from only six to eight scholarship players for the past six weeks, Eddie refuses to play a 2-3 zone.  The players continually look steps slow in the second frame after playing man to man the entire game. Aside from the strategic reasons mentioned in the point above, running your own players to exhaustion makes zero sense.  They are likely to be running on fumes at the end of the game even if they play a zone due to such little depth, but why not slow the game down and prevent it from happening as much as possible? This is as big as any coaching flaw Eddie Jordan has displayed this season.  Rant over.