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Rutgers Basketball Game Preview: Illinois

On national signing day for football, the Rutgers men's basketball team has a real chance to win a Big Ten game!

Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch & Listen

TV: 6:30 pm on BTN

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

Spread: Illinois - 7

Injury Update

Deshawn Freeman, Shaq Doorson, and Ibrahima Diallo have all been declared out for the season. However, Eddit Jordan said yesterday Freeman and Diallo are starting to workout and will be re-evaluated in a few weeks. Rutgers has eight active scholarship players for tonight's game.

About Illinois

Illinois enters tonight's game with a 10-12 record and just 2-7 in the Big Ten. Their signature win of the season came at home against #20 Purdue, as they won 84-70. However, they have had about the same amount of injury issues this season as Rutgers and it has negatively affected their play.  Tonight 6'10" starting forward Michael Finke is not expected to play and second leading scorer, junior guard Kendrick Nunn is questionable.  Nunn is a big time player, averaging 17.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.4 steals per game.  He is also their best three-point shooter, hitting on 41.2% of his shots from downtown. His absence would be a huge void, as he leads the Illini in minutes played at 35 per game. They will also be missing 6'11" forward and third leading scorer and leading rebounder Mike Thorne, Jr, who has missed his previous three games.

The workload will fall on leading scorer Malcolm Hill.  The 6'6" junior guard is second in the Big Ten in scoring, as he is averaging 18.5 points a game.  Hill is also the second leading rebounder on the team with 5.8 boards per game. He is very effective getting to the rim and forcing contact, as he averages 7 free throw attempts per game and knocks them down at a 81.9% clip. He will need to carry Illinois tonight if they plan to leave the RAC with a victory.

Keys To The Game

Limit Open Looks From Behind The Arc

I touched on the problem Rutgers has had defending their opponents from three-point range here. Illinois is shooting 36% from three-point range, ranking in the middle of the pack for Big Ten teams.  While they are not nearly as dangerous from deep as Rutgers past two opponents, Michigan and Michigan State, they are still capable of making them pay for allowing too many open looks.  Eddie Jordan said yesterday they would not make any adjustments on defense, so expect Rutgers to continue to pack the paint.  Hopefully, the guards will be more aware of the shooters tonight and reduce open looks.  Otherwise it will be the same old story.

Crash The Glass

Rutgers has the worst rebounding margin in the Big Ten at -6.3.  However, Illinois is the second worst at -5.5.   If Rutgers is to win tonight, they must win the rebounding battle.  They actually matchup equally in size, as both teams have frontcourts decimated by injuries.  Rutgers must be the aggressor and all five players on the floor must crash the glass after every shot.  Illinois is the worst offensive rebounding team in the conference and Rutgers needs to make sure that continues in order to limit their second chance points.

Take Care Of The Basketball

Illinois is second in the conference in turnover margin, as they force 13 a game while only giving away 10.  Rutgers needs strong guard play and make a point to be smart with the basketball.  Limiting turnovers will also help prevent Illinois from going on any extended runs during the game. Rutgers needs to avoid prolonged stretches of sloppy play. Corey Sanders needs to assert his authority on the offense and this game.  Time for the freshman to prove he can not only play well against the Big Ten elite, but dominate a team towards the bottom.  He needs to be unselfish, get everyone involved and let his shots come to him.

Attack The Rim

While Rutgers shot better from three-point range against Michigan State, they are still 13th in the conference at 31% from deep.  With being equal in size to the Illini, they need to focus on their strength on offense, which is attacking the rim.  Corey Sanders, Mike Williams, and Bishop Daniels have all been effective at times slashing to the rim.  It needs to be their main focus tonight and only take shots from behind the arc when the open looks are there.  D.J. Foreman also has an opportunity to step up and be factor in the paint, something he has not consistently been this season.  With Illinois lacking size down low, he needs to be aggressive and demand the ball on offense.

Play Hungry

This is the best chance Rutgers has had for a conference win this season.  Not only is Illinois the first team they have played with a losing record, but they are as banged up in the frontcourt as Rutgers.  They need to take the game to the Illini and fight for this win.  They need to play smart and continue to stick with what works on offense, penetrating the paint and finding open teammates.  Stay away from forcing contested jump shots and limit open looks for the Illini.  Basically, this biggest reason Rutgers could lose tonight is if they beat themselves.  It's a huge game for Eddie Jordan, who would like nothing more than end their 24 game conference losing streak. They need to play like starving animals desperate for food.  The opportunity is there tonight to break through with a victory, it's a matter of Rutgers playing well enough to win the game.