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: Nebraska - 18
Deshawn Freeman, Shaq Doorson, and Ibrahima Diallo have all been declared out for the season. However, Eddie Jordan said earlier this week that Freeman and Diallo are starting to workout and will be re-evaluated in a few weeks. Rutgers has eight active scholarship players for today's game.
Rematch With Nebraska
The Cornhuskers enter the game with a 4-6 record in the conference and a 12-11 record overall. That's right, Rutgers is an 18 point underdog to a team that is one game above .500. Honestly, you could argue the spread is too low. At the time of the first meeting of the season between these two teams on January 9th at the RAC, Nebraska handed Rutgers it's worst home loss since JFK was President, winning by 34 points. Regardless of the score, it was what I think was their worst effort in a game this season. It was a blowout from the start and the team looked completely flat and disinterested.
Nebraska dominated Rutgers on the boards in the first meeting, holding a 43-25 edge. They shot a ridiculous 57% from the field, while holding Rutgers to 33% shooting. Nebraska's best player and leading scorer, Andrew White, scored 28 points on 11-14 shooting from the field, including 5-7 from three-point range. He also grabbed 9 rebounds in the win, including 6 offense boards.
Both teams are coming off heartbreaking losses Wednesday night. While Rutgers suffered a triple overtime loss to Illinois, Nebraska lost a dogfight at home to #4 Maryland by the score of 70-65. They led at times and almost pulled off their second win over a ranked team this season, as they upset Michigan State on the road on January 20th. Both squads will need to bounce back quickly today, with Rutgers having to come out fresh after a cross country trek to play in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Keys To The Game
Execute in the Halfcourt Offense
Rutgers continued to have success driving and penetrating the paint against Illinois. When Rutgers runs their offense, working the ball around the perimeter and attacking the rim, they are at their best. Corey Sanders, Mike Williams and Jonathan Laurent have emerged as the best players on the team and solidified that fact on Wednesday. They combined for 77 of the 101 points that Rutgers scored in the loss. While Sanders and Williams did combine for 5 three-pointers, it was their slashing to the rim that was most effective. Laurent has had a predictable up and down freshman season, but when he is in full attack mode and finds his rhythm, he can score almost at will in the paint. Sanders need to come out aggressive and look to get Williams and Laurent involved early. He also needs to make sure they don't get caught up in a fast paced game, as Nebraska blew them out when they tried to play that way the last time. Aside from stats, Sanders needs to continue to develop as the leader on the court and make sure this team plays smart.
D.J. Foreman Please Stand Up
Foreman has played a ton of minutes and has had to matchup against bigger players most of the conference season, due to injuries in the frontcourt. Perhaps he is wearing down, because he scored just 6 points combined in his last three games. He hasn't been aggressive on offense in the slightest, shooting just 10 shots in those games. Foreman also needs to be more assertive on the boards for Rutgers to have a chance against Nebraska. While he has shown flashes at times this season, his fade of late is concerning and this team desperately needs production from him.
Rutgers played terrible defense against Nebraska in their first game, and allowed too many uncontested layups to count. They need to be disruptive on defense and make Nebraska work for every basket. I would expect Eddie Jordan to call for the 2-3 zone early, as Rutgers needs to avoid tired legs later in the game. Perhaps even a box and one with Mike Williams guarding Nebraska's best player, Andrew White. They need to try something different than the last time these two teams played, as Nebraska torched Rutgers man to man defense. Effort was a big reason, but also Rutgers let the pace of the game get away from them. As I said above, they need to play smart on offense and not get into a track meet with Nebraska. Rutgers must get back on defense in transition and not allow so many fast break points in their meeting this time.
This is a big gut check game for Rutgers. Already undermanned with just 8 active scholarship players for this game, they travel across the country three days after a draining triple overtime loss, to take on a team that already beat them by 34 points. How Rutgers responds today will tell you a lot about how they will finish out this season. At 0-10 in the Big Ten and the conference losing streak now at 25 games, the losing could mentally break this team. For the most part, the effort has been there, but today they must be mentally sharp and focused. They can't have any prolonged breakdowns where they allow big runs or the game will get away from them quickly. If they come out as flat and disorganized as they did last time against Nebraska, they will lose by even more that they did at home. Corey Sanders has never wavered in his passion for the game this season, but he needs help. Rutgers needs to come out hungry for a win and take the game to Nebraska from the opening tip and fight the entire game.