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Rutgers Basketball Game Preview: Minnesota

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The Golden Gophers provide Rutgers with a golden opportunity to end their 32 game conference losing streak and finally win a Big Ten game this season!

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch & Listen

TV: Saturday at 1:00 pm on BTN

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

Spread: Minnesota -2.5

Roster Update

Deshawn Freeman and Shaq Doorson have been declared out for the season. Eddie Jordan will have nine scholarship players available for Saturday's game.

About Minnesota

(KenPom #177 v. Rutgers #306)

Although Minnesota beat Rutgers 83-61 on February 23rd, both teams will have significant changes to their roster for this matchup on Saturday.  The Gophers will have five of their top six scorers out for this game, an incredible statistic in it's own right. Minnesota suspended Kevin Dorsey, leading scorer Nate Mason, and Dupree McBrayer for the season due to a sex video posted on Dorsey's twitter account.  Details are still emerging but if you wanted to read a good account of the situation, click here and here. Mason is a major loss, as the point guard was emerging as one of the better players in the Big Ten as the season progressed. He averaged almost 14 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds, and 1 steal per game. Mason is a similar player to Corey Sanders, who missed the first matchup between these two teams due to his own suspension for violation of team rules.

In addition to the recent suspension last week, senior guard Carlos Morris was dismissed from the team three weeks ago. Morris averaged 10 points and 4 rebounds a game. Dorsey and McBrayer were a pair of freshman guards who both averaged around 6 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists per game. And then just today, it was announced that senior forward Joey King, who averages 40% from three-point range and went 4-7 from deep against Rutgers in their first meeting, is out with a broken foot suffered in his last game.

Other than Minnesota's stunning upset of Maryland for their first conference win of the season, there has been little to cheer for regarding Richard Pitino's squad.  They enter the game with an 8-21 record and are just 2-15 in the conference. Freshman forward Jordan Murphy is the only player left of the top six scorers on the team. Murphy is a beast down low and is averaging 12 points, 8 rebounds, and 1 block per game. He dominated Rutgers in the first meeting, putting together a ridiculous line of 19 points, 14 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists, and 1 block. Ibrahima Diallo and Greg Lewis also missed that first game due to injury, so their presence in the paint should help this time around, as Rutgers needs to make stopping Murphy a priority.

So we have a situation where Rutgers played with only six scholarship players in their first meeting, and now Minnesota is without five of their top six scorers for the rematch. The past two games since the suspensions have opened up opportunity for freshman walk-on guard Stephon Sharp.  After only playing in six of the previous fourteen games and amassing a total of 1 point during that stretch, Sharp has exploded.  He has averaged 17.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 2 assists in the past two games while shooting 48% from the field and 55% from three-point range. He did have 7 turnovers in his first game against Illinois, but responded with zero against Wisconsin on Wednesday. Murphy and Sharp are the only two active players for Minnesota tomorrow that have scored in double figures in the past two games.

Outlook

There is no understating the importance of this game for the Rutgers men's basketball program. Minnesota is a dead team walking, as their roster is more depleted than Rutgers roster ever was this season. It's senior day, the last home game for Greg Lewis, Bishop Daniels, and Omari Grier. It is a golden opportunity to end the 32 game conference losing streak and avoid the third winless Big Ten season in the modern era (Northwestern has both).  Winning this game would be a huge emotional release for everyone associated with this program, as well as everyone who has followed and supported this team over the years.

The burden of carrying a potential 34 game conference losing streak into the offseason would be immense. They are also looking to end a program record 17 game losing streak as well. We expect changes will be made at the end of the season regarding Eddie Jordan as the head coach.  It would be nice for him to get a win in potentially his last home game as coach and for the seniors as well. Especially Greg Lewis, who Jerry Carino profiled in this must read article. Don't get me wrong, the damage done to the program is a mountain sized hole and a win would not come close to making up for that.  But ending all of their careers on a positive note at home should be something we are all rooting for!

It's very important for the new coach to come into the program with a clean slate and avoiding being asked about the losing streaks for months. It's important to get this 400 pound gorilla that is this losing streak, off the back of the players, as those who return can focus on improving themselves and the team in the offseason. We know there is a good chance that Rutgers will be the first power conference team in history to finish with a sub-300 KenPom ranking. However, a win may put them in the clear of that mark, but even if it doesn't, avoiding a winless conference would be something.  It's likely Rutgers will be remembered as the worst power conference team of all-time.  But from a Big Ten perspective, this team will be remembered less in the years that follow and out of the history books in a good way, if Rutgers finished 1-17 as opposed to 0-18.

If Rutgers plays with the focus and unselfishness that they did for most of the first half on Wednesday against Michigan State, they should win this game handily.  I said it, handily, in a game I predicted they would win almost two months ago.  They attacked the rim with a vengeance against the Spartans and looked for their open teammates. It can't be expected for them to shoot as well as they did in that first half, but if they stay disciplined in getting into the paint and avoid taking dumb, contested jump shots, enough points to win will come. No one on Minnesota should be able to contain Corey Sanders and Rutgers depth in the backcourt is far superior. This game has to be won, and if it is not, it would be the lowest point for any major conference team in college basketball history. Their defense has been abysmal all season, but Minnesota has few weapons to punish Rutgers. For once Eddie Jordan can look at his roster in a Big Ten game and see a clear advantage versus the opponent.

It has been said that a main objective in hiring Eddie Jordan as coach was in part to heal the program after the Mike Rice scandal.  He has handled himself mostly with class and dignity along the way, served as a role model when he graduated last year, and genuinely cares for his players and the program.  Winning this game ends the losing streak and would be a worthy last hurrah for the Rutgers great and loyal son.  The fact that Rutgers has gotten progressively worse each season under Jordan is an unavoidable fact in his legacy as coach of the program.  Let his tenure end in peace and give way for true healing moving forward.  Lose and well, the pain and suffering during this losing streak will compound and continue for many months, weighing on this program, the school, and it's fans. There is no excuse to lose this game and whether Rutgers is given full credit in the court of popular opinion, the retort is simply a win is a win is a win is a win.  Get it done!