How To Watch & Listen
TV: Wednesday at 7:00 pm on BTN
Radio: Rutgers IMG Radio Network WOR (710 AM) & WCTC (1450 AM); WRSU (88.7 FM)
Spread: Nebraska - 14.5
Deshawn Freeman and Shaq Doorson have been declared out for the season. Eddie Jordan will have nine scholarship players available for Saturday's game.
(KenPom #108 v. Rutgers #290)
Nebraska ended the regular season with a 14-17 record and 6-12 in the Big Ten, finishing in 11th place in the conference. They have lost five games in a row, including an overtime loss to Ohio State and a one point loss to Penn State. For a team that has been going through a rough stretch, they are likely thrilled to be playing Rutgers for a third time this season. Nebraska embarrassed Rutgers at home on January 9th by the score of 90-56, for what at the time was the program's worst home loss since JFK was President. Rutgers then lost at Nebraska on February 6th by the score of 87-63. So Rutgers lost by a combined 58 points in two losses to the 11th place Big Ten team who will finish the season with a losing record. That's how bad we are folks!
Shavon Shields and Andrew White are Nebraska's best two players, as both did damage in the two meetings this season with Rutgers. White torched Rutgers for 28 points and 9 rebounds in the first game, followed by 21 points and 8 rebounds in the second game. White connected on 8 of 16 three-point attempts in the two games, something Rutgers must limit him with tonight. All-conference forward Shavon Shields didn't score as much as White, but still averaged 14 points in the two meetings this season. He did shoot 55% from the field against Rutgers and didn't need to do much in the second half of both games, as the issue was no longer in doubt.
The end of the line for this nightmare season is finally upon us. The next loss for Rutgers will be the last one of the 2015-2016 season and it's likely to be tonight. I'm all for optimism when warranted, but just because Rutgers throttled Minnesota 75-52 this past Saturday doesn't mean this game will be much different than the previous 32 before it. Minnesota was missing five of their top six scorers, a far worse predicament than any roster shortage Rutgers endured this season. Will this team play suffocating perimeter defense, take away lanes for Nebraska to drive, and crash the boards after every shot? Will they share the basketball, stay disciplined within the offense, and relentlessly attack the rim for high percentage shots while also getting to the foul line? These are things they need to do to win tonight, but they have failed to do for any extended period during any game this season.
The amazing thing about Nebraska beating Rutgers by an average of 29 points is that the Cornhuskers only shot 15-40 for 38% from three-point range. Rutgers has been getting torched from long range all season, but Nebraska did more harm with dribble penetration and points in the paint. At the RAC, there were literally times when Nebraska grabbed a rebound and went the length of the court for a layup, with little resistance from Rutgers. They shot over 50% from the field in both games, while Rutgers shot under 40% on both occassions. Ibrahima Diallo missed both games, so his inside presence should help on the defensive end. However, will it be enough to make this game significantly closer than the previous two meetings? Doubtful.
It will be interesting to see how Corey Sanders plays tonight, after getting snubbed by the Big Ten coaches and failing to make the Freshman All-Conference team. Hopefully, he channels it in a positive way and plays one of his best games of the season. For Rutgers to have a chance to win, aside from playing defense, which has been a rarity this season, Sanders will need a 30 point plus performance. He had one of his worst games of the season in the first game against Nebraska, scoring just 9 points on 2-12 shooting from the floor. Corey scored in double figures in 21 out of 26 games played, and Nebraska was the last team to hold him to single digits. He responded with a great game in their second meeting, scoring 28 points on 12-20 from the floor, along with 5 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals. If Rutgers has any chance tonight, they need a similar, if not even better performance from Sanders.
It's the last call for seniors Greg Lewis, Bishop Daniels, and Omari Grier. Perhaps Daniels goes on a tear like he did against St. John's in November, when he was unstoppable at times. It seemed back then he was going to play at a higher level this season then he actually did. Grier was on fire against Indiana, his first Big Ten game, and it turns out that was his best conference game of the season. Mike Williams shot the lights out Saturday against Minnesota, scoring 29 points on a jaw dropping 6-8 shooting from behind the arc, and scored 22 points in the first game against Nebraska. Jonathan Laurent has had moments this season, and has a knack at finishing near the rim. The fact is Sanders, Daniels, Grier, Williams, and Laurent have all scored 20+ points in a game this season. The problem is they rarely all play well together in the same game. Will that change tonight? Probably not, but it's the only chance Rutgers has to win, against a bad basketball team. Which makes Rutgers.....