How To Watch & Listen
Northwestern (13-4; 2-2) At Rutgers (11-6; 0-4)
Where: The RAC
Tip-off: Thursday, January 12th at 9:00 p.m. ET
TV: ESPNU - Kevin Brown and Dalen Cuff
Radio: WCTC 1450 AM & WOR 710 AM - Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM; Sirius 135; XM 195
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #134; Northwestern #40
KenPom Prediction: Northwestern 68 Rutgers 64 ; Rutgers is given a 34% chance to win.
Series History: Northwestern leads the all-time series 6-1, with Rutgers lone win coming in the 2003-2004 season. The Wildcats have won both meetings since the Scarlet Knights entered the Big Ten.
Chris Collins is in his 4th season as head coach and is looking to lead Northwestern to the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history. They are off to a good start this season, owning wins against Texas, Dayton, Penn State, and Nebraska. Their losses have come to Butler, Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Minnesota. Their non-conference schedule was not particularly strong, but they didn’t suffer any bad losses.
Northwestern plays a slow tempo on offense and they are a relatively good shooting team, while being excellent at minimizing turnovers. They are a very strong defensive team as well. They are led by point guard Bryant McIntosh, who is averaging 12.2 points and 5.5 assists. He runs the show and will be a key in tonight’s game, which we will address in a minute.
Junior wing Scottie Lindsey has emerged in a big way for the Wildcats and our friends at InsideNU did a great profile on his impact here. He is their leading scorer at 15.6 points per game and also chips in with 4.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists per contest. Vic Law is the only other Northwestern player to score in double figures, as he averages 13.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.
This team averages 37% from behind the arc on just over 23 attempts per game. Law is a legit sniper, averaging a scorching 47% on 75 attempts. Amazingly, that isn’t even a team best, as senior reserve Nathan Taphorn is shooting 49% from deep on 45 attempts. Lindsey is shooting 39% from three-point range on 95 attempts.
Nine players average at least 10 minutes per game and while they are an average rebounding team, they do have five players grabbing 4 plus boards per game. This is a fundamentally sound team that is beatable, but Rutgers must play their best 40 minute game of the season to do so.
Keys To The Game
Corey Sanders v. Bryant McIntosh
This is the biggest matchup of the night in my opinion. Corey Sanders has done a great job recently on the defensive end, most notably frustrating Iowa star and Big Ten leading scorer Peter Jok into an uncharacteristic bad shooting night in the last game. Sanders held Jok 5 points under his average and he shot just 7 of 18 from the field and 2 of 10 from three-point range. McIntosh is a completely different player for Northwestern, as he directs their offense with everything going through himself. It’s likely he will guard Sanders as well and whoever outplays the other will have a major impact on the outcome of this game. Corey has been trending up the past couple of games and I expect him to be ready to play tonight. If he wants to be considered one of the best guards in the Big Ten, he needs to prove it against one that already is.
Own The Glass & 2nd Chance Points
This may seem repetitive, but it is absolutely imperative that Rutgers win the battle on the boards for them to win any conference game this season. They dominated Iowa in the paint and it almost won them the game. However, Iowa’s zone threw the offense off down the stretch and Rutgers struggled to get looks near the rim. You can bet head coach Steve Pikiell worked on attacking the zone in practice this week, as it’s likely they will see it often tonight, despite Northwestern being mostly a man to man defensive team. With a lack of shooters on the perimeter, it’s fair to expect most Big Ten teams to defend Rutgers by packing it in the paint and forcing them to make shots from 12+ feet out. Deshawn Freeman and the other bigs must continue outworking their opponents on the glass and take advantage by finishing near the rim.
Defend The Three
Another key to the game that has been repetitive, but this is the third straight opponent Rutgers is playing that shoots often and at a high percentage from behind the arc. They did a much better job against Iowa, who made just 6 of 20 attempts (30%), after getting torched the game before against Michigan State. The perimeter defense of Rutgers must continue to improve and awareness of shooters on the floor and limiting their open space will be a must in this game.
Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers
In their last five games, which included Seton Hall and four Big Ten opponents, Rutgers is averaging over 16 turnovers per game. That is not going to cut it and is a big reason Rutgers has failed to win during that span, all of which were losses. Giving away easy baskets is simply something this team cannot afford to do. While Northwestern doesn’t force a lot of takeaways defensively, they are very good at protecting the basketball on offense. Rutgers needs to keep within shouting distance in turnover margin or their likelihood of winning this game will be small.
Put It All Together
Corey Sanders played his best game of the season against Michigan State, while Deshawn Freeman played his best against Iowa. Nigel Johnson played solid in both contests. Mike Williams, who has been the most consistent player all season, has fallen off the past two and sat out practice on Tuesday due to being sick. That may have contributed to Williams only scoring 2 points the past two games, while averaging over 11 points per game before that stretch. For Rutgers to win a conference game, these four players need to play well at the same time. That doesn’t necessarily mean all of them need to score in double figures, but Rutgers cannot afford one or two of them to have a bad game or it will be difficult to win.
In The Bonus
Let’s hope the RAC continues its resurgence tonight, as Rutgers needs a boisterous crowd to help them to victory. Northwestern beat both Penn State and Nebraska on the road, so they won’t be flustered easily. However, we know what a rowdy crowd at the RAC has done to greater programs in the past and it can happen again tonight. Rutgers needs a win badly and tonight is a great opportunity to break through. It won’t be easy, but the home faithful can certainly help out. Don’t let the last home game, which was the disappointing loss to Penn State, discourage from coming out for this one.
Mike Williams Named Co-Captain
Thrilled to share that Mike Williams has been named Co-Captain of our team. Mike is a terrific ambassador for our program & University!! pic.twitter.com/OYkp1tnZNg— Steve Pikiell (@CoachPikiell) January 10, 2017
Well deserved for the junior, who has been through more adversity in his career than any player on the roster. Pikiell discusses the move below.
Steve Pikiell Talks About The State Of The Team