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Rutgers Basketball Game 20 Preview: Nebraska

We look at keys to victory, as well as reasons to be optimistic.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch & Listen

Nebraska (9-9; 3-3) At Rutgers (11-8; 0-6)

Where: The RAC

Tip-off: Saturday, January 21st at 12:00 p.m. ET

TV: ESPNU - Clay Matvich and Sean Harrington

Radio: WCTC 1450 AM & WOR 710 AM - Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #136; Nebraska #84

KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 67 Nebraska 66; Rutgers is given a 51% chance of winning

Series History: Nebraska leads the all-time series 5-2, including three wins last season by an average margin of victory of 25 points per game.

About Nebraska

The Cornhuskers played a challenging non-conference schedule in which they lost to several ranked teams at the time, including Kansas, Creighton, and UCLA. They also lost to ACC foes Clemson and Virginia Tech. Despite a solid win over Dayton, they own probably the worst result in the Big Ten this season, an 8 point loss to Gardner-Webb. However, Nebraska started the conference slate by upsetting Indiana and Maryland on the road, as well as a double overtime win versus Iowa. They have come back to earth since though, losing three straight games to Northwestern, Michigan, and Ohio State, all by single digits.

Nebraska is led by their backcourt with senior Tai Webster and sophomore Glynn Watson Jr. The versatile Webster, who is the team’s leading scorer and assist man, brings an impressive stat line of 18.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.5 steals per game into this contest. Watson Jr. is second in scoring with 14.8 points per game and is their best threat from three-point range, where he is shooting 44% from deep.

The frontcourt is led by sophomore Ed Morrow, who produces 10.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game. He is also shooting 55% from the field, but missed their last game with a foot injury and is unlikely to play Saturday.. Sophomore Michael Jacobson contributes 6.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per contest. He is one of only two players on the roster standing at 6’9” or taller.

While Nebraska is only shooting 33% as a team from three-point range this season, they were on fire in Big Ten play before Wednesday’s loss to Ohio State, as they connected on 44% of their shots behind the arc in their first 5 games of conference play. However, they struggled mightily against the Buckeyes, making just 5 of 21 attempts for only 24%.

They are similar to Rutgers in that they are strong on the defensive end, where Nebraska is ranked 71st in adjusted efficiency. They are forcing a lot of turnovers against Big Ten opponents and have a high steal percentage. On the flip side, their offensive stats as a team are not good, but are slightly better that Rutgers.

Keys To The Game

The keys for this game are not very different from the past few games. I will cover them briefly and then expound on three reasons I’m optimistic about this game.

Stop Giving It Away

Limiting turnovers against a team that forces them at a high rate like Nebraska is so important. Rutgers needs to prevent easy baskets in transition and make them work for every basket. Rutgers is averaging 16 turnovers in conference play and committed 21 in their last game at Indiana. They need to take care of the basketball in a big way in this game or their chances to win will slip away.

Own The Boards

Nebraska is a good team on the offensive glass, but their numbers pale in comparison to Rutgers. As we know, second chance points from offensive rebounds are a major key to the Scarlet Knights offense and they need to be more proficient in this area than the Cornhuskers are in this game. Rutgers is the only team to out-rebound Indiana, one of the best teams in the country on the boards. They need to limit Nebraska on the defensive end. On the flip side, Nebraska is allowing their opponents to grab boards on the offensive end at a high rate, so Rutgers needs to maximize any advantage they can muster. Rutgers has a significant height advantage and need to capitalize on it.

Take Advantage of The Charity Stripe

Rutgers has been abysmal from the free throw line in Big Ten play and it’s really hurting their ability to put together substantial runs in key parts of games. They are shooting a subpar 64% from the line for the season, but are even worse in conference play, making just 54% from the charity stripe in 104 attempts. Mike Williams is the only player on the roster averaging more than 2 attempts per game that is shooting over 70%. Head coach Steve Pikiell spoke about putting in extra work at practice, let’s hope positive results follow against Nebraska.

Three Reasons To Be Optimistic

Nebraska Is Weak In An Area That Is Rutgers’ Strength

The Cornhuskers are last in Big Ten play in allowing their opponents to grab offensive rebounds in over 36% of their opportunities. Rutgers is second in the conference in grabbing 36% of their chances for offensive rebounds. I’m no mathematician, but that seems like a pretty good matchup and an area Rutgers MUST exploit in this game.

Rutgers Could Actually Win The Battle From Three

Rutgers has done a much better job defending the three of late and are holding Big Ten opponents to just 29% shooting from behind the arc. That is 3rd best in the league. Nebraska was hot at the start of conference play, but struggled in their last game and overall, they are the weakest three-point shooting team Rutgers will have faced in the Big Ten so far.

Conversely, Nebraska does not defend the three well at all, as they are ranked 13th and allow conference opponents to shoot over 41% from deep. Pikiell has stressed limiting Rutgers to about 10 attempts from three-point range due to a lack of shooters. However, if there is ever an opponent for Mike Williams and Issa Thiam to get back on track from behind the arc against, the Cornhuskers are it. Not only would it be a major plus in this game, but those two shooters desperately need to build confidence from deep for the rest of the season.

Rutgers Is Rested & Should Be Ready

Conference play is difficult for every college basketball team, but Rutgers had a very tough start to their schedule. Four of their six Big Ten games have been on the road, including against blue bloods Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Indiana. Overall, Rutgers has only played at the RAC twice since December 14th. They will enter Saturday’s game with five days since their last game, while Nebraska just lost in grueling fashion on their home court with a last second basket by Ohio State on Wednesday. Then they had to get on a plane less than 48 hours later and fly halfway across the country to the garden state. In addition, Pikiell and his staff will have had five full days to prepare for this game and work on certain things. KenPom essentially has this game as a toss up, but these factors just mentioned certainly help booster Rutgers’ chances.

In The Bonus

Let’s hope for a solid crowd at the RAC for the noon tip-off on a Saturday. There is no playoff football and the students are back in school. A boisterous crowd would be a much needed lift for a team looking to finally breakthrough with a Big Ten win. I predicted a Rutgers victory in this Q&A with Corn Nation, while they called for a double digit win for Nebraska here. Rutgers was embarrassed multiple times last season by the Cornhuskers, a fact I’m sure the coaching staff has reminded them of. This is as good an opportunity to win in Big Ten play as any. The turnout for the Penn State game was excellent, but sadly, there was little to cheer about. I expect this game to be different, so come out and rock the RAC!