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Rutgers Basketball Game #3 Preview vs. Cleveland State

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The Scarlet Knights look to finish a 3 game, 5 day stretch in winning fashion

How To Watch & Listen

Cleveland State (0-1) At Rutgers (2-0)

Where: The RAC in Piscataway, New Jersey

Tip-off: Tuesday, November 14th at 7:00 p.m. ET

TV: BTN

Stream: BTN2GO

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

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #146; Cleveland State #268

(Note: Rutgers dropped 22 spots after Sunday's 4 point win over CCSU)

KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 76 Cleveland State 66; Rutgers 83% chance to win

Series History: Cleveland State won the lone meeting between the two programs, a 78-69 victory during the 1979-1980 season.

About Cleveland State

Former Rutgers head coach Gary Waters, who produced the last two winning seasons on the banks, retired last season and handed over the reigns to Dennis Felton, the former head coach at Western Kentucky and Georgia. He inherited a program coming off two consecutive 20 loss seasons and their leading scorer from last year, Rob Edwards, transferred to Arizona State. There have been several other players who left the program since Felton took over, but they do have six seniors still on the roster.

The top scorer from last season that returned is 6’4” senior guard Bobby Word, who averaged 11.1 points, but shot just 35.2% from the field, including only 32% from three-point range. Word struggled in the season opener, a 10 point loss to Akron, scoring just 5 points on 2 of 7 shooting on a night he was in foul trouble most of the game. He has the ability to catch fire from behind the arc and Rutgers will need to be aware of his presence at all times.

Another guard to watch is 6’0” sophomore, Kash Thomas. He started every game last season as a freshman, when he averaged 7.7 points and 3.3 assists. Thomas also struggled in the season opener, as he went scoreless. One guard who did play well in the loss to Akron is 6’1” freshman Tyree Appleby, who scored 13 points to lead Cleveland State in his collegiate debut. 6’5” senior guard Kenny Carpenter had a big game as well, as he produced a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds, while adding 4 assists.

In the frontcourt, Cleveland State is led by 6’6” senior forward Derek Sloan, who had 8 points and 4 rebounds in the opener, as well as 6’9” freshman forward Stefan Kenic from Serbia, who had a solid stat line of 9 points, 3 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 2 steals in the loss to Akron.

What To Watch For

Defensive Intensity

Rutgers gave a disappointing performance on the defensive end against CCSU, as there were numerous times that their opponent got dribble penetration in the paint and were able to get good looks near the rim. The Blue Devils also shot 48% in the game. It seemed like Rutgers was defending in slow motion, perhaps a result of playing against severely undermanned CCNY less than 48 hours prior. The Scarlet Knights did swipe 9 steals and CCSU committed 20 turnovers, but the overall effort was nowhere near where it needs to be for this team to be successful this season.

The players were likely saved from having a grueling practice today with another quick turnaround for tomorrow’s game, but they’re smart enough to know they need to show major improvement in this matchup. This team must become a good defensive team for them to improve on last season’s 15-18 record. They need to get a lot better in a very short time, as Big Ten play begins in less than three weeks. Hopefully, we see improvement in this game.

Shot Selection

Far too many times against CCSU, Rutgers settled for jump shots instead of attacking the rim. It was a bad habit that reared its ugly head too often last season and it’s disappointing we saw the same thing happen against CCSU, as well as in the opener at CCNY. Hopefully, Rutgers adjusts in this game and makes it a priority to get points in the paint. Corey Sanders did attack at times on Sunday, but had little touch near the rim and shot just 4 of 15 from the field. He needs to put that game behind him and continue to do what he does best and not fall in love with the jumper. It might help freshman Geo Baker as well, who is just 6 of 16 from the field in the first two games of his college career. The one guard who did have success attacking the rim on Sunday was Mike Williams, who forced contact often and got to the free throw line 12 times, making 10. Baker is an outstanding free throw shooter and needs to follow his mentor’s lead by attacking the rim. He needs to focus on taking high percentage shots and getting to the free throw line. Once he gets more comfortable and in rhythm, the jump shots will start to fall.

Frontcourt Scoring

One player from the frontcourt that Rutgers needs to count on scoring wise is Deshawn Freeman, who struggled badly near the rim, missing several close shots on Sunday. He needs to get back on track after a dominant performance in the exhibition win over St. John’s, when Freeman scored 28 points. Eugene Omoruyi Is looking like the second best interior scorer on the team after he produced a career high 13 points on Sunday. It would be good to see him follow up that performance with another strong effort. It would be a positive if big men Mamadou Doucoure, Candido Sa, and Shaq Doorson could combine for 10-15 points a game this season and dominating the offensive glass is a key to them doing that.

Reducing Turnovers

Rutgers has committed 26 turnovers in two games against inferior competition. This was an area of concern for most of last season, but to their credit, the team showed improvement down the stretch from February on in this area. Tuesday’s game would be a good time to start taking care of the basketball better and minimize turnovers, because good teams will make them pay for those mistakes in transition. Rutgers needs to have a clean game and not give Cleveland State any opportunity to get easy baskets off of turnovers.

Closing Out Ability

This is a important step for Rutgers to take in non-conference play. We saw them step up and finish strong against St. John's just over a week ago, but at the end of the day it was just an exhibition. After struggling most of the game against CCSU, they finally built a 13 point lead with just over 5 minutes to play. Unfortunately, they failed to put the game away and had to make free throws down the stretch to ensure the 4 point victory. Rutgers needs to learn from that experience and hopefully they can close the game out more decisively against a more competitive team in Cleveland State. This is an area that will have a major impact on how successful this team can be this season and progress is needed.