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Rutgers Men’s Basketball Game #6 Preview vs. East Carolina

The Dark Knight uniforms will debut at the RAC on Black Friday

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch & Listen

East Carolina (2-2) At Rutgers (5-0)

Where: The RAC in Piscataway, New Jersey

Tip-off: Friday, November 24th at 1:00 p.m. ET

TV: None

Stream: BTN Plus (subscription required)

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

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #118; East Carolina #220

(Note: Rutgers rose 2 spots from their last game)

KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 72 East Carolina 63; Rutgers 81% chance to win

Series History: East Carolina won the only meeting between the two programs, 79-74 on November 14, 2001.

About East Carolina

East Carolina has played three opponents that Rutgers has so far this season, but with different results. The Pirates beat Coppin State by 26, similar to Rutgers, but struggled to get past Cleveland State by only 3 points. The big difference in results was that East Carolina suffered a big upset loss to CCSU by 11 points. They also lost to Radford by 7 as well, who are actually better than you think, as they are ranked #175th on the latest KenPom rankings. Even so, it’s been a shaky start to the season for head coach Jeff Lebo, who is in his eighth season at the school.

East Carolina can score and enter Friday’s contest averaging 71 points per game. They are shooting 53.4% from two point range, where 55% of its offense comes from. They are struggling from deep and are only making 28.8% of their shots from three-point range. ECU is sloppy with the basketball, turning it over 14 times per contest.

The Pirates are a guard heavy team and 6’3” senior guard B.J. Tyson leads East Carolina with 17.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.0 steal per game. He is shooting 47% from both three-point range and the field, overall. Rutgers needs to keep him off the free throw line too, as he has made 17 of 19 attempts (89.5%). Backcourt mate and 6’5” junior guard Kentrell Barkley is shooting an impressive 55% from the field and is second on the team in scoring with 15.0 points per game. He also averages 4.5 boards, 2.3 assists, and 1.5 steals per contest. Point guard Isaac Fleming is another name to know, as he has the 16th highest assist rate in the country, averaging 6.5 per game. He is turnover prone though and averages 3.3 per contest, but also adds 8.8 points and 2.5 boards per game.

6’8” freshman Dimitri Spasojevic and 6’10” senior Jabari Craig lead the frontcourt for the Pirates. The Serbian Spasojevic is averaging 6.3 points and shooting 63% from the floor, while adding 5.3 rebounds per game. Craig will be the tallest player Rutgers has faced so far this season and he is averaging 5.5 points and rebounds per game. Another freshman, 6’8” forward Justin Whatley, is contributing 6.0 points and 3.0 boards per contest.

What To Watch For

Avoid Turkey Hangover

If you can remember back to last season, Rutgers played a Black Friday matinee as well, barely surviving Hartford, thanks to a C.J. Gettys putback with 7 seconds left in the game. There is no doubt head coach Steve Pikiell will remind his team of this game as well. East Carolina is a bottom tier team in the American Athletic Conference, but they have the most talented roster Rutgers has faced so far this season. They also have the most size of any team the Scarlet Knights have gone up against. It’s a team they absolutely should beat, but if Rutgers comes out slow in the early afternoon after Thanksgiving, this game could turn the holiday weekend into a nightmare.

Interior Defense

As noted above, East Carolina is effective near the rim, shooting 53% on the season from two-point range. While Rutgers has played solid defensively so far, they have still allowed inferior opponents to get to the rim more easily and more often than they should. This game is a test for Rutgers to tighten up even more in the paint and force the Pirates to take difficult, contested shots. The Scarlet Knights need to bring proper focus and intensity on the defensive end, or this game could turn into a shootout.

Free Throw Shooting

Rutgers is now shooting just 57% through five games as a team from the charity stripe. However, six of the seven players who are getting the most minutes on the court are all making more than 72% of their attempts. The issue has been the bench, most notably, forward Eugene Omoruyi, who has played very well this season (9.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.4 blocks) aside from his struggles at the line. Of the total 114 free throw attempts that Rutgers has taken, Omoruyi has shot 22% of those attempts. Unfortunately, he has only made 40% of them (10 for 25), so the overall number for the team reflects much lower than how the majority of the players are shooting. The rest of the bench, aside from Mike Williams, has struggled as well. However, my main point is that free throws could be a major factor in this game and the starters need to make them count. If Corey Sanders, Geo Baker, Mike Williams, Deshawn Freeman, Issa Thiam, and Mamadou Doucoure can all continue to shoot better than 70% from the free throw line this season, it will be a major improvement from last season.

Need Strong Guard Play

East Carolina is a guard heavy team, but the backcourt of Rutgers will be its toughest challenge so far. After Tuesday’s win over Bryant, it’s clear that the trio of Sanders, Baker and Williams give Rutgers potentially it’s best backcourt in years. The chemistry is growing between them and they are learning how to play with each other on the court. Sanders has been challenged by Pikiell recently and it appears that the junior playmaker is flourishing because of it. Baker has found his shot and plays with a poise uncommon for a freshman. Williams continues to provide stability and consistency off the bench, something that will lead to more minutes for him once the competition ramps up. If these three players can start the game strong on Friday, Rutgers should control the action the entire way.

Ensure Another 6-0 Start

If Rutgers can win this game, it will be the second consecutive season with a 6-0 start. Granted, the competition has been extremely weak, as Rutgers has the worst ranked strength of schedule in the country (351 out of 351), per KenPom. Even so, perception wise, it would be a positive for the program to have another strong start to the season. The competition ramps up next week, as Florida State (4-0, 42nd per KenPom) visits the RAC on Tuesday night for the biggest test of the season so far for the Scarlet Knights. Soon after, Big Ten play opens with a road game at Minnesota (5-0, 26th per KenPom), followed by the conference home opener against Michigan State (2-1, 13th per KenPom). Rutgers needs to come out sharp on Friday afternoon and show continued improvement on the court, before having a few days to prepare for a very difficult road ahead.

Note: It’s a blackout at the RAC on Black Friday.