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Rutgers Men’s Basketball Game #8 Preview At Minnesota

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The Big Ten opener is here

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

How To Watch & Listen

Rutgers (6-1) At #12 Minnesota (7-1)

Where: Williams Arena, also known as “The Barn” in Minneapolis (capacity 16,000)

Tip-off: Sunday, December 3rd at 6:00 p.m. ET

TV: BTN - Cory Provus and Shon Morris

Stream: BTN2GO

Radio: WCTC 1450 AM & WOR 710 AM - Chris Carlin & Joe Boylan

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #111; Minnesota #25

(Note: Rutgers rose 5 spots from their last game, a five point loss to Florida State)

KenPom Prediction: Minnesota 78 Rutgers 65 ; Rutgers 11% chance to win

Series History: Minnesota leads the all-time series 6-1

Minnesota SB Nation site: The Daily Gopher

About Minnesota

Fifth year head coach Richard Pitino has arguably his best team since arriving in Minneapolis and they are off to a 7-1 start, including wins over Providence (6-1, 34th in KenPom) and Alabama (6-1, 31st in KenPom). The Gophers lost their last game to #10 Miami at home on Wednesday by the score of 86-81. Starting guard Dupree McBrayer missed that game due to a right leg injury.

Minnesota scores 90 points a game and are balanced offensively, with six players averaging at least 9 points per contest. The Gophers are also strong defensively, currently ranked 36th in Division I adjusted defensive efficiency (96.1), are holding opponents to shooting just 41% from two-point range (19th in Div I) and have a block rate of 19.9% (3rd in Div I).

They are led by 6’6” junior forward Jordan Murphy, who is playing as well as anyone in the country so far this season. He is averaging an impressive 21.4 points on 62.5% shooting from the floor, as well as 12.5 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 1.4 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. He has been a consistent force and double-double machine. Murphy is joined in the frontcourt by 6’10” senior center Reggie Lynch, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Lynch has also improved offensively this season and is stuffing the stat sheet by averaging 11.4 points on 60.3% shooting, 8.5 rebounds, 4.6 blocks, and 1.6 assists per game, all career best marks.

In the backcourt, Minnesota is led by 6’2” senior guard Nate Mason, who is 13.9 points, 4.3 assists, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.0 steal per contest. 6’8” sophomore wing Amir Coffey is keeping pace with Mason, as he is averaging 13.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.0 steal per game. 6’5” junior guard Dupree McBrayer from Queens, New York has been solid as well, averaging 9.3 points, 3.6 assists, and 2.0 rebounds. All three players are shooting very well from three point range this season: Mason is 17 of 41 for 41.5%, Coffey is 12 of 28 for 42.9%, and McBrayer is 10 of 23 for 43.5%.

It’s unclear whether McBrayer will play in this game, but Minnesota has highly touted freshman and one time Rutgers recruit, 6’1” guard Isaiah Washington to start in his place. Washington has had a good start to his college career, as the Harlem native is averaging 8.9 points, 3.0 assists, and 2.1 rebounds, although he is shooting just 36.4% from the field.

Thoughts From Head Coach Steve Pikiell

Here are some quotes from Pikiell during a conference call with the media on Friday:

On how playing through the Big Ten last year helps him & his team this time around:

“I know for myself and the staff, the familiarity — we know the league, we know the players, we’re watching tape from last year, so we have some references to go by with our out-of-bounds plays and different things like that. I think experience is always a big help. I think our players that have been in the program like Mike, Corey and Deshawn are obviously familiar with their players and their roster and their style of play and those type of things. Experience is always a great quality to have in a basketball team and hopefully they share that experience with the young guys who have no experience playing against these guys. We’ll count on our veteran guys doing a great job with leadership. We had a good day the other day and Deshawn seemed like he was ready to step into league play and the way he was trying to lead us in our practice. Same thing with Mike. Good qualities are when your veteran guys know what time it is, it’s league time. I think this is as competitive a league and we certainly have as competitive a schedule early in the league as anybody.”

Thoughts on Minnesota:

“A tough place to play, first and foremost, and a really good team. I think the next two games, obviously, they’re playing as well as anyone in the country, both these teams. Challenging is how I would describe it, but also great opportunity for us. I think Florida State got us in that mode, too, where we play really talented teams … I’m excited about it and I think our guys are, too.”

On how Minnesota turned from 8 wins to a Top-10 team in two years:

“First of all, they’ve done a good job and I really think their guys have improved too. Jordan Murphy has arguably become the best player in the conference, 22 points and 12 rebounds a game. Improvement when you look at where he started and where he is now. Nate Mason improved. Obviously, they have a really talented player in Amir Coffey who can play anywhere and they have Reggie Lynch, who is a premier shot blocker. They’ve done a good job in a lot of areas and obviously in recruiting. They’ve got good chemistry and he’s a good coach (Richard Pitino), so I think all those things come together. They play unselfishly, they really pass the ball, they share the game, so they got a lot of great qualities.”

Keys To Victory

Best Defensive Effort Of The Season Needed

For Rutgers to knock off one of the best teams in the Big Ten, they need to produce its best defensive effort of the season. Minnesota has scored below 89 points just twice this season, as they scored 81 in the loss to Miami and were held to 69 points by UMASS, a game in which they shot just 43% from the field and 62% from the free throw line. The Gophers are athletic, big, and can score in multiple ways. Rutgers showed some stones against Florida State, a team who averaged 91 points coming in, and held them to 15 points in the first 10 minutes of that game before they got going.

The Scarlet Knights need to contest every shot in this game and make Minnesota work for every basket. Deshawn Freeman and Eugene Omoruyi will likely switch on potential conference player of the year candidate Jordan Murphy, who will be a major challenge. The backcourt of Corey Sanders, Geo Baker and Mike Williams will need to contain Nate Mason and the three-point shooting of Minnesota. An interesting matchup in this game will be the 6’10” Issa Thiam, an underrated defender in my opinion, against 6’8” Amir Coffey.

Minimize Big Runs

One thing Rutgers cannot afford to happen on the road against a superior opponent is to allow Minnesota multiple big scoring runs. Rutgers did a good job of containing Florida State from big runs on Tuesday and never trailed by more than 8 points in the game. The Scarlet Knights are not built to come back against such a dynamic offensive team as Minnesota. They simply can’t keep up if they fall too far behind and minimizing runs of 10-2 or worse is an absolute must if they want to be competitive in this game.

Offensive Rebounds & Second Chance Points

The bottom line is for Rutgers to win any Big Ten game this season, they need to win the battle on the offensive boards and capitalize on second chance points. They were able to have an edge in both areas against Florida State, which is a reason the game was close, but it still wasn’t enough to pull the upset. Minnesota is better in defending its opponents on the offensive glass than the Seminoles, so Rutgers will need to be active in the paint and win the battle on the boards from the opening tip of this game. The backcourt, especially Mike Williams, need to have a presence on the glass as well.

Handle The Road

Playing a ranked opponent on the road is never easy. Having that as your first away game of the season makes this challenge even more difficult. It be the first road contest in the college careers of starters Geo Baker and Mamadou Doucoure. How they handle it will be key to whether Rutgers can be competitive in this game. Doucoure will matchup with senior Reggie Lynch, who is a beast. Hopefully, he can play with poise and hold his own. The entire team needs to start the game with proper energy and focus, or it could get ugly. Here is what Pikiell said when asked about how he will prepare the two freshmen starters for this game:

“It’s my same advice to all of them. It’s never about going on the road, it’s about who you’re playing and how to prepare for the team that you’re playing. With the team we’re playing as much as the venue we’re playing at. Jordan Murphy is playing as well as anyone in the league and they rebound and they’re tough and they have a bunch of veteran players, so just more focused on what their jobs and their assignments are in this game than where we’re playing.”

Balanced Scoring

Minnesota is a high scoring team, similar to Florida State. Rutgers was able to compete against the Seminoles and had three players score above their season averages, as Eugene Omoruyi had 22 points, Corey Sanders had 20 points, and Deshawn Freeman scored 15 points. However, no one else scored more than 5 points in the game. Rutgers is going to need more players to contribute offensively in this game to have a chance to pull the upset. Pikiell made this point in his call, saying “Now, can we get more of them to play well on the same day? That’s where we have to go leading into this Minnesota and Michigan State game. More of them playing well on the same night as opposed to one or two of them playing great and the rest of them having average nights.” Rutgers really needs Mike Williams to get going in this game, as well as Issa Thiam and Geo Baker, who makes this team more dynamic on offense. The reality is for Rutgers to win this game, they’ll likely need four to five players scoring in double figures. Due to the strong defense of Minnesota in the paint, for Rutgers to accomplish that feat, they will likely need big shooting nights from its backcourt, in addition to second chance points off of offensive rebounds.

To read Brian Fonseca’s Q&A on Minnesota Basketball, click here.