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Rutgers Basketball Game 26 Preview: Minnesota

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What Rutgers needs to do to get back on track at the RAC.

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Minnesota Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch & Listen

Minnesota (17-7; 5-6) At Rutgers (13-12; 2-10)

Where: The RAC

Tip-off: Saturday, February 11th at 12:00 p.m. ET

TV: ESPNU - Clay Matvick and Sean Harrington

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

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #129; Minnesota #38

KenPom Prediction: Minnesota 66 Rutgers 61; Rutgers is given a 32% chance of winning

Series History: Minnesota leads the series 5-1 all-time, but Rutgers won their last meeting.

About Minnesota

In head coach Richard Pitino’s fourth season, the Golden Gophers are hoping to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time during his tenure. They have work to do, but responded from a five game losing streak by winning their last two games. Minnesota comes into this game on an emotional high after just winning a double overtime battle at home Wednesday night against Iowa, in which they scored 101 points.

They play mostly a seven man rotation, with five players scoring in double figures and are the second best rebounding team in the Big Ten, behind only Rutgers. They are a very good defensive team and also lead the conference in blocked shots. It will be a real battle in the paint in this game.

Key Players

Nate Mason - The junior point guard leads the Golden Gophers in scoring, assists, steals and is their best free throw shooter. He is also a 39% three-point shooter and does it all for Minnesota, averaging 14.4 points, 5.3 assists, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game.

Jordan Murphy - After making the All-B1G Freshman team last season, Murphy has been a solid force on the blocks, as he averages 10.0 points and 7.8 rebounds, best on the team. He is athletic and will likely be matched up against Deshawn Freeman, which will be a key battle in this game.

Amir Coffey - The 6’8” freshman wing is second on the team in scoring, assists, and steals and will be a tough matchup for Rutgers. He is averaging 12.2 points, 3.7 boards, 3.2 assists, and 1.2 steals per game, while shooting 46% from the field and 74% from the line.

Dupree McBrayer - The Queens, NY native is one of the better perimeter players on Minnesota and is shooting 37% from behind the arc, while averaging 11 points and 3 assists per game.

Akeem Springs - He is the most dangerous shooter on the team and is knocking down an impressive 42% of this three-point attempts, averaging 2.3 long range makes per game. The Rutgers backcourt will need to know where he is on the perimeter at all times.

Reggie Lynch - He leads the Big Ten with 3.2 blocks per game and could have a field day if the frontcourt of Rutgers doesn’t attack the rim aggressively. He also chips in 8.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per contest.

Eric Curry - The 6’9” freshman has been solid off the bench this season, contributing close to 6 points and 6 rebounds per game.

Keys To The Game

Urgency & Toughness

This game is a legitimate opportunity for Rutgers to make a big statement. It would be the highest ranked opponent they’ve beaten since Wisconsin over 2 years ago. In their past six games, Rutgers has two wins, two heartbreaking losses, a relatively well played game in losing to Maryland, and the clunker at home against Iowa. That marks significant progress, but following that stretch up with a win in this game would be absolutely huge. They just lost a tough game on the road, but they need to prove their resolve and toughness in a relatively quick turnaround. They need be physical and play with energy right from the opening tip. Minnesota averages 75 points a game, but have been held to 50 or less against Penn State and Michigan State. Against Ohio State, Rutgers did a great job responding to a 12 point deficit early in the second half and they can’t panic if they fall behind in this game either. They’ll have the RAC faithful behind them in this game and need to makeup for their last performance at home in their 20 point loss to Iowa.

Go Hard To The Rim

As frustrating as missed free throws have been all season, Rutgers has missed a lot of shots near the rim as well. Minnesota has the top block percentage in the Big Ten and 3rd highest in the country. The frontcourt of Rutgers need to go strong to the rim and force contact. Yes, that means they’ll need to take advantage of opportunities on the free throw line, but you would rather that, then players losing the ball or taking shots that don’t even reach the basket because they were soft takes. It’s happened far too often this season. As coach Pikiell has said before, “you can’t rebound a turnover”. They need to attack the rim with controlled aggression.

Make Them Work On Offense

While Minnesota doesn’t turn it over often, they do shoot a poor percentage from two-point range, ranking only 278th in the country in that statistic. Rutgers needs to play lockdown halfcourt defense and keep the Golden Gophers out of the paint. As Rutgers has proven against Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Penn State, when they can force their opponent to settle for jump shots, it bodes well for them on the defensive end. Four starters played at least 39 minutes Wednesday night, so they may have tired legs. Being a good rebounding team helps make Rutgers so effective on this end of the floor. They need to force multiple ball reversals and prevent easy baskets. Their attitude on the defensive end can set the tone for them in this game and they’ll need to right from the start.

Balance Is Everything

As much as they need Corey Sanders to take over the game at times, they are most competitive when they have three to four other players scoring as well. Their past two games, a close win over Penn State and a close loss to Ohio State, Rutgers had three other plays reach double figures in the scoring column. Balance is key and opens up opportunities for Corey on the offensive end, preventing teams from only focusing on him. We saw a competent attack in the last five minutes of Wednesday night’s game after Corey fouled out, so hopefully they can build confidence from that. One player that is especially important is Issa Thiam, who has made two shots from behind the arc in both of the past two games. If he can build off his best performance of the season and be a factor on the perimeter, he will give Rutgers a huge lift from the outside in this game. That would help to open up driving and passing lanes in the paint, preventing Minnesota from packing it in on defense, forcing them to guard the perimeter.

Coach Pikiell’s Thoughts

In The Bonus

After playing ten of their last fourteen games away from the RAC, Rutgers will finish the season with four of their last six games at home. This game is a big opportunity for them make up for the Iowa game and prove how much progress they have made since. Let’s hope for a good turnout at the RAC for the noon game, as we saw how important the crowd was in the comeback win over Nebraska. Despite losing at Ohio State on Wednesday, Rutgers should come into this game with confidence. Hopefully, they can continue their strong play on Saturday afternoons, as their last three results were as follows: a win over Nebraska, an overtime loss to Wisconsin, a win at Penn State.

Also, this promotion is clever by the athletic department and has created a lot of buzz on twitter, with Rutgers fans choosing sides. If you are going to the game, you can take the shirt of your liking!