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Rutgers Basketball Game 28 Preview: Northwestern

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Can Rutgers avoid the season sweep and stun the Wildcats?

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

How To Watch & Listen

Rutgers (13-14; 2-12) At Northwestern (19-7; 8-5)

Where: Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, Illinois (Capacity: 8,117)

Tip-off: Saturday, February 18th at 6:00 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 #135; Northwestern #31

KenPom Prediction: Northwestern 70 Rutgers 57; Rutgers is given a 11% chance of winning.

Series History: Northwestern leads the series 8-1 all-time.

1st Meeting Game Recap

About Northwestern

After beating Indiana by 13 points on January 29th at home, Northwestern moved to 7-2 in conference play and 18-4 overall. For a program that has never made the NCAA Tournament in their history, they were flying high midway through conference play. However, February has not been kind to the Wildcats, who have now lost 3 of 4, including a stunning loss at home to 13th place Illinois by 7 weeks just a week and a half ago. They responded with a huge upset win over 1st place Wisconsin in the following game last Sunday, before falling by 10 points at home to Maryland this past Wednesday.

Northwestern has the third best adjusted defensive rating in the Big Ten, according to KenPom. They are second in block percentage in conference play and made it very difficult for Rutgers on the offensive end in their first meeting, holding them to just 32% shooting from the field.

The Wildcats are led by a very good trio of Vic Law, Scottie Lindsey, and Bryant McIntosh. Law had a game high 23 points and grabbed 8 boards at the RAC in mid-January. He is averaging almost 14 points a game and is their best three-point shooter at 42% on 115 attempts. Scottie Lindsey is their leading scorer at 15.4 points per game, but has missed the past four games due to illness. Of course, it appears he is set to return in tonight’s game.

He didn’t have his best game against Rutgers at the RAC, shooting just 1 of 7 from behind the arc. Lindsey still finished with 14 points in that game and it will be very interesting to see how he plays tonight in his return from an extended absence.

McIntosh is one of the best point guards in the Big Ten and is an extension of head coach Chris Collins on the floor. He averages 13.8 points, 5.6 assists and 2.8 rebounds and is the team’s best free throw shooter at 88%. Rutgers did a good job containing him in their first meeting and need to do the same tonight.

Keys To The Game

Tighten Up On D

The past two games have not been very good defensive performances from Rutgers and they must do a better job of sealing off lanes for penetration. It’s understandable the frontline of Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas dominated for Purdue earlier this week. However, Minnesota, especially in the first half, seemed to drive without little resistance and killed Rutgers in the paint in that game. While Northwestern isn’t as dangerous in the frontcourt as those other two teams, they have very good guards who will look to attack the rim. Rutgers was effective for most of the opening frame in the first meeting against the Wildcats, but need to play a complete game tonight to have any chance to pull the upset.

Regain Identity On Boards

In addition to the recent defensive woes, Rutgers has gotten beaten badly on the glass lately. In their last two games against Minnesota and Purdue, they had a -23 rebounding margin combined. We know a big part of improved play this season has been their ability to rebound and Rutgers is still 5th in the country in boards per game. However, they must regain their identity tonight against a team that grabbed 49 rebounds against them in their first meeting. While Deshawn Freeman did pull down 15 boards in their January contest at the RAC, Northwestern grabbed 20 offensive rebounds in that game. The frontcourt must be more aggressive and prevent second chance opportunities for the Wildcats.

Guard Play

In order for Rutgers to push Northwestern tonight, they need really good performances from their backcourt. There has yet to be a conference game in which Corey Sanders, Nigel Johnson, and Mike Williams all had really good nights at the same time. They need to set the tone defensively by applying ball pressure and forcing turnovers. For Rutgers to achieve balance on offense, they need scoring from their guards. In addition to the trio mentioned, Issa Thiam has been a factor at times more recently and getting him better looks from the perimeter than he has had of late is important as well. Rutgers has committed less turnovers recently and need to keep that going as well.

Run, Run, Run

Rutgers plays their best offense in transition and a big reason they’ve struggled the past two games is their inability run as much as they need to. It’s a result of getting pounded on the boards and not having opportunities to push the pace on missed shots from their opponents. Northwestern clogged up the paint well and blocked 15 shots in the first game against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights need to avoid that result tonight and the best way to do that is running in transition, where their guards thrive.

In The Bonus

Tonight’s game has been sold out for several days and Rutgers must maintain their composure in what should be a hostile environment. They suffered one of their worst losses of last season in this venue, getting torched 98-59. To avoid Welsh-Ryan arena from becoming a house of horrors again, the leaders on this team must step up and keep things together. They need to avoid a slow start and play with purpose right from the opening tip. This game is a real test to see how far this team has really come, as if they aren’t ready to play, the result could be very ugly. Northwestern knows they need to win this game to keep their March Madness hopes alive. If they do actually make the NCAA Tournament, the longest drought for any program in college basketball would then be Rutgers. A loss for Northwestern tonight would certainly not end their chances of making it, but it sure would be fun to put a major dent in their March dreams.