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Rutgers Basketball Game 25 Preview: Ohio State

Here is what to expect from the Buckeyes and what Rutgers must do to keep the good vibes going on the road.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch & Listen

Rutgers (13-11; 2-9) At Ohio State (14-10; 4-7 )

Where: Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio

Tip-off: Wednesday, February 8th at 7:00 p.m. ET

TV: BTN - Cory Provus and Shon Morris

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

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #135; Ohio State #60

KenPom Prediction: Ohio State 72 Rutgers 62; Rutgers is given a 18% chance of winning

Series History: Ohio State leads the series 3-1 all-time, including two victories last season.

About Ohio State

After starting Big Ten play with four straight losses, the Buckeyes have won four of their last seven games in the conference. They just beat Michigan 70-66 on the road this past weekend in which they bludgeoned them on the glass, holding a +18 rebounding margin.

Ohio State is a well balanced team, as they have six players who hold scoring averages in double figures and have four players grabbing 5+ rebounds per game. Junior forward Jae’Sean Tate leads the Buckeyes in scoring with 14.2 points per contest and is second on the team in pulling down 6.2 boards per game. He also shoots 55% from the field on 10 shot attempts per game, which is only second best on the team. 7 foot center Trevor Thompson leads the team shooting 57% from the field, scores 10.6 per game and is a beast in the paint. He is 2nd in the Big Ten in rebounds, averaging 9.3 boards per game, as well as 4th in the conference in blocked shots with 1.7 per contest.

JaQuan Lyle is a talented point guard but is battling injury right now. He did play 23 minutes against Michigan, but did not look himself. He is averaging 11.1 points, 5.1 assists, and 3.0 rebounds per game and had two interesting matchups head to head with Corey Sanders last season. He posted a triple-double in the first meeting last season, but then was held to 4 points in the second meeting. Sanders played well in both games, averaging 21.5 points on 17 of 33 shooting from the field. Tonight could mark another great matchup between the two dynamic guards, depending on the health of Lyle.

Other key contributors for Ohio State include Kam Williams, who is scoring 10.1 points per game and averages 93% from the free throw line, although he only has 29 attempts. Forward Marc Loving is a force in the paint as well, averaging 11.9 points and 5.1 rebounds. Forward Keita Bates-Diop dominated Rutgers last season in the second meeting with 24 points and 14 rebounds. He is averaging 9.7 points and 5.2 boards this season.

Keys To The Game

Rutgers Big Men Must Rise To The Occasion

In the past 8 games, Deshawn Freeman has averaged a little over 12 points and 9 rebounds per contest, after averaging just 7 points and 3 boards in his first three conference games. He needs to continue to be a consistent force for Rutgers to contend against a strong frontcourt tonight. CJ Gettys needs to battle Trevor Thompson and needs to give this team 25 productive minutes, while avoiding foul trouble in the game. The trio off the bench of Candido Sa, Shaq Doorson, and Ibrahima Diallo need to give coach Pikiell quality minutes tonight as well. The Buckeyes are a good rebounding team, but going by statistics, Rutgers is better. They will need to prove it in a big way tonight and also hold their own in the paint, not letting the Buckeyes dominate inside. If they don’t defend and fight for position on the boards, Ohio State will make them pay and it could lead to a blowout loss. Rutgers has the 3rd highest block rate in the Big Ten and they need to stand tall tonight.

Limit Turnovers

Ohio State is a decent defensive team, but they do not force a lot of steals or turnovers from their opposition. They are currently 12th in Big Ten play in steal percentage and 13th in turnover percentage. With Rutgers having the worst turnover rate in the Big Ten, this is a legitimate chance for them to take care of the basketball much better than they have been. I’m not expecting miracles here, but if Rutgers can stay under a dozen turnovers and limit bad one’s as to prevent easy transition baskets, it will give them a chance in this game.

Win The Pillow Fight At The Free Throw Line

While the Buckeyes have the potential to shoot well from the line, proven from their 24 of 28 performance against blood rival Michigan in their last game, they are only shooting 68% for the season. You may remember that Rutgers had a similar hot night from the line against their own blood rival Seton Hall, when they made 22 of 28. Of course, they’ve built a skyline of brick buildings ever since. If Rutgers can bring more focus to the line in this game and make some freebies early on, they’ll have a fighting chance to have the edge from the charity stripe. Bottom line, you can’t win games in the Big Ten without making free throws down the stretch and tonight is no exception.

Follow The Winning Blueprint

I compared box scores from the wins over Nebraska and Penn State, developing a fool proof plan in what it takes for Rutgers to win a conference game. They held both opponents at 40% or worse shooting from the field, Rutgers made at least 43% of their three-point attempts, they had four players score in double figures, they grabbed 39 rebounds in both games, and Corey Sanders scored 25 points in each win. Piece of cake, right? In all seriousness, forcing a lot of missed shots from their opponents and grabbing a lot of rebounds isn’t rocket science, but they did just that in both wins. If they can keep the Buckeyes at bay in the paint and force jump shots, it’s proven to be effective for the Rutgers defense multiple times this season. While Corey Sanders needs to be at his best for them to win, and he was in both victories, Rutgers still would have lost those games if they didn’t have three other players score in double figures as well. Balance is the key to everything.

In The Bonus

This game will mark the 10th of the 14 that Rutgers has played away from the RAC. That’s a brutal stretch, but perhaps it is making them stronger, after finally breaking through in conference play at Penn State last Saturday. While Ohio State will be no easy task, they are beatable. In fact, I had both road games on my winnable list here from a couple of weeks ago. The Buckeyes do own the most home wins in the country the past 7+ seasons per, but they are just 2-3 in Big Ten play this season in Columbus.

It will be very interesting to see how Rutgers comes out tonight, as they should have a lot of confidence after finally getting over the hump. There is one more yet to be achieved mark that Rutgers can accomplish tonight: their first winning streak in Big Ten play. If they can pull it off, they will jump a progress level and we can have a serious talk about finishing out of last place for the first time in three seasons in the conference. Let’s hope!

*Bonus* - The marketing team for hoops has been on fire since Pikiell took over and I figured adding this quick video from Saturday’s win can only bring good karma!