How To Watch & Listen
Nebraska (14-8; 5-4) At Rutgers (12-9; 2-6)
Where: The RAC (capacity 8,000)
Tip-off: Wednesday, January 24th at 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: BTN - Brandon Gaudin and Stephen Bardo
Radio: WCTC 1450 AM, WOR 710 AM, Sirius/XM channel 81 - Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #121; Nebraska #65
(Note: Rutgers regressed five spots since the 15 point loss at Michigan)
KenPom Prediction: Nebraska 63 Rutgers 62; Rutgers has an 47% chance to win
Vegas Line: Opened Nebraska -1, as of noon on 1/24 it’s now Rutgers -1.5
Series History: Nebraska leads the all-time series 5-3, but Rutgers won the most recent meeting at the RAC last season.
SB Nation Nebraska site: Corn Nation
Head coach Tim Miles saw major roster turnover occur after last season, but he has the Cornhuskers fighting for an NCAA bid as the regular season turns towards the home stretch. Several transfers have made an impact this season. Nebraska has five top 100 victories so far and aside from Ohio State, have been the biggest surprise in the Big Ten.
A key stat to track in this matchup is that the Cornhuskers are 13-2 when scoring 70-plus points per game and are just 2-6 when they score less than that mark.
To be honest, Nebraska is kind of like a rich man’s Rutgers, as they struggle offensively and play stifling defense, but have been better in both areas compared to the Scarlet Knights. As a team, the Cornhuskers are shooting 42.8% from the field, 35.2% from three-point range, and 70.2% from the free throw line.
On offense, Nebraska has the 5th lowest turnover rate in Big Ten play and the third best free throw rate, so that's a concern against the foul prone frontcourt of Rutgers. The Cornhuskers are converting 73.2% of their shots from the charity stripe during league play. The Nebraska defense is tops in the conference in effective field goal %, holding opponents to just 43.3%. They also lead the Big Ten in three-point defense, as opponents are shooting just 26.5% from behind the arc against them in league play.
They have a true star in James Palmer Jr., as the Miami transfer has blossomed in Lincoln this season. He is coming off of a 34 point performance against Ohio State on Monday and is averaging 26.7 points in his last three games.
Here are per game statistical averages for key players on Nebraska:
6’6” junior guard James Palmer Jr. - 16.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.0 steals
6’9” junior forward Isaac Copeland - 12.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, 1.2 assists
6’0” junior guard Glynn Watson Jr. - 11.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.6 steals
6’3” senior guard Anton Gill - 9.3 points, 1.4 rebounds, 1.3 assists
6’5” senior guard Evan Taylor - 7.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.0 steals
6’8” sophomore forward Isaiah Roby - 7.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 1.7 assists
6”11” sophomore center Jordy Tshimanga - 3.4 points, 4.9 rebounds
Know Your Three-Point Shooters:
Evan Taylor - 13 of 28 for 46.4%
Anton Gill - 42 of 95 for 44.2%
James Palmer Jr. - 31 of 87 for 35.6%
Thomas Allen - 12 of 34 for 35.3%
Glynn Watson Jr. - 24 of 84 for 28.6%
Isaac Copeland - 20 of 70 for 28.6%
For Division I (351 teams), Rutgers is ranked eighth in rebounding (40.9), ninth in scoring defense (62.1 ppg) thirteenth in both offensive rebounding (13.7) and FG% defense (38.9%), as well as fourteenth in turnover margin (4.1)..... Rutgers is 6-0 when holding opponents to 59 points or less this season.....Senior captain Mike Williams is out indefinitely with an ankle injury......In Big Ten play this season, Rutgers is currently ranked 14th in offensive efficiency and 8th in defensive efficiency. Through 21 regular season games overall, their offensive efficiency is ranked 267th out of 351 teams and the defense is ranked 19th.
Keys To Victory
Win The Defensive Battle In The Paint
Both Nebraska and Rutgers are poor two-point shooting teams and both play tough defense, so it will be interesting to see if either team can establish control with points in the paint. The key for Rutgers is to be physical and not allow for easy shots near the rim. Nebraska is a guard heavy team and they'll look to attack the rim from the wings. If the backcourt of Rutgers has trouble containing drives to the basket, the bigs need to have awareness and step up to contest shots and prevent deep penetration in the paint. Helpside defense will be key as well.
On the flip side, Deshawn Freeman and Eugene Omoruyi are hugely important to the offensive attack of Rutgers. They need to be under control and take good shots, as well as look for contact and get to the free throw line. Both have had their struggles from the charity stripe this season, but have improved of late. More on this in a minute.
Offensive Rebounding & Second Chance Points
Nebraska is dead last in Big Ten play in both offensive rebounding and defending against it. Rutgers hasn't been great either in both areas in conference play, as they ranked 11th and 9th, respectively. However, we know that this team plays its best when it crashes the boards and it usually occurs when playing at the RAC. For Rutgers to win, they need a dominant rebounding performance and they need to finish second chance scoring opportunities. Nebraska is a better defensive team than Rutgers, so they need to capitalize on offense by finishing shots near the rim and outworking the Cornhuskers on the boards.
Get Issa Going
Issa Thiam has made 15 of 30 three-point attempts in his last 8 games from three-point range. He is now shooting 42.6% from behind the arc this season. The issue is Issa needs to be more assertive on offense, as he has only taken 74 three-point attempts in 21 games, less than four shots per contest. He has been the best deep threat for Rutgers on a team with only one other player shooting better than 24% from three (Geo Baker 36.1%). Expect Nebraska to come out high defensively on Corey Sanders and Geo, putting pressure on them and make it tough to generate ball flow in the halfcourt. Michigan was effective with this strategy and Nebraska can play that way as well. However. Issa and his 6'10" frame can be a big target on the wing and he can shoot over the defense of Nebraska. We saw the difference he can make when he gets going like he did against Iowa (14 points & 4-6 from three in first half). The more Issa can be involved on offense early in this game the better, as he has the potential to change the game with his prowess from deep.
The play of the backcourt is essential to the success of Rutgers in this game. Corey Sanders averages 18.0 points in four career meetings against Nebraska. He and Geo Baker need to be active and look to move the ball much more so than they did in the loss to Michigan. Rutgers has just one assist in that game and there was too much one on one play within the halfcourt offense. Michigan played them high and did a good job of taking away lanes to drive. Sanders was great in creating open shots for his teammates last week against Iowa’s zone and needs to bring that same mindset tonight. Turnover margin is also important and Rutgers ranks better than Nebraska with its takeaway rates on both ends of the floor. They need to take care of the basketball and any points they can generate in transition off of turnovers would be a major help against a strong defensive team like Nebraska.
Keep Making Free Throws
Rutgers is shooting just 62.9% from the free throw line as a team, but they've actually been a lot better in conference play. In eight Big Ten games, the Scarlet Knights are shooting 70.5%. A big reason has been the improvement of Deshawn Freeman, who has made 9 of his last 10 attempts the past five games and is shooting 79.2% from the line in Big Ten play. The issue is that he needs to get to the charity stripe more often and needs to do a better job of drawing contact when he shoots in traffic. Even Eugene Omoruyi has made 17 of 22 free throw attempts in Big Ten play, compared to just during the non-conference portion. Baker (78.7%) and Sanders (73.8%) are shooting solidly and need to get to the line as well. These four players need to get to the charity stripe and take advantage tonight against a difficult defense that force opponents into low shooting percentages from the floor.
In The Bonus
Nebraska just played at first place and undefeated Ohio State on Monday night, so they will be challenged with another conference road game just 48 hours later. Rutgers needs to come out with energy and focus right from the opening tip. The spring semester is in full swing, so hopefully the students pack the RAC and it's a solid crowd overall. Rutgers has started to move the needle some with perception within the conference and this game is a huge opportunity to continue that progress. Don't be confused by the name, as Nebraska is clearly playing like a top half of the Big Ten team and this would be a huge win for Rutgers. If they want to continue to climb up the conference standings and break the decade plus long streak of losing seasons, winning this game would go a long way in both pursuits.