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Rutgers Men’s Basketball Game #24 Preview vs. Illinois

Includes how to watch, stats, and keys to victory

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

How To Watch & Listen

Rutgers (12-11; 2-8) At Illinois (11-11; 1-8)

Where: Champaign, Illinois - State Farm Center (capacity 15,500)

Tip-off: Tuesday, January 30th at 7:00 p.m. ET

TV: BTN - Brandon Gaudin and Seth Davis

Stream: BTN2GO

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

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #134; Illinois #108

(Note: Rutgers regressed seven spots since the 17 point loss at Penn State)

KenPom Prediction: Illinois 67 Rutgers 62; Rutgers has an 32% chance to win

Vegas Line: Illinois -4.5

Series History: Illinois leads the all-time series 4-1, but Rutgers won the last meeting between the two programs at the RAC last season.

SB Nation Illinois site: The Champaign Room

About Illinois

First year head coach Brad Underwood went 109-27 in his first four seasons as a Division I head coach at Stephen F. Austin and Oklahoma State, but hasn’t had the same success. That’s not a criticism, as the program needed a major overhaul. His new team finally broke through in Big Ten play with a 73-71 win at home over Indiana last Wednesday. The Illini is 10-3 at home and will be well rested for Rutgers, as they haven’t played since their victory over the Hoosiers. It was just their second triumph over a top 100 team this season, with the first over rival Missouri.

Illinois is a top ten team in Division I with its offensive rebounding rate and defensive turnover rate. While they do score an average of 77 points per game, the Illini are not a good shooting team. They are averaging 43.9% from the field and while they taking over 21 attempts from three-point range per game, they are shooting just 31.4% from deep. They also struggle in taking care of the basketball, as they average 15 turnovers per contest.

In terms of conference rankings, Illinois is 11th in Big Ten play in offensive efficiency and 12 in defensive efficiency. Underwood likes to play a fast pace, as Illinois currently has the second fastest tempo on offense in league play. He utilizes a rotation of nine players, all of whom average between 17 to 26 minutes per game. On defense, they are tops in the conference in defensive turnover rate and steal percentage.

Here are per game statistical averages for key players on Illinois (all average 17 or more minutes per game):

6’7” junior forward Leron Black - 14.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists

6’1” freshman guard Trent Frazier - 11.5 points, 2.8 assists, 1.7 rebounds, 1.6 steals

6’10” junior forward Michael Finke - 9.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists

6’6” sophomore forward Kipper Nichols - 9.3 points, 4.5 rebounds

6’5” junior guard Aaron Jordan - 8.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.0 steals

6’4” freshman guard Mark Smith - 6.8 points, 1.5 assists, 1.5 rebounds

6’5” senior guard Mark Alstork - 5.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists

6’1” sophomore guard Te’Jon Lucas - 5.8 points, 3.1 assists, 1.9 rebounds

6’3” freshman guard De’Monte Williams - 4.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.0 steals

Know Your Three-Point Shooters:

Aaron Jordan - 36 of 71 for 50.7%

Kipper Nichols - 18 of 44 for 40.9%

Trent Frazier - 29 of 97 for 29.9%

Michael Finke - 22 of 75 for 29.3%

Rutgers Notes:

For Division I (351 teams), Rutgers is ranked fourth in scoring defense (62.0 ppg), twelfth in FG% defense (39.2%) fourteenth in rebounding (40.3), seventeenth in offensive rebounding (13.4) and eighteenth in turnover margin (3.9)..... 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 5th in defensive efficiency. Through 23 regular season games overall, their offensive efficiency is ranked 306th out of 351 teams and the defense is ranked 12th.....Rutgers has had the most difficult strength of schedule in Big Ten play through ten games.

Keys To Victory

Corey Sanders Needs To Lead Offense

Since Rutgers scored 80 points in a win over Iowa, they have averaged just 48 points per game in the past three losses to Michigan, Nebraska, and Penn State. Not surprisingly, leading scorer Corey Sanders struggled in all three defeats, shooting a combined 9 of 34 for 26.5% from the floor. He scored an average of just 8.7 points, down more than five plus points from his season average and was held scoreless in his last game against Penn State. The reality is that during his three seasons at Rutgers, his success on the offensive end is strongly tied to the team’s ability to win.

One issue of late is that Sanders has taken more fadeaway jumpers and has had trouble getting to the rim through dribble penetration. Defenses have adjusted and are playing him and the other Rutgers guards higher in the halfcourt and are taking away lanes for them to drive. Getting Corey to be more active off the ball and attempting to free him off of screens along the perimeter is something to look for in this game. Also, the more Rutgers can run in transition and get Sanders out in front with the ball, the better. The good news is that Corey averages 28 points in two career meetings against Illinois, which includes the epic triple overtime game two years ago. Perhaps seeing the orange and blue of the Illini will be just what the shot doctor ordered.

Shut down Frazier & Black

Not only do Leron Black and Trent Frazier lead the team in scoring, they are the heart and soul of Illinois. As they go, so do the Illini. Corey Sanders is already hugely important in this contest as mentioned above, but his matchup with Frazier defensively will go a long way in determining how this game plays out. Deshawn Freeman and Eugene Omoruyi will need to show up against Black. Illinois does struggle with foul trouble, as does Rutgers, and how the bigs for both teams perform in this area will be important as well.

Turnover Margin

Rutgers and Illinois force the most turnovers of any teams in the conference in Big Ten play this season. However, Rutgers has the fourth best turnover rate on offense, while Illinois is dead last. That doesn’t mean the Scarlet Knights aren’t capable of being sloppy with the basketball, as they have been of late, as they averaged 14.3 turnovers per game, more than three over its season average. Rutgers has to do a better job in this area and not allow for Illinois to get easy points off of turnovers. On the flip side, the more Rutgers can create offense in transition through its defense and limit the shots of Illinois, the better their chances will be to pull off the upset on the road.

Win The Battle Of The Boards

Illinois is third in Big Ten play in offensive rebounding rate and generate offense that way. They also shoot a really poor percentage from behind the arc, so they will have plenty of opportunities for long rebounds in this game as well. Rutgers sorely misses Mike Williams, but it’s fair to say they miss him the most on the boards. The guards of Rutgers need to rebound in this game, as the backcourt of Illinois has multiple players who attack the glass. In addition, the Scarlet Knights need to exploit the Illini on the boards on the offensive end, as Brad Underwood’s team is just 13th in conference play in this area. Rutgers is at its best when the entire team is crashing the glass and outworking the opposition. The opportunity to make that pay off certainly exists in this matchup.

Draw Fouls & Make Free Throws

With Rutgers struggling so much on offense, getting to the free throw line would be a big help. During this past three game stretch where they’ve only averaged 48 points per contest, the Scarlet Knights have only taken 37 free throw attempts combined. They’ve shot a serviceable 70.2% during that period and while getting calls on the road is never a given, Rutgers needs to force contact in the paint and resist the urge to take jump shot after jump shot in the halfcourt. Illinois is foul prone and the more Rutgers can attack the rim under control and with authority, the more likely they are to get to the free throw line. Freeman, Sanders, Geo Baker and Issa Thiam are all shooting 70% or better in conference play, but they need to get themselves opportunities from the charity stripe with an attacking mindset in this game.

In The Bonus

This is a great opportunity for both programs to get a much needed conference victory. They play each other twice this season, with the second meeting in the regular season finale at the RAC. The outcomes of those two contests will go a long way into determining who finishes in last place in the Big Ten. While Rutgers has struggled mightily on the offensive end, they continue to improve on the defensive end. In the past five Big Ten games, Rutgers have held every opponent at least 10 points below its season average. The last time they didn’t was against #3 Michigan State, who they held 8 points below its season average in the overtime loss, but the Spartans only had 59 points at the end of regulation. The Scarlet Knights can win this game against Illinois if they continue its strong play on the defensive end and can just get serviceable production offensively. Rutgers has shown a lot of character this season in responding from rough stretches with big performances and this is another opportunity to do so. For a program that is 1-31 all-time on the road in Big Ten play, a win on Tuesday night would be a big boost in Steve Pikiell’s second season on the banks.