How To Watch & Listen
Northwestern (15-11; 6-7) At Rutgers (12-15; 2-12)
Where: The RAC (capacity 8,000)
Tip-off: Tuesday, February 13th at 9:00 p.m. ET
TV: BTN - Jeff Levering and Stephen Bardo
Radio: WCTC 1450 AM, WOR 710 AM, Sirius/XM 83 - Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #153; Northwestern #77
(Note: Rutgers moved up 4 spots since the 12 point loss at Nebraska)
KenPom Prediction: Northwestern 62 Rutgers 60; Rutgers has an 43% chance to win
Vegas Line: Northwestern -3
Series History: Northwestern leads the all-time series 9-1, including three victories last season. The two teams have met at the RAC three times, with Northwestern winning them all by single digits.
SB Nation Northwestern site: Inside NU
It's been a disappointing season for head coach Chris Collins, as his team is one year removed from its program’s first NCAA appearance, in which they advanced to the second round. To advance to March Madness for a second straight season, the Wildcats basically need to win out the rest of their games. They have struggled with consistency throughout the season, despite having its core four players back in Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law, Scottie Lindsey, and Dererk Pardon. All four players are scoring in double figures and average 30-plus minutes per game. The issue is this team has little depth and other than Gavin Skelly, no one else on the roster was a factor in last year’s historic campaign.
Like Rutgers, Northwestern is an offensively challenged team and are 13th in offensive efficiency in Big Ten play. They are shooting just 42.8% from the floor this season, but have struggled more from inside the arc, as they are shooting an average 35.0% from three-point range. They are a good from the free throw line, where they make 75.5% as a team, however they have the worst rate at getting to the charity stripe in Big Ten play.
The Wildcats do have a lot of size and are a good rebounding team, as they have the fourth highest rate in grabbing offensive boards in conference play, right in front of Rutgers who are fifth. However, their effective field goal percentage in league play is 12th. Combined with their slow pace of play, as they’re last in the Big Ten in tempo, their lack of efficiency is more harmful because they generate less possessions than most teams.
On defense, Northwestern is ranked 7th in league play and they do a good job defending the three (2nd) and keeping opponents off of the offensive glass (3rd). Big Ten opponents are shooting 51.2% from two-point range against them, despite having the third highest block rate in the conference. The Wildcats are fifth in the Big Ten in scoring defense.
Here are per game statistical averages for key players on Northwestern:
6’5” senior guard Scottie Lindsey - 14.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists
6’3” senior guard Bryant McIntosh - 12.5 points, 5.2 assists, 2.5 rebounds
6’7” junior forward Vic Law - 12.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.2 steals
6”8” junior center Dererk Pardon - 11.4 points, 6.8 rebounds. 1.8 blocks, 1.2 assists
6’8” senior forward Gavin Skelly - 6.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists
6’8” sophomore forward Aaron Falzon - 6.2 points, 1.7 rebounds
Know Your Three-point shooters:
Gavin Skelly - 21 of 47 for 44.7%
Aaron Falzon - 31 of 75 for 41.3%
Vic Law - 42 of 113 for 37.2%
Bryant McIntosh - 36 of 105 for 34.3%
Scottie Lindsey - 58 of 176 for 33.0%
Rutgers is 11th nationally in offensive rebounding (13.6), 15th in scoring defense (63.9), 20th in rebounding (39.7), and 24th in FG% defense (40.2)..........In Big Ten play this season, Rutgers is currently ranked 14th in offensive efficiency and 9th in defensive efficiency.....Through 28 regular season games overall, their offensive efficiency is ranked 309th out of 351 teams and the defense is ranked 18th per KenPom.....Rutgers has played the second most difficult strength of schedule in the Big Ten through fourteen games.
Keys To Victory
Solve Northwestern's Matchup Zone
Attacking the zone of the Wildcats will be important for Rutgers to be effective in their halfcourt offense. Ball movement has been an issue and hopefully the return of Mike Williams on the perimeter will help in that area. Rutgers needs to avoid settling for contested jumpers and look to screen for guards Corey Sanders and Geo Baker, who will likely be the targets of the matchup zone. Deshawn Freeman needs to be a strong target in the paint and look to attack the rim or find shooters Issa Thiam and Baker, who are shooting 37.9% and 36.5% from three-point range respectively. No doubt that for Rutgers to win, they’ll need to make some shots from behind the arc, but they can’t force it and need to attack the zone early and often, in order to open up the perimeter as the game progresses.
Own The Glass
Northwestern are holding opponents to the third lowest offensive rebounding rate in Big Ten play this season. With the slow pace that Northwestern likes to play with, it's imperative Rutgers get points on second chance points off of offensive rebounds. They need to generate hustle points and having both Mike Williams and Eugene Omoruyi back give hope Rutgers can capitalize in this area. On the other end of the floor, the more the Scarlet Knights can limit Northwestern's possessions to one shot on misses, the less opportunity they'll have offensively. They aren't a team that pushes the pace in transition, making this the type of game Rutgers could excel in by limiting the opportunities of the Wildcats, who are not a good shooting team. That leads to my next point....
No Easy Baskets
This game will feature the two worst offenses in the Big Ten and if Rutgers plays defense the way their capable of, it will give them a good chance to win. Northwestern is a good free throw shooting team, but they are getting to the line at the worst rate of any team in conference play. Rutgers needs to be smart and limit their fouls, while forcing the Wildcats to work deep into the shot clock. Contest every shot and not allowing for easy baskets near the rim, nor open looks from the perimeter, are major keys defensively. In my opinion, the interior defense of Shaq Doorson and Candido Sa off the bench this season has been overlooked. Both have given this team a lift at times and they will both be needed against a big frontline of Northwestern.
Look To Run
Northwestern is not deep and play at a very slow pace. While Rutgers doesn’t match up talent wise in comparing starting lineups, Steve Pikiell has more depth on the bench. Turnover margin will be a huge factor in this game and if Rutgers can take care of the basketball, it will keep them in this contest. How effective they are in turning over Northwestern and scoring points off of them in transition is key as well. This will be a physical, ugly game inside and the more Rutgers can get out on the break off of defensive rebounds, the more they will pull Northwestern out of their comfort zone and potentially wear them down as the game progresses.
In The Bonus
Don’t give up on this team. I can't emphasize enough how important the return of Williams and Omoruyi are. Neither are 100%, but getting them back for the Nebraska game helps for tonight's contest, as they both shook off some rust over the weekend. During this current seven game losing streak, Steve Pikiell has been forced to use a undermanned bench that limited how the team could play on the court in stretches. It’s a major boost to have both players back, which Jerry Carino details is nothing short of a minor miracle that they were able to return so quickly. Williams and Omoruyi both played under 20 minutes on Saturday, but hopefully can be a factor on the floor late in the game, which is when Rutgers is at its best with them in the lineup. The inefficiency for the Scarlet Knights on offense has been a killer, but tonight they are playing an opponent that doesn’t have much offensive firepower either. Northwestern will be feisty, as their season is on the brink and they just blew out a good Michigan team last week. This will be a defensive battle, giving Rutgers a chance to win on their homecourt and gain some momentum as the Big Ten Tournament is just two weeks out.