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Rutgers Men’s Basketball Game #17 Preview vs. Northwestern

Includes Steve Pikiell’s thoughts, how to watch, stats & keys to victory

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Purdue Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern (10-7; 1-5) At Rutgers (8-8; 1-5)

How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes

Where: The RAC in Piscataway, New Jersey

Tip-off: Friday, January 18th at 7:00 p.m. ET


TV: BTN - Jason Horowitz & Shon Morris

Stream: BTN2GO

Radio: Live Listen - WCTC 1450 AM/WOR 710 AM/Sirius 133/XM 195 - Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM - Justin Sontupe & Raj Shah

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #123; Northwester #60

(Rutgers has moved back 13 spots since the loss to Purdue)

KenPom Prediction: Northwestern 64 Rutgers 63; Rutgers has an 48% chance to win.

Vegas Line: Northwestern -1.5

Series History: Northwestern leads all-time 9-2, but Rutgers won the last meeting on February 13, 2018 in a 67-58 overtime victory.

SB Nation Purdue site: Inside NU

Game 15 recap & four thoughts

Notes: Per KenPom, Rutgers’ strength of schedule is the 24th most difficult in Division I out of 351 teams. Through six Big Ten games, Rutgers has played three of the top four teams in the league. They rank 318th nationally in roster experience. Rutgers ranks in the top 100 of the following KenPom categories: offensive rebounding rate (28th), defensive block rate (44th), adjusted defensive efficiency (47th), 2-point defensive field goal percentage (71st), offensive block rate (86th).

About Northwestern

Head coach Chris Collins is in his sixth season (98-83) and has seen his program struggle since making the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever in 2017. The were just 15-17 last season and are tied with Rutgers and Illinois for 11th place with a 1-5 record in Big Ten play so far. Northwestern owns two KenPom Top 100 victories over Georgia Tech (66th) and Illinois (83rd). Six of its seven losses are against teams currently ranked in the top 33 of KenPom.

Their offensive efficiency rating in league action is second to last at 92.9 and their defensive efficiency rating is 107.4 for 11th best. They rank in the KenPom Top 100 in the following categories: defensive three-point percentage (13th), adjusted defensive efficiency (42nd) defensive block percentage (62nd), defensive effective field goal percentage (65th), offensive turnover rate (67th), and free throw percentage (91st).

The Wildcats average 71 points a game and are shooting 42.9% from the field, 33.0% from three-point range and 72.9% from the free throw line.

Notable Contributors


6’5” senior Ryan Taylor - 12.5 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists

6’4” sophomore Anthony Gaines - 5.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists


6’7” senior Vic Law - 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.0 block

6’8” senior Dererk Pardon - 13.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.2 blocks

6’7” junior A.J. Turner - 9.2 points, 3.6 assists, 3.1 rebounds

6’9” freshman Miller Kopp - 5.1 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists

6’10” freshman Pete Nance - 3.2 points, 1.6 rebounds (started in Law’s absence in the last game playing 30 minutes and producing 4 points, 4 rebounds and 3 blocks).

Injury Report

Eugene Omoruyi suffered a dislocated kneecap in the win against Ohio State over a week ago, which is the same injury he suffered last season. His timeline for return has yet to be determined. When asked about his status on a call Wednesday, head coach Steve Pikiell said: “He’s going to be out (versus Northwestern). He hasn’t practiced. It was a serious injury he had. If anyone can get back quickly it’s Gene. We need him back when he’s healthy and when he feels confident about his knee.’’

For Northwestern, leading scorer Vic Law missed Sunday’s game against Michigan with a lower body injury. He is listed as day-to-day and if his status is announced before Friday’s game, I will update it here:

Steve Pikiell’s Response To The Purdue Loss

“Everyone is disappointed. We want to play better. It’s a process and I’m the right coach. I’ve been through all these kind of things. We’re playing in the best league in the country right now. We played four out of the five teams in the conference standings right now. We just have to be patient. This is a team that’s growing and getting better. We’re a young team and we’re exciting. Some nights we’re going to look young, some nights we’re going to look good.”

Keys To Victory

Short Memory

Rutgers had a horrible road trip, losing to Minnesota and Purdue by a combined 53 points. The Purdue loss was particularly deflating, as they were run out of the gym early in the second half and trailed by as much as 42 points in the game. The good news is Rutgers has played well at home this season for the most part. The most important thing for this team is to have a short memory and move past the previous two games mentally. Once the ball tips against Northwestern, none of that matters. They have a major opportunity to pick up a second league win against a team they are tied with in the Big Ten standings. Consider this the biggest game of the season so far.

Here is what Pikiell said about how he will prepare his team for Northwestern:

“I think, really, what you do is burn that tape and you move on. I told our young guys yesterday that this is life on the road in the Big Ten. The toughest conference to win on the road, and especially that venue at Purdue. We have never played well there in my three years. You’ve got to move on quickly. I’ve been a part of a lot of builds and these things happen during the course of the season, especially when you go on the road. You’ve got to burn the tape and move on.”

Regain Defensive Identity

Any game Rutgers is going to win the rest of the way is going to be predicated by its defense. This team has not been able to play at a high level consistently which shouldn’t be that surprising considering the inexperience on the roster. Omoruyi was the toughest defensive player on the team and his absence in the middle of the defense is glaring. Rutgers needs to regroup by playing fundamentally sound defense and prevent layups around the rim and wide open looks on the perimeter. They can’t take possessions off defensively if shots aren’t falling for them offensively. Transition defense needs to be much better as well. The good news is that Northwestern isn’t an elite offensive team ranking just 120th nationally and they might be without leading scorer Vic Law. If they bring their A defensive game on Friday night, they’ll have a legitimate chance to win.

Here is what Pikiell said on Wednesday’s call about the defensive issues:

“We’ve shown signs of being a good defensive team. We played two really good teams on the road. We’ve shown some signs and we’ve got to play that way especially when we’re home here at the RAC. We got to get back to old-fashioned Rutgers defense. I think at times, we’ve shown we can be an elite defensive team but we’re also in an elite offensive league. You’ve got to shut down guys and defend three-point land and take away the post, too. So we have to do multiple things against teams in this league.”

Limit Turnovers

Believe it or not, Rutgers had the best offensive turnover rate in Big Ten play heading into the Purdue game. The wheels fell off though by committing 19 in the 35 point loss. They also committed 7 in a condensed period against Minnesota that prevented them from staying close in that game. The turnovers are leading to easy baskets from opponents, which is hurting them defensively in a big way. Pikiell commented on the issue:

“We’ve had times where we turned the ball over a lot and we got through that earlier in the year, that was one of our problems. Later on moving through here, I thought we did a good job of being reasonable with turnovers. Last night, again, we jumped to 19 and obviously that’s not a recipe we want to have. We had a lot of post turnovers, they double-teamed us so we have to fight through that. We’ll get better at those things. We’ll practice that, that’s something we haven’t seen. Again, we got to do a great job putting a shot up on the other end.”

Purdue adjusted to Rutgers’ new focus on getting the ball into the post by fronting Myles Johnson and Shaq Carter, leading to a lot of errant passes in that game. Overall, they can’t keep limiting their offensive output due to losing opportunities to score by committing so many turnovers. It’s a team problem, as every player has had issues with turnovers lately. They need to be sharper with the basketball against Northwestern and maximize its scoring chances in this game.

Attacking Mindset

Rutgers has done a better job of late not settling as much for perimeter shots and attacking the rim through penetration and feeding the post, although they struggled in that area against Purdue. However, Northwestern isn’t nearly as physically imposing in the paint and they need to look to get the ball into the hands of Myles Johnson and Shaq Carter. The more effective they can be will lead to the Wildcat defense to sag toward the paint and leave more open space around the perimeter. Montez Mathis has been fantastic the past four games and needs to continue to stay aggressive as well. The more Rutgers can penetrate and get to the rim, the better looks they’ll get and more opportunities at the free throw line. They’ve shown the ability to do this and play smarter offensively. If they can maintain this approach against Northwestern, it could lead to their best offensive performance in league play this season.

Play To The Crowd

Rutgers needs all the help it can get in league play and getting the RAC faithful fired up would be a major advantage. They’ve wasted great home crowds against St. John’s and Maryland, but reaped the benefits in the upset victory over then #16th ranked Ohio State. They’ll need to come out with energy and purpose on Friday night to get the crowd going, as home cooking could serve them well. Pikiell elaborated on playing at home:

“We need the RAC to continue to be a hard place to play. Every place in our league that we’ve gone to is a really difficult place to play. Purdue had a huge home-court advantage. They won 93 percent of their home games over the last four years in that gym. Those are big challenges for us and we want to make the RAC a challenge for other teams to come to. It’s been an advantage for us, too, as we played throughout the season.”

Appropriate Pearl Jam Selection

I introduced a new end to my previews by incorporating an appropriate Pearl Jam song to the current state of the team. They are my favorite band, the season is starting to drifting into the dark days of winter and I wanted to have some fun here. I also forgot to mention last preview that Pearl Jam are huge basketball fans and originally went by the name of Mookie Blaylock, the former Oklahoma Sooner and 13 year NBA Veteran. Pearl Jam also named its first album, Ten, after the number he wore on his jersey.

For this Rutgers game, I chose one of my favorite songs from their early days, Wash. Why, because the team and fans need to wash away the road trip and move on by focusing on this golden opportunity to beat Northwestern at home, something they did last season. The most appropriate lyric is “Please, let it rain today.” Hopefully, Rutgers is due a strong shooting performance. Enjoy.