Rutgers (9-9; 2-6) At Penn State (7-12; 0-8)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: Bryce Jordan Center in State College, Pennsylvania
Tip-off: Saturday, January 26th at 4:30 p.m. ET
TV: BTN - Brandon Gaudin & Shon Morris
Radio: Live Listen - WCTC 1450 AM/WOR 710 AM/XM 387 - Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM - Justin Sontupe & Randy DeGregorio
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #107; Penn State #65
(Rutgers has moved up 18 spots since the win over Nebraska)
KenPom Prediction: Penn State 66 Rutgers 60; Rutgers has an 27% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Penn State -7
Series History: Penn State leads all-time 40-32 and 4-2 since Rutgers joined the Big Ten.
SB Nation Penn State site: Black Shoe Diaries
About Penn State
Head coach Pat Chambers is in his eighth season at Happy Valley and has a record there of 120-134. Last season, PSU went 26-13 and won the NIT Championship. This season, the losses of point guard Tony Carr and backcourt mate Shep Garner have had a major impact. Penn State is just 7-12 overall and winless in Big Ten play. They have four losses of three points or less. Their only victory over a KenPom Top 100 Team was against Virginia Tech (11th) in late November.
Penn State struggles on the offensive end and as a team is shooting 41.3% from the field, 31.7% from three-point range and 67.1% from the free throw line. They average 68 points scoring per game but just 62 points in Big Ten play. Their overall adjusted offensive efficiency rating of 104.6 is ranked 150th in Division I, but they are last in Big Ten play with a rating of just 91.5.
The Nittany Lions are a better team defensively and rank 27th nationally and 7th in Big Ten play in efficiency ratings. They are tops in the conference in holding opponents to the lowest offensive rebounding percentage and rank 45th nationally in that category.
6’2” freshman Rasir Bolton - 11.4 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists
6’5” senior Josh Reaves - 10.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.7 steals
6’4” freshman Myles Dread - 8.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists
6’1” sophomore Jamari Wheeler - 2.8 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.1 steals
6’8” junior Lamar Stevens - 18.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.1 steals
6’9” junior Mike Watkins - 8.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.5 blocks
6’9” sophomore John Harrar - 3.2 points, 4.0 rebounds
Mamadou Doucoure remains out indefinitely with a back issue. Eugene Omoruyi returned from a dislocated kneecap after missing the previous three games and played 25 minutes against Nebraska. While not fully healed, he is expected to play in full on Saturday.
Keys To Victory
Establish The Low Post
Rutgers dominated inside the paint against Nebraska, outscoring them by 18 points. Myles Johnson was a force to be reckoned with on the block and the return of Eugene Omoruyi was a factor as well. Shaq Carter played less minutes than he had when Omoruyi was out, but he has proven to be a capable scorer inside. Going to all three of these players early in the game can help set the tone offensively and open things up along the perimeter later on. Rutgers has the size and the depth to outplay the frontcourt of Penn State and will need to in order to win the game.
Aside from feeding the big men in the post, the backcourt of Rutgers need to look to attack the rim from the perimeter. Montez Mathis has been excellent in penetrating the paint and getting to the rim. He has the ability to finish in traffic and has drawn 20 free throw attempts in the past two games combined. Geo Baker showed a renewed focus in attacking the basket against Nebraska and he played better because of it. Ron Harper Jr. Caleb McConnell, and even Peter Kiss need to look to drive more as well. As a team, they need to resist the urge to settle for outside shots and work the basketball around the perimeter to create gaps to penetrate or pass it inside to the bigs. Also looking to run in transition whenever possible and create offense from its defense is something that Rutgers can be effective with as well. They play a deeper rotation than Penn State and are able to utilize their athleticism on the break more so than the halfcourt.
Clean The Glass
As stated above, Penn State is limiting opponents with offensive rebounds and they do a solid job of grabbing them as well. Rutgers does have the size and an “all hands on deck” mentality to outrebound the Nittany Lions. Winning the battle on the glass and taking advantage of second chance scoring opportunities will be key once again. Their proficiency in getting offensive rebounds (7th in Big Ten, 27th nationally) has helped Rutgers get to the free throw line more, which leads to the next key.
Win Free Throw Line Battle
Rutgers has gotten to the free throw line more than its last three opponents and took eight more free throws than both Northwestern and Nebraska. Playing at home helped, but Rutgers willingness to attack the rim and grab offensive boards is starting to pay dividends. They are 8th in free throw rate (% of possessions getting to the line) in the Big Ten, which is something they struggled with the two previous seasons under Steve Pikiell. They are evolving and have a major opportunity to hold an advantage from the free throw line against Penn State, who have the worst free throw rate in the Big Ten. Of course, Rutgers needs to make as many free throws as possible which will certainly help make up for their poor shooting from the floor at times. Outscoring Penn State from the free throw line would go a long way towards winning on the road on Saturday.
Unpack The Defense
Steve Pikiell loves to tell his team that defense travels, but they haven’t always backed that thought up this season. We saw how competitive Rutgers can be on the road when they do play good defense like they did against Wisconsin, holding them to 69 points and losing by 5, which was half as much as previously undefeated Michigan lost by in Madison. However, the Scarlet Knights showed how they can get routed too with a terrible defensive performance against Purdue, losing by 35 points. Penn State is not a good offensive team, but Rutgers needs to bring its A game on the defensive end to win on Saturday.
Appropriate Pearl Jam Selection
We continue the feature in previews of incorporating an appropriate Pearl Jam song to the current state of the team. For the Penn State game, I chose Present Tense, which has the line, “Have you the belief that the road ahead ascends off into the light?” Rutgers is 1-38 in Big Ten play on the road, but that doesn’t matter in Saturday’s game. They also can’t think back to Monday’s win over Nebraska either. RU just needs to focus on the present and play with purpose on the road in arguably the least hostile environment in the Big Ten. It won’t be easy as Penn State is likely looking at this game as their best chance for a conference win, so Rutgers will need to show progress and maturity in this one. Their lone conference road win was on this same court and they have a great opportunity to do it once again on Saturday.