Rutgers (11-12; 4-9) At Northwestern (12-11; 3-9)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, Illinois (7,039)
Tip-off: Wednesday, February 13th at 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: BTN - Lisa Byington & Stephen Bardo
Radio: Live Listen - WCTC 1450 AM/WOR 710 AM/XM 383 - Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM - Matt Howe & Sam Marsdale
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #92; Northwestern #61
(Rutgers has moved up 2 spots since the overtime loss to Illinois)
KenPom Prediction: Northwestern 67 Rutgers 61; Rutgers has an 30% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Northwestern -5.5
Series History: Northwestern leads 10-2 all-time, including a 65-57 victory at the RAC less than a month ago.
SB Nation Northwestern site: Inside NU
Game 23 recap & four thoughts
Head coach Chris Collins is in his sixth season (95-80) 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 only 3-9 in Big Ten play so far. In it’s last two games, they lost at home by 7 points to last place Penn State and then blew a 15 point lead with four minutes to play on Sunday at Iowa to lose on a three-pointer at the buzzer.
Offense has been a struggle, as they have the lowest efficiency rating in Big Ten play at 92.4. The Wildcats average 68 points a game and are shooting 41.4% from the field, 33.4% from three-point range and 73.5% from the free throw line. Before scoring 79 points against Iowa on Sunday, the worst defensive team in the Big Ten, Northwestern averaged just 50 points in its previous three games. Offensively in league play, the Wildcats are in the top half for turnover rate (6th), free throw shooting percentage (6th), and tempo (7th).
Defensively, Northwestern has been relatively strong, ranking 30th nationally and 6th in Big Ten play with its efficiency rating. They defend the opponents well from three point range (4th) and limiting them on the offensive glass (5th) in conference play.
The Wildcats lack a true point guard and rely heavily on its trio of seniors, multi-year starters Dererk Pardon and Vic Law, as well as Evansville graduate transfer Ryan Taylor. Sophomore Anthony Gaines has emerged as a solid contributor as well. However, while Northwestern is a good defensive team, they lack consistency and efficiency on the offensive end.
6’5” senior Ryan Taylor - 11.6 points, 1.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists
6’4” sophomore Anthony Gaines - 6.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists
6’7” senior Vic Law - 15.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.0 block
6’8” senior Dererk Pardon - 14.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.1 blocks
6’7” junior A.J. Turner - 8.3 points, 3.1 assists, 2.7 rebounds
6’9” freshman Miller Kopp - 4.5 points, 1.9 rebounds, 1.0 assists
6’8” junior Aaron Falzon - 4.5 points, 1.0 rebound
6’10” freshman Pete Nance - 3.4 points, 1.6 rebounds
Mamadou Doucoure remains out indefinitely with a back issue.
Notes: Rutgers is averaging 68.0 points per game and is shooting 41.2% from the floor, 31.8% from three-point range, and 63.4% from the free throw line. Entering this week, they
Keys To Victory
Limit The Three
A big reason that Northwestern won the first meeting is that they made 9 of 22 shots (41%) from behind the arc. They are shooting just 31.9% overall in Big Ten play this season. A big reason for their productive night behind the arc was Ryan Taylor, who was 4 of 9 from three in that game. He as well as Vic Law are shooting 34.4% from behind the arc this season and are their most prolific deep shooters. Miller Kopp leads Northwestern at 42.5%, but on just 40 attempts. Still, he made both attempts against Rutgers at the RAC. The Scarlet Knights must keep track of all three players along the perimeter in this game and contest every shot. Making sure they don’t wander into open space in transition will be key as well. If Rutgers can keep Northwestern from getting into rhythm from behind the arc, it will go a long way towards winning this game.
Rutgers has a +42 rebounding margin in its past six games. Northwestern has lost the rebounding battle 8 of 12 Big Ten games, but were even with Rutgers at the RAC. Of course, the first meeting took place without Rutgers’ leading rebounder, Eugene Omoruyi (7.2 per game). In addition to the glass, Omoruyi will be a big help defensively in limiting Pardon, the Wildcats best player. Rutgers also showed in the loss to Illinois that they can play an up tempo game and shoot over 50%, but still hold an advantage on the boards (+4). The Scarlet Knights need to impose their will on the glass and show they want it more by outworking Northwestern in this area.
Pound The Paint
Rutgers owned a 28-16 advantage with points in the paint in the first meeting, but waited too long before figuring out they could dominate inside. They were still figuring out things offensively and as I mentioned, they were without it’s best post player in Omoruyi. Rutgers needs to stick with what’s working for them after scoring 50 points in the paint against Illinois. They need to exploit this advantage inside and attack the rim early and often.
Last time against Northwestern, Rutgers missed the front end of a one and one FOUR times and was just 15 of 25 from the line. It was a major reason they lost that game, as was the case Saturday in making just 13 of 21 free throw attempts against Illinois. Rutgers has done a good job of drawing fouls and getting to the line lately and now have a free throw rate of 31.8% in Big Ten play, 7th best in the league. However, they simply aren’t converting at a high enough rate, making just 65.0% of attempts, which is 12th in Big Ten play. Northwestern has been the opposite, converting free throws at a high clip (73.9%, 7th), but not getting to the line at a high rate (27.3%, 12th). For Rutgers to show progress and start to produce road wins in league play on a more regular basis, knocking down free throws at a rate of 70% or better is a necessary development.
Push The Pace
Rutgers looked fantastic playing an up tempo style against Illinois, as freshmen Caleb McConnell, Montez Mathis and Ron Harper Jr. flourished in transition. Their athleticism shined through and Rutgers needs to continue to run against Northwestern. They were successful in doing so in the first meeting, as the held a 22-7 advantage in fast break points. The issue was they didn’t attack enough early in the game. The Illinois game was perfect timing in the sense that this team should hit the court on Wednesday with confidence they can beat Northwestern in an up and down game. The home team is strong defensively in the halfcourt, so looking to run against them with a clear advantage of talent and depth in the backcourt makes a lot of sense.
Appropriate Music Selection
Last month I began a new feature incorporating an appropriate Pearl Jam song to the current state of the team in each game preview. I decided to vary selections more so in order to have a more diverse catalog to choose from. For the Northwestern game, I chose When My Time Comes by Dawes. Both teams are coming off of heartbreaking losses and badly need this win. For Rutgers, it would be huge in separating themselves from Northwestern by being two up in the win column IF they can be victorious on Wednesday night. They showed how badly they wanted to win for head coach Steve Pikiell, who lost his mother the day before, so this would be an emotional moment for the program if they can win. It would also give them a ton of momentum heading into Saturday night’s sold out home game against #21/17 Iowa.
My favorite lyric in this song is “I wanted to pay for all of my successes with all of my defeats.” This game, this time, Rutgers needs to cash in. This is a huge moment for them to take another step forward and win a Road game against a team I think they are genuinely better than. Their time is now.