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Rutgers Men’s Basketball Game #27 Preview vs. Minnesota

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Includes how to watch, stats and keys to victory

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Minnesota Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota (17-9; 7-8) At Rutgers (12-14; 5-11)

How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes

Where: The RAC in Piscataway, New Jersey

Tip-off: Sunday, February 24th at 6:30 p.m. ET

TV: BTN - Jason Horowitz & Bob Wenzel

Stream: BTN2GO

Radio: Live Listen - WCTC 1450 AM/WOR 710 AM//Sirius 99/XM 195- Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM - Jake Ostrove & Randy DeGregorio

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #80; Minnesota #47

(Rutgers has moved up five spots since the loss to Michigan State)

KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 69 Minnesota 68; Rutgers has a 50% chance to win.

Vegas Line: Rutgers -1.5

Series History: Minnesota leads 8-2 all-time, including an 88-70 victory back in January.

SB Nation Minnesota site: The Daily Gopher

Game 26 recap & four thoughts

About Minnesota

Head coach Richard Pitino is in his sixth season at Minnesota, who enter Sunday’s game having lost five of its last six games. They began the season with a 16-5 record and 6-4 in Big Ten play, but have struggled against top half teams with recent losses to Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue and Wisconsin. Their lone win was a home triumph over Indiana, but they lost at Nebraska during this stretch as well. In league play this season, Minnesota is just 1-6 on the road and have lost five straight away from the barn.

Although Minnesota is scoring 72.1 points per game this season, they are averaging just 62.3 points in its last six conterts. For the season, the Gophers are shooting 43.9% from the field, 31.6% from three-point range, and 67.6% from the free throw line. In terms of offensive efficiency, they rank 6th in the Big Ten and are tops in the league in free throw rate and 3rd in two-point field goal percentage. They are just 10th in three-point field goal percentage and free throw percentage.

With defensive efficiency, Minnesota ranks near the bottom in 12th at 107.0, just 0.1 ahead of Rutgers. The only category they rank in the top half is opponents offensive rebounding rate, which is currently 7th in the conference. They don’t force a lot of mistakes of its opponents, as they rank 12th in turnover rate and 13th in steal rate.

Minnesota are led by its veteran core of Jordan Murphy, Amir Coffey, and Dupree McBrayer. Murphy is one of my favorite players in the Big Ten and he plays much bigger than his 6’6” frame. He is a problem on the inside, while Coffey is a more versatile offensive threat. The Gophers have also gotten a strong freshman campaign from Daniel Oturu, who on the team ranks first in blocks, second in rebounding, and third in scoring. McBrayer is a solid point guard that’s only committed 2 turnovers total in his last four games. This a poor shooting team from behind the arc, as the only player shooting better than 30% is freshman Gabe Kalscheur. However, he is dangerous having made 59 of 148 attempts for 39.9% from three-point range.

Notable Contributors

Backcourt

6’4” freshman Gabe Kalscheur- 10.3 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists

6’5” senior Dupree McBrayer - 9.3 points, 3.1 assists, 2.0 rebounds, 1.0 steal

6’1” sophomore Isaiah Washington - 4.5 points, 3.1 assists, 1.7 rebounds

Frontcourt

6’6” senior Jordan Murphy - 15.1 points, 12.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists

6’8” junior Amir Coffey - 14.9 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists

6’10” freshman Daniel Oturu - 11.1 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.5 blocks

6’9” sophomore Eric Curry - 4.2 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists

Notes: Rutgers is averaging 67.4 points per game this season and are shooting 41.3% from the floor, 31.3% from three-point range, and 62.4% from the free throw line. For the season the team has a national offensive efficiency ranking of 158th in Division I, which would mark the highest mark for a Rutgers squad at the end of the year since the lone AAC campaign in 2013-2014.

Keys To Victory

Slow Down Coffey & Murphy

The last time these two teams met, the dynamic frontcourt duo of Minnesota dominated the game. Coffey scored 29 points on 10 of 14 shooting, while Murphy posted a double-double of 15 points and 14 rebounds, as well as 2 blocks and 2 steals. They each got to the free throw line at least 10 times and made 17 of 21 shots from the charity stripe combined. However, a big difference on Sunday is the return of the Eugene Omoruyi Injury Payback Tour. He missed the first meeting in Minnesota and his presence in the interior was sorely missed. Omoruyi also missed the first game against Northwestern due to the dislocated kneecap, but shut down Dererk Pardon and made two huge free throws in the closing seconds to win the rematch. I expect him to be fired up and looking to have a big impact in this game as well. His defense inside on Murphy will be a big time matchup to watch, while he will give Rutgers an offensive threat near the rim as well, something they needed more of in the first meeting. If the Scarlet Knights want to win this rematch, they can’t allow Murphy and Coffey to dominate inside like they did the first time and Omoruyi should have a lot to do with that.

Bounce Back On The Boards

After rebounding was an obvious strength in the previous eight games, Rutgers got outworked in a major way by Michigan State, ending the night with a -14 rebounding margin. Rutgers did hold a +2 rebounding edge over Minnesota in the first game, including +6 on the offensive glass. That led to a 16-6 edge in second chance points. As strong as Minnesota’s frontcourt is, its encouraging Rutgers was still effective against them in this area without Omoruyi. They need a true team effort on the boards in this game and limit Minnesota to as many one shot possessions as possible, something they didn’t do a good job of in the first meeting.

Feed The Bigs

Myles Johnson had a breakout performance in the first game at Minnesota, leading the team with 13 points and 8 rebounds. While he has only scored double digits in one other conference game, he has become more consistent. Johnson is averaging 7.4 points on 68% shooting and 5.2 rebounds in his last five games. He also leads the Big Ten in offensive rebounding rate at 13.9%. At times, he demonstrates an assertiveness on offense that has been hard for any Big Ten defense to handle. With Omoruyi back, Rutgers needs to make a point to feed them both in this game. They held a +6 advantage with points in the paint in the first meeting and that was without Gene, so there is an opportunity for them to impose their will down low in this game. If they could get Murphy, Oturu or Coffey in foul trouble, that would help too.

Attack From The Wing

Rutgers settled for far too many jump shots in the first game against Minnesota, making just 4 of 22 from behind the arc. This was before this group found its offensive identity through attacking the rim and getting to the free throw line. However, Caleb McConnell was a handful for Minnesota the first time around and seemed to be able to penetrate at will. He had 9 points on 4 of 5 shooting in the first half, but didn’t play after halftime due to tweaking his leg at the end of the opening frame. Ron Harper Jr. has been the most efficient player for Rutgers in Big Ten play and seems to be turning a corner. Montez Mathis has been a bit up and down, but he has the ability to get to the rim effectively. Attacking from the baseline is something Harper Jr. and Mathis do well also. Geo Baker will be the focus of the Minnesota defense and he needs to get these three the ball in a position they can penetrate and create offense by attacking the rim. That will help open up the perimeter for Baker as the game progresses as well.

Be Tougher

Rutgers has been on a bit of a roller coaster of late and our Dave White tweeted this gem earlier in the week:

Amazingly prophetic stuff from Fran Fraschilla and summed up the state of the rebuild Rutgers is going through this season. However, Rutgers has a tremendous opportunity in the final four regular season games. The number one goal has to be protecting your homecourt and it starts with Minnesota. As tough as its been for most opponents to play at the RAC this season, Rutgers is only 3-5 in Big Ten play at home. They have a chance to finish .500 at the RAC which would be a significant accomplishment. Minnesota is vulnerable and not a strong team on the road. Rutgers needs to put the disappointment of the last week behind them and come out hungry for a victory. While Minnesota is playing for their NCAA Tournament lives, Rutgers needs to prove its the tougher team. They have improved a lot since they last played the Gophers and can establish a lot of momentum as the stretch run continues if they can produce a victory on Sunday night.

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 and artists more so in order to have a more diverse catalog to choose from. For this game, I chose Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. This team has embraced playing at home in front of its fans and responds extremely well in tight games at the RAC. The key is getting off to a good start and hopefully it will be another strong turnout, despite the fact the game is on a Sunday night. This team can take things to another level when they can get the RAC rocking and it would go a long way towards helping Rutgers pull out a program best sixth Big Ten win this season.

Bonus Reading

From the professor Jerry Carino, some great weekend reading on American legend Paul Robeson and his impact on playing basketball at Rutgers.