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Embracing Expectations: 4 Thoughts on Illinois

NCAA Basketball: Seton Hall at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers played as hard as they could, but couldn’t make enough shots, falling 54-51.

Four Thoughts:

Illinois Neutralized Rutgers Strength: Illinois is a great rebounding team and they used their big men to neutralize Rutgers on the boards. Whereas the Scarlet Knights usually have the advantage on rebounds, they weren’t able to get there today and that is a credit to Illinois. Illinois had 16 offensive rebounds to Rutgers 10. It’s never that lopsided. And the big man, Kofi Cockburn, had 17 total boards. It’s a tough task when Rutgers can’t do what it wants to do.

Jacob Young Continues to Mature: The development of Young has been one of the most impressive things so far this season. As the game started to get away from Rutgers, Young got hot from 3 and kept Rutgers in it. In fact, he almost won it for them. Young scored 16 points, made 4 threes and had 0 turnovers. That’s a Geo Baker kind of stat.

Rutgers is good: Think of what it took to beat the Scarlet Knights by three today. Rutgers was without its captain and most important player in Baker. Their next best player in Myles Johnson was saddled in foul trouble and never really able to get free to score. And Illinois got a typical Big Ten home whistle (I’m not complaing about the refs). And yet, the Scarlet Knights played great defense (particularly in the first half) and made it a rock fight. It almost worked, but they turned it over just a bit too much. The hype train continues, this is just a brief rest stop.

The two game home stand is huge: Indiana and Minnesota are coming up, and Rutgers has a chance to continue to build on their record. I think they will get some votes in the top 25 Monday despite this loss, and both the Hoosiers and Gophers are beatable. Rutgers has made the RAC a dominant place to play and one loss can’t slow that train. Make sure you’re there and loud for both games. Don’t give up yet.