Nebraska (7-12; 2-6) at No. 24/25 Rutgers (14-5; 5-3)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: The RAC in Piscataway, New Jersey (Alternate Traffic Pattern)
Tip-off: Saturday, January 25th at 2:00 p.m. ET.
TV: BTN - Lisa Byington and Shon Morris
Stream: Fox Sports App
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers 22nd; Nebraska 135th; Rutgers moved up 3 spots since Wednesday’s loss to Iowa. Nebraska dropped 1 spot since Tuesday’s loss to Wisconsin.
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 106.4 (77th) Defense 88.3 (9th); Nebraska - Offense 104.1 (128th) Defense 101.3 (155th)
KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 77 Nebraska 62. Rutgers is given a 90% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Rutgers -13
Series History: Nebraska leads 8-5 all-time, but Rutgers won the last meeting earlier this month in Lincoln by the final score of 79-62.
SB Nation’s Nebraska Site: Corn Nation
Nebraska - 6’2” sophomore Cam Mack (13.0 points, 6.8 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 1.2 steals); 6’6” senior Haanif Cheatham (12.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists); 6’4” junior Dachon Burke Jr. (12.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.4 steals); 6’6” junior Thorir Thorbjarnarson (8.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 50.0 FG%, 43.9 3-Pt FG%); 6’3” junior Jervay Green (8.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.0 steal); ; 6’8’’ freshman Kevin Cross (7.5 points, 4.0 rebounds); 6’9” freshman Yvan Quedraogo (5.8 points, 6.3 rebounds); 6’8” senior Matej Kavas (5.1 points, 1.1 rebounds)
Rutgers - 6’6” sophomore Ron Harper Jr. (12.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.0 steal); 6’4” junior Geo Baker (10.3 points, 3.8 assists, 2.4 rebounds, 1.6 steals); 6’6” senior Akwasi Yeboah (9.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 37.1 3-pt FG%); 6’10” sophomore Myles Johnson (9.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 68.4 FG%); ; 6’2” junior Jacob Young (8.5 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists); 6’7” sophomore Caleb McConnell (7.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 38.9 3-pt FG%); 6’4” sophomore Montez Mathis (6.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.0 steals); 6’6” freshman Paul Mulcahy (3.7 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 58.0 FG%); 6’9” senior Shaq Carter (3.7 points, 2.4 rebounds, 58.8 FG%)
Nebraska Scouting Report
First year head coach Fred Hoiberg predictably has seen his team struggle in what is a almost entirely new roster from last season. They are just 7-12 overall and 2-6 in Big Ten play. They’ve lost all six true road games this season by an average of 12 points, but did take Indiana to overtime in Bloomington. In Big Ten play, Nebraska is 10th in offensive efficiency and 12th in defensive efficiency.
In the Huskers conference wins over Purdue and Iowa, one common thread stands out. They held both teams to awful shooting nights from three-point range, as Purdue was 6 of 35 for 17.1% and Iowa was 4 of 33 for 12.1%, while Nebraska had success from behind the arc, making 11 of 30 (36.7%) and 10 of 26 (38.5%) in those games respectively. That’s a difficult recipe for victory to replicate, especially on the road and against a team like Rutgers that isn’t nearly as reliant with three-pointers. Even so, this team can be dangerous on certain days.
Nebraska is a perimeter oriented team that plays at one of the fastest paces in the country, as its overall adjusted tempo of 71.9 is ranked 30th per KenPom, while they are 4th in Big Ten play at 69.7. Cam Mack is a transfer point guard from Stephen F. Austin who is extremely quick and makes the offense go. He plays a ton of minutes, has one of the best assist rates in the country at 37.9%, which is 18th best of all Division I players and it would be even higher if Nebraska was a better shooting team. Mack also has an impressive 3.3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio. He can knife his way through any defense in the halfcourt with dribble penetration and gets to the free throw line at a rate of 37.7%, which is efficient.
Rutgers needs to be aware of Dachon Burke Jr. as well, as the Orange, New Jersey will look to have a big game in his return to the Garden State and has averaged 16 points and 6 rebounds on 57.6% shooting the past two games. He had just 5 points on 2 of 9 shooting in the first meeting against RU.
In addition, the best three-point shooters on Nebraska are Thorir Thorbjarnarson, who is shooting 43.9% on 66 attempts, and Haanif Cheatham, who is shooting 35.3% on 51 attempts. Mack leads the team with 86 attempts from behind the arc and is shooting is 32.6%.
The Cornhuskers are averaging 72.3 points per game but are not an efficient basketball team, as they are shooting just 41.8% from the field, despite a solid 33.1% from three-point range. They struggle from the free throw line at 59.8%. They protect the basketball well and have the second best turnover rate in Big Ten play at just 13.1%, but are routinely outworked on the glass, as they have a -10.3 rebounding margin.
Neither side has any major injuries entering this game.
As a team, Rutgers averages 71.5 points per game and is shooting 46.0% from the floor, 30.5% from three-point range, and 64.1% from the free throw line......The Scarlet Knights are 9th nationally in field goal percentage defense (37.2%), 11th in scoring defense (60.1), 17th in total rebounding (40.9), 17th in rebound margin (+7.7), 29th in scoring margin (+11.4) and 39th in blocks (4.6)......Rutgers is undefeated this season at the RAC (13-0), as well as when scoring 37 or more points in the paint (10-1) and when scoring 15 or more fast break points (8-0).......RU has an RPI ranking of 17th and a NET ranking of 19th, which is used by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee to help determine the field of 68 at the end of the season....Rutgers is currently 9th in Big Ten play in offensive efficiency and 4th in defensive efficiency.
Keys To Victory
Frustrate Cam Mack Part II
The last thing Rutgers wants to do is get into a track meet with Nebraska and slowing down Cam Mack is the key to avoiding that. Rutgers did a good job of containing him in the first meeting, as Jacob Young and Montez Mathis slowed him down enough that Nebraska only scored 6 fast break points the entire game. I’m not sure they’ll be as successful in this game in that regard, but they have plenty of options to throw at Mack, including fullcourt pressure that has been effective at times. Wearing him down and making Nebraska make shots in the halfcourt offense will be important, while limiting easy baskets off of turnovers.
Attack the Rim
Nebraska is weak inside and once Rutgers figured out they could penetrate off the dribble in Lincoln, they took over the game and shot 60% from two-point range. They need to take this same approach on Saturday. Expect some tired legs from Rutgers, which means they can’t settle for shots along the perimeter if it’s not in rhythm with the offense. The Huskers will have to work much harder if the Scarlet Knights look to attack creases and get into the paint. Caleb McConnell, Jacob Young, and Paul Mulcahy were key in the first meeting and combined to dish out 10 assists. McConnell and Young also exploded offensively, combining for 36 points on 12 of 17 shooting from two-point range. Add in Geo Baker being on the court this time, as well as Harper’s ability to hit the mid-range jumper and the Rutgers offense has a chance to have another big scoring game. However, their biggest weapon against Nebraska is another key.....
Feed Myles the Monster
As good as the guards played in the first game against Nebraska, center Myles Johnson was virtually unstoppable en route to a dominant performance of 18 points on 9 of 13 shooting, as well as 14 rebounds and 2 blocks. The Huskers had no answer for Johnson and that shouldn’t change on Saturday. Johnson has had some difficult matchups of late, playing some of the best big men in the conference over the past two plus weeks in Mike Watkins, Kofi Cockburn, Daniel Oturu and Luka Garza. His production suffered a bit, averaging 7.8 points on 52% shooting and 5.3 rebounds. Not awful stats, but not the type of numbers he was producing before this stretch. This game is an opportunity for Myles the Monster to eat early and often, so hopefully the big man is hungry to dominate in the paint. His presence needs to loom large in this game.
Shoot The Glass (Hans Gruber voiceover)
Rutgers needs to pound the Huskers into submission on the glass and dominate the game with rebounding. They held a +17 rebounding margin in the first meeting (48-31), but were only +1 on the offensive glass. It didn’t matter, as Rutgers held a 12-0 advantage in second chance points, but it’s important they limit Nebraska to as many one shot possessions as possible. That type of advantage is unlikely again if the Huskers are able to grab offensive boards. RU has the 37th best offensive rebounding rate in the country, while Nebraska is 324th. Defensively, the Scarlet Knights rank 78th in limiting opponents on the offensvie glass, while Nebraska has been awful at 344th. Rutgers is the better rebounding team BY FAR and need to show it Saturday. They’ve have had a negative rebounding margin in three of its last four games, so it’s important they reestablish control on the glass in this contest against an inferior opponent.
This will be the third game in six days for Rutgers and they didn’t get back to campus until after 4 a.m. on Thursday following the hard fought loss at Iowa. The Big Ten is a grind and Nebraska is talented enough to win this game if Rutgers comes out flat and unable to produce the same defensive intensity that has become their trademark. Having multiple players who can lead the scoring attack in any given game should help on Saturday, as should the leadership of the veteran players. They can’t afford a letdown and need to win every game at the RAC, especially this one against a team they’ve already beaten on the road and arguably the worst in the conference. How they began each half will be important and minimizing mental mistakes as well. Nebraska will mix in a zone, so Rutgers needs to stay disciplined and pick it apart like they did the first time, avoiding sloppy passes. Defensively, they can’t fall asleep defending the three, as Nebraska has the potential to win the game from behind the arc. Basically, they need to power through mentally to overcome any physical tiredness from this week’s stretch of games so they can defend and rebound the way we know Rutgers is capable of. If they can do that, they’ll keep the positive momentum moving forward.
Appropriate Music Selection
For the twentieth game of the season, I’m featuring “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes. This song has become a popular sports anthem played in stadiums and arenas across the country. It’s a classic from Jack and Meg White. In regard to Saturday’s game, I think it’s one this Rutgers team will need the energy of the RAC faithful to help foster their never say die attitude. A third game in six days with an early afternoon tip-off and they can’t afford any slip ups. However, Rutgers continues to play for each other and show up game after game. Hopefully, they are fired up to be back at home in the sold out RAC and play inspired basketball that even a seven nation army couldn’t contain them on the court. When by 20 or win by 1, just win.