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Rutgers men’s basketball game preview vs. Michigan

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How to watch, stats and keys to winning the rematch.

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Michigan Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan (16-9; 7-7) at Rutgers (18-8; 9-6)

How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes

Where: The RAC (8,000) in Piscataway, New Jersey

Tip-off: Wednesday, February 19 at 7:00 p.m. ET.

TV: BTN - Brandon Gaudin and Dan Bonner

Stream: Fox Sports App

Radio: Live Listen - Rutgers Sports Properties Radio Network - WCTC 1450 AM/WOR 710 AM/XM 384; Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM - Troy DeSavino and Randy DeGregorio

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers 29th: Michigan 15th; Rutgers moved up 4 spots since Saturday’s win over Illinois. Michigan moved up 5 spots after Sunday’s win over Indiana.

Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 107.4 (69th) Defense 89.7 (11th); Michigan - Offense 112.4 (24th) Defense 91.8 (24th)

KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 68 Michigan 66. Rutgers is given a 56% chance to win.

OTB Guide to KenPom

Vegas Line: Rutgers -3

Series History: Michigan leads the all-time series 12-0, including a 69-63 victory at Madison Square Garden on February 1.

SB Nation’s Michigan Site: Maize N Brew

Key Contributors

Michigan - 6’7” junior Isaiah Livers (13.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 45.9% 3-pt); 6’0” senior Zavier Simpson (12.5 points, 8.2 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 35.7% 3-pt); 7’1” senior Jon Teske (12.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 1.2 steals); 6’1” junior Eli Brooks (11.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 38.4% 3-pt FG); 6’8” freshman Franz Wagner (10.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.2steals); 6’0” sophomore David DeJulius (7.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 36.2% 3-pt FG); 6’8” sophomore Brandon Johns Jr. (6.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 51.4% FG); 6’10” senior Austin Davis (5.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, 71.9% FG); 6’11” sophomore Colin Castleton (3.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, 54.2% FG)

Rutgers - 6’6” sophomore Ron Harper Jr. (11.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.0 assist); 6’4” junior Geo Baker (10.2 points, 3.6 assists, 2.7 rebounds, 1.1 steals); 6’6” senior Akwasi Yeboah (10.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 38.5% 3-pt FG); 6’10” sophomore Myles Johnson (8.3 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 62.1% FG); 6’2” junior Jacob Young (8.3 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists); 6’7” sophomore Caleb McConnell (7.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists); 6’4” sophomore Montez Mathis (7.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.3 steals); 6’6” freshman Paul Mulcahy (4.0 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 56.8% FG); 6’9” senior Shaq Carter (3.5 points, 2.4 rebounds, 56.9% FG)

Michigan Scouting Report

First year head coach Juwan Howard started his Michigan tenure off with an impressive 7-0 record that included victories over Creighton, Iowa State, North Carolina, and Gonzaga. However, they struggled without Isaiah Livers who missed about a month with a groin injury. Michigan went 4-5 without him. They’ve won three straight since he returned to action. He did tweak his ankle in Sunday’s win over Indiana and his status for this game is questionable once again.

Update: Livers is a game time decision:

The Wolverines have averaged 82 points in its last three contests, including 77 points against Michigan State, which has the best defensive efficiency rating in Big Ten play.

In true road games this season, Michigan is just 2-5, but have won its last two against Nebraska and Northwestern.

The Wolverines are shooting 35.3% from three-point range this season. They are 13-2 overall and 5-1 in Big Ten play when shooting 35% or better from behind the arc. However, they are only shooting 31.8% from three in Big Ten play. They are tops in conference play from two-point range, making 52.0% from inside the arc. They also have the lowest turnover rate in league play at just 14.0%.

Overall, the Wolverines are averaging 76.2 points per game and are shooting 46.4% from the field, 35.3% from three-point range, and are shooting 72.3% from the foul line. Michigan is not a strong offensive rebounding team (234th in DI; 10th in B1G) and they don’t turn opponents over much either (331st in D1; 12th in B1G). Currently they are 2nd in Big Ten play in offensive efficiency and 9th in defensive efficiency.

Zavier Simpson is a very good floor general on the offensive end and leads the conference with 7.3 assists in league play. The Wolverines need good spacing to get the shots they prefer, which Simpson helps with his ability to penetrate and dish to the open shooter.

Livers has the 45th best offensive rating in Division I at 123.7 and is an excellent shooter, can play inside and out, rarely turns it over and is a matchup problem for every opponent.

Jon Teske is a good rebounder and rim defender inside. Eli Brooks, Franz Wagner, Brandon Johns Jr, David DeJulius and Austin Davis are all capable of having big nights on occasion.

Notes

As a team, Rutgers averages 70.5 points per game and is shooting 44.8% from the floor, 30.7% from three-point range, and 65.3% from the free throw line......The Scarlet Knights have the following national ranks: 10th in field goal percentage defense (37.9%); 12th in rebounding (40.50); 14th in scoring defense (61.7); 21st in rebounding margin (+6.6); 21st in scoring defense (61.8), 27th in blocks (4.8) and 41st in scoring margin (8.8).......Rutgers is undefeated this season at the RAC (17-0), as well as when they score 15 or more fast break points (9-0).......RU has an RPI ranking of 36 and a NET ranking of 30, 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 7th in Big Ten play in offensive efficiency and 3rd in defensive efficiency.........The Scarlet Knights’ remaining schedule ranks 1st nationally in difficulty per ESPN’s BPI.

Keys To Victory

Defending Ball Screens

As much as Rutgers struggled offensively in the first meeting against Michigan, they looked particularly bad on defense. RU was lost in its help defense, consistently got lost fighting through ball screens and left shooters wide open along the perimeter and even near the rim at times. How Pikiell chooses to counter this time around is a major key to this game. Do they sag off of certain players, do they look to switch more, or dare I say it, mix in some zone to give Michigan a different look? However they choose to defend Michigan off of ball screens, they must do a better job of contesting every shot, as well as being tougher in defending the paint.

Michigan is so dangerous from behind the arc and RU has to avoid any sustained letdown defensively. They did a much better job the last ten minutes of the first game against the Wolverines and hopefully that will give them confidence they can have a much better defensive performance tonight.

Second Chance Points

You probably remember that Rutgers had 36 MORE SHOTS than Michigan in the first meeting. While that’s not going to happen again, Rutgers has to finish better near the rim in this game. While they did hold a 19-2 advantage with second chance points in the first game, it should have been 39-2. They grabbed 26 offensive rebounds to just 6 for the Wolverines. RU needs to dominate on the glass once again, but they must take advantage of second chance scoring chances to win this game.

Transition Game

The Wolverines don’t typically make mistakes, but Rutgers forced 16 turnovers in the first meeting, including 6 from Simpson. Jacob Young did a fantastic job late in the game defending him and I expect Steve Pikiell to go to this matchup much earlier this time around. Rutgers was a problem for Michigan the few times they did run in the first meeting and they need to look to do that more often tonight. Running in transition off of turnovers and defensive rebounds would keep the Wolverines on their heels while also stirring up the RAC faithful. Montez Mathis has been quiet lately but he had a team high 17 points in the first meeting and has the potential to be a factor, particularly in the transition game tonight.

X-Factor

In the loss to Michigan, Brandon Johns Jr. torched Rutgers for 20 points. He was also 4 of 7 from deep and had 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and a block. It was by far his best game of the season. He’ll have plenty of confidence entering tonight’s rematch based on the first game, as well as coming off a 14 point effort on 3 of 3 shooting from three in his last game. Rutgers needs to prevent a role player like him from having a big night.

On the flip side, RU needs someone to step up and I think Paul Mulcahy has an opportunity to do just that. He had just 2 points and nothing else in 8 minutes of action at the Garden. However, he has played extremely well the past two games, averaging 10 points on 80% shooting, 3 assists and 2 rebounds in 26 minutes per contest. His confidence and urgency has been much improved. His ability to create on the offensive end and as a zone buster can give Rutgers a different element they didn’t have in the first meeting against Michigan. As I wrote after the Illinois win, this team is still evolving and if Mulcahy can continue to develop the rest of the way this season, I believe this team hasn’t played its best basketball yet.

Poise

I’m not sure how much it had to do with the environment at MSG, the name on the opponent’s jersey or just dealing with pressure of a game in general, but Rutgers lacked poise in the first meeting against Michigan. Being at the RAC this time and having Geo Baker back to his old self are two reasons to believe they’ll be much more composed in this game. They need to be right from the opening tip and be focused on both ends of the floor. Michigan is a dynamic offensive team and RU cannot afford a slow start in either half.

Appropriate Music Selection

For the twenty-seventh game of the season, I’m featuring “When My Time Comes” by the band Dawes. I’ve loved this song for a long time and used it once last season as well. The line “I wanted to pay for my successes with all of my defeats” rings true tonight. As I wrote yesterday, Rutgers needs to finally beat Michigan to help get to a place no one expected them to be before the season began. Longtime fans remember the bitter losses in big games before, but it’s more about seizing the opportunity before them tonight. They let a winnable game slip through its fingers in the loss two and a half weeks ago to Michigan and tonight is a chance to redeem themselves.

Beating Michigan, who is a team capable of going far in March when Livers is healthy, would be another sign this team is for real. It would give them a chance to clinch a perfect season at the RAC headed into senior night in a couple of weeks from now against Maryland. It would give them an ever important quad one victory. With five teams currently tied for third place in the Big Ten standings at 9-6, a win would ensure that Rutgers will remain in the top half of the conference for now, with a chance to finish the regular season that way as well.

The environment and fans at the RAC have been PHENOMENAL this season. Tonight’s atmosphere should be even crazier as the return of Quincy Douby and RU wearing its 1976 throwback uniforms a third time will bring an extra edge to this game. The time has come for Rutgers to solidify themselves as a NCAA Tournament team and a legitimate top half Big Ten squad with a victory.