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Rutgers men’s basketball game preview at no. 9 Maryland

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Find out what the Scarlet Knights need to do to pull off the major upset.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 30 Iowa at Maryland Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Rutgers (16-6; 7-4) vs. No. 9 Maryland (17-4; 7-3)

How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes

Where: Xfinity Center (17,590) in College Park, Maryland

Tip-off: Tuesday, February 4 at 7:00 p.m. ET.

TV: FS1 - Tim Brando and Len Elmore

Stream: Fox Sports App

Radio: Live Listen - Rutgers Sports Properties Radio Network (WCTC 1450 AM/WOR 710 AM/XM 195/Sirius 211; Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM - Jake Schmied and Jake Ostrove

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers 29th: Maryland 10th; Rutgers dropped 4 spots since Saturday’s loss to Michigan. The Terps stayed even after last Thursday’’s win over Iowa.

Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 107.3 (87th) Defense 89.9 (12th); Maryland - Offense 112.6 (24th) Defense 89.6 (7th)

KenPom Prediction: Maryland 69 Rutgers 62. Rutgers is given a 26% chance to win.

OTB Guide to KenPom

Vegas Line: Maryland -7.5

Series History: Maryland leads the all-time series 10-3, including last season’s 77-63 victory at the RAC.

SB Nation’s Maryland Site: Testudo Times

Key Contributors

Maryland - 6’0” senior Anthony Cowan Jr. (16.2 points, 4.3 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 1.0 steal); 6’10” sophomore Jalen Smith (15.3 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 54.0 FG%, 41..2 3-pt FG%); 6’6” sophomore Aaron Wiggins (10.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.0 steal); 6’5” sophomore Eric Ayala (8.2 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists); 6’5” junior Darryl Morsell (8.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists); 6’7” freshman Donta Scott (5.2 points, 3.6 rebounds); 6’4” sophomore Serrell Smith Jr. (1.7 points)

Rutgers - 6’6” sophomore Ron Harper Jr. (11.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists); 6’6” senior Akwasi Yeboah (9.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, 38.7% 3-pt FG); 6’4” junior Geo Baker (9.7 points, 3.5 assists, 2.5 rebounds, 1.4 steals); 6’10” sophomore Myles Johnson (9.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 65.9% FG); 6’2” junior Jacob Young (8.5 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists); 6’7” sophomore Caleb McConnell (8.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.0 steal); 6’4” sophomore Montez Mathis (7.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 steals); ; 6’9” senior Shaq Carter (3.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, 57.9% FG); 6’6” freshman Paul Mulcahy (3.4 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 55.4% FG)

Maryland Scouting Report

Head coach Mark Turgeon is in his ninth season at the helm and his team is clicking on all cylinders entering this game. They’ve won four games in a row and have notched eight victories over KenPom Top 50 squads. They are 12-0 at home this season with an average margin of victory of 16.2 points.

The Terps average 72.3 points per game and are shooting 41.6% from the floor, 31.7% from three-point range and 73.6% from the free throw line. A telling stat is that Maryland is 14-0 when they score 72 or more points, but just 3-4 when they don’t. However, they are playing with confidence and are extremely difficult matchup on both ends of the floor. They have a good point guard in Cowan, size inside in Smith and along the perimeter with several guys who score in multiple ways.

They are fifth in Big Ten play in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They aren’t shooting lights out in conference action, as they are just making 45.6% of two-point attempts (11th) and 31.9% of three-point attempts (8th). However, they are great at getting to the foul line (2nd best free throw rate at 37.6%) and taking advantage once they get there, as they are making 77.1% of its free throw attempts, tied with Michigan State for the best in the Big Ten. Conversely, they are limiting opponents to the lowest free throw rate in conference play at just 21.5%. Maryland is 24th nationally in field goal percentage defense at 38.6% and 27th in scoring defense at just 62.2 points per game.

Notes

As a team, Rutgers averages 71.2 points per game and is shooting 45.1% from the floor, 30.5% from three-point range, and 64.5% from the free throw line......The Scarlet Knights are 12th nationally in rebounding (40.86), 14th in field goal percentage defense (38.0%), 16th in scoring defense (61.1), 18th in rebound margin (+7.1), 37th in blocks (4.7) and 41st in scoring margin (10.0).......Rutgers is undefeated this season at the RAC (15-0), as well as when they score 15 or more fast break points (9-0).......RU has an RPI ranking of 25th and a NET ranking of 28th, 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 3rd in defensive efficiency.........The Scarlet Knights’ remaining schedule ranks 3rd nationally in difficulty per ESPN’s BPI.

Update: Jacob Young has been suspended for tonight game. Story here.

Keys To Victory

Defensive awareness

It’s no secret that Rutgers had far too many defensive breakdowns against Michigan. Whether it was wide open looks along the perimeter or trouble with the pick and roll, the Scarlet Knights allowed more easy baskets than they had in a long time. Maryland is probably the most talented team in the Big Ten and have averaged almost 79 points in its last three games, so tonight’s task won’t be any easier. Rutgers needs to worry about what they can control and its strength lies in its defense. Help side defense needs to be much better in this game or Maryland will punish them more than Michigan did. They also need to be aggressive defensively without fouling, which is a challenge within itself. Contest shots but don’t foul, as the Terps are a good free throw shooting team, but it’s something Rutgers has been solid with this season. They need to bring intensity and focus on the defensive end from the opening tip on and if they do have a breakdown on a possession, they must regroup quickly. Allowing a significant run by Maryland at any point in this game could spell doom. On the ball defense on Cowan and disrupting him with pressure and a size advantage is very important as well.

Transition Basketball

Rutgers isn’t going to beat Maryland in the halfcourt game and needs to get out on the break to keep up on the scoreboard. They are 9-0 this season when they score 15 or more fast break points and when they do score in transition, it seems to help them tighten up defensively as well. Maryland is turnover prone, as they have they rank just 11th in Big Ten play in turnover rate at 18.1%. If Rutgers can jump into the passing lanes effectively and get some easy baskets in transition, it will give them a spark to stay in this game. Look for Jacob Young and Montez Mathis on the wing looking to push it off of defensive rebounds as well. If Rutgers becomes too stagnant on the offensive end and lets Maryland play at a slower tempo, it will be difficult for them to even stay close in the game.

Geo Baker & Ron Harper Jr.

Rutgers needs these two players to not only have good games in order to have a chance to win tonight, but need them to get back on track for the rest of the season. Geo has struggled offensively since returning from his left thumb injury, as he is averaging just 5.8 points on just 10 of 41 shooting in the past six games. After scoring a career high 29 points on 10 of 14 shooting against Iowa, Harper Jr. has scored just 15 points 6 of 27 shooting in his three games since. His demeanor on the court hasn’t been good either, as he looks to be lacking energy and confidence. Although Rutgers has depth and seven different players have led them in scoring in games this season, they can’t win consistently if Baker and Harper Jr. both continue to struggle. I actually look at the Michigan loss as somewhat encouraging due to the fact the duo combined to shoot just 2 of 19 from the floor with only 6 points between them and yet Rutgers still had a chance to win in the final minute of the game. As for tonight, both players need to bounce back and be assertive but smart on the offensive end for Rutgers to have a chance to pull off the upset.

Coaching

For Rutgers to win tonight, Steve Pikiell needs to call a great game. He is particularly strong on out of bounds plays and out of timeouts, which is an area I don’t think Maryland’s Mark Turgeon is as effective in. Taking advantage of that is key. Defensively, Rutgers has been good at taking away an opponents strength on the offensive end and how they defend Smith and Cowan will be key. Switching off of screens in the paint failed badly against Michigan, so it will be interesting to see if they adjust that philosophy in this game or just execute better off of them. They may double down on Smith at times, but the spacing in the halfcourt and preventing penetration from the wings will be key as well.

On the offensive end, Rutgers has to do a better job of ball movement and not settling for contested jumpers. They are always better the more players are moving without the ball in the halfcourt. They can’t be stagnant and look for Pikiell to call plays for Harper Jr. in the early going. I’m sure Pikiell and the staff have gotten this team mentally prepared for what they need to do execution wise, but they’ll need to adjust quicker to what Maryland is doing during the game than they did against Michigan to avoid giving up big runs. How Pikiell rotates lineups and tries to use the roster depth to his advantage, as Maryland primarily plays six, will be worth tracking as well.

Overcome the inevitable

This is a road game in the Big Ten against a top ten team. Rutgers knows going in they won’t get the benefit of the doubt from the zebras and they need to be mentally prepared for that. With Maryland being so proficient at getting to the line and converting once they get there, Rutgers is basically spotting the Terps 8-10 points in my view. Understanding that they need to play close to a perfect game is a challenge on many levels. However, I think that the weight of expectations in a big game environment on Saturday against Michigan resulted in them playing too tight. Learning how to play as the favorite takes some time to adjust to. They fell out of the national rankings this week and play arguably it’s most difficult game of the season tonight. This team plays well when its backs are against the wall and hopefully it allows them to play more loose and free in this game, as no one expects them to win.

Rutgers needs to stay connected on the court for 40 minutes and every player on the floor needs to contribute in some way. An x-factor could be Montez Mathis, who will likely be aggressive and look to have a big game as a Baltimore native who felt snubbed not receiving an offer from Maryland. Keep rebounding well as a team, but finish strong off the offensive glass and convert as many second chance point opportunities as possible. The longer they can stay in the game and frustrate Maryland on the defensive end, their confidence will grow and the better chance they’ll have to pull of a major upset.

Appropriate Music Selection

For the twenty-third game of the season, I’m featuring “Heroes” by David Bowie. The line “We can beat them, just for one day. We can be heroes, just for one day,” speak to the fact that Rutgers are big underdogs in this game. It doesn’t matter that Maryland would probably wins 8 or 9 times out of 10. It only matters what happens tonight and If they do pull it off, it would be the highest ranked opponent the program has ever beaten on the road. It will take the best performance of the season, but this team has surprised plenty of people so far this winter. Rutgers will need a few super hero like individual performances as well. Play like heroes and just maybe, the biggest win of the season will be the result.