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Rutgers men’s basketball game preview vs. Northwestern

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A critical game for the Scarlet Knights as they return home to the RAC and try to maintain an undefeated record.

Michigan v Northwestern Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Northwestern (6-15; 1-10) at Rutgers (16-7; 7-5)

How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes

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

Tip-off: Sunday, February 9 at 6:30 p.m. ET.

TV: BTN - Cory Provus & Bob Wenzel

Stream: Fox Sports App

Radio: Live Listen - WCTC 1450 AM/WOR 710 AM/XM 83/Sirius 83; Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers 28th: Northwestern 119th; Rutgers improved one spot since Tuesday’s loss to Maryland. The Wildcats improved teo spots since their loss to Purdue.

Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 106.0 (106th) Defense 88.4 (6th); Northwestern - Offense 105.9 (107th) Defense 101.0 (148th)

KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 71 Northwestern 59. Rutgers is given a 86% chance to win.

OTB Guide to KenPom

Vegas Line: Rutgers -10.5

Series History: Northwestern leads all-time 10-3 and both teams split last season’s home and away series. Rutgers won the last meeting at Northwestern 59-56.

SB Nation’s Northwestern Site: Inside NU

Key Contributors

Northwestern - 6’7” freshman Miller Kopp (13.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.0 assist, 39.6% 3-pt FG%); 6’3” senior Pat Spencer (11.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists); 6’2” freshman Boo Buie (10.0 points, 2.4 assists, 1.8 rebounds, 34.4 3-pt FG%); 6’10” freshman Ryan Young (9.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 56.1 FG%): 6’10” sophomore Pete Nance (8.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists); 6’9” freshman Robbie Beran (5.4 points, 3.3 assists, 41.2 3-pt FG%); 6’7” senior A.J. Turner (4.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists): 6’10” freshman Jared Jones (2.1 points, 1.8 rebounds)

Rutgers - 6’6” sophomore Ron Harper Jr. (11.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists); 6’6” senior Akwasi Yeboah (10.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 40.0 3-pt FG%); 6’4” junior Geo Baker (9.3 points, 3.5 assists, 2.4 rebounds, 1.3 steals); 6’10” sophomore Myles Johnson (8.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 63.6% FG); 6’2” junior Jacob Young (8.5 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists); 6’7” sophomore Caleb McConnell (8.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.0 steal); 6’4” sophomore Montez Mathis (7.7 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.0 steals); 6’9” senior Shaq Carter (3.7 points, 2.3 rebounds, 58.1% FG); 6’6” freshman Paul Mulcahy (3.4 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 54.1% FG)

Northwestern Scouting Report

Head coach Chris Collins is in his seventh season and has a rotation comprised of two seniors, a sophomore and five freshman. They have been without junior Anthony Gaines since mid-December, who is out for the season with a shoulder injury. Growing pains have been evident as they’ve lost six straight conference games and eleven of its last twelve total. The Wildcats only Big Ten win this season was at home against Nebraska. They are 1-6 on the road with a 18 point win over Boston College in December. Collins was able to get his team some rest and development time ahead of this game against Rutgers, as they last played on February 1st, so they are coming in on a full week’s rest.

Northwestern averages 65.1 points per game and shoots 41.9% from the floor, 31.7% from three-point range, and 75.7% from the free throw line. They have the worst offensive efficiency rating in Big Ten play and second worst defensive efficiency rating. Offensively, they shooting 75.0% from the foul line in conference play (4th) and 33.5% from three-point range (6th). Defensively, the only category they are in the top half of the league is with two-point defense, holding opponents to 46.0% shooting (7th).

The Wildcats play a slow pace offensively (261st), don’t force turnovers (304th), and aren’t strong on the offensive glass (300th). They rely on three-point shot and shooting well from the free throw line, so forcing contested shots and keeping them out of the bonus each half will be important. Northwestern did play competitively on the road against Illinois and Indiana, losing by just 3 and 4 points respectively.

Notes

As a team, Rutgers averages 70.3 points per game and is shooting 44.6% from the floor, 30.0% from three-point range, and 64.5% from the free throw line......The Scarlet Knights are 11th nationally in rebounding (40.83), 13th in field goal percentage defense (37.8%), 14th in scoring defense (60.9), 24th in rebound margin (+6.8), 35th in blocks (4.7) and 46th in scoring margin (9.4).......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 26th and a NET ranking of 27th, 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 11th in Big Ten play in offensive efficiency and 2nd in defensive efficiency.........The Scarlet Knights’ remaining schedule ranks 4th nationally in difficulty per ESPN’s BPI.

Keys To Victory

Offensive Rebounding

There has been a growing frustration among the fan base regarding the offensive struggles of Rutgers. On Sunday, they’ll have a great opportunity to generate points and extend scoring runs against a weak defensive team. Being aggressive on the boards overall and cleaning the offensive glass is something Rutgers always needs to do and usually does well. They are a much more physical team than Northwestern and taking advantage of second chance scoring chances is a must. It’s also a demoralizing way to score against your opponent and the Wildcats aren’t an imposing team in the paint. Myles Johnson needs to be a force and should have a big game. On the other end, limiting the Wildcats to one shot possessions and not allowing kick out passes to the perimeter for three-point attempts is critical in their defensive plan.

Transition Basketball

Rutgers needs to be more opportunistic with fast break chances as they are more athletic than Northwestern and will be harder to defend in transition. They’ve only scored 14 fast break points in the past two games combined, which is a big reason they have shot just 37.3% from two-point range in those contests. Getting out in transition off of defensive rebounds and turnovers is vital to getting them going offensively. The status of Jacob Young for this game is unknown as of now, as Rutgers has not provided an update as of this writing. If he does play, his ability to get the ball up the floor in a hurry and penetrate would help. Even if he does play, Caleb McConnell needs to look to push the pace more so, as well as Geo Baker. Northwestern will be rested for this game, but they won’t be comfortable in a up and down pace of play. A key as well is Rutgers taking care of the basketball and avoiding sloppy stretches that they have a tendency to fall into. The less mistakes they make, the harder it will be on Northwestern to generate points on their own in the halfcourt.

Update:

Geo Baker & Ron Harper Jr.

The song remains the same, as the duo have struggled quite a bit of late. It’s fair to question if Baker is fully recovered from his left thumb injury, as he is just 10 of 45 shooting for 22.2% since he returned seven games ago. He is also only 1 of 13 in his last two contests. Baker’s body language in the loss to Maryland wasn’t good and he was on the bench down the stretch, which is a rarity. As for Harper Jr., he did play better on Tuesday against the Terps. While he only scored 6 points on 3 of 9 shooting, he did grab 6 rebounds and block 3 shots. However, getting both players going on the offensive end is not only a key on Sunday, but for the rest of the season. If they can regain some confidence in their shot, this team would benefit greatly and be much more difficult to defend. Look for Rutgers to call their numbers early in the game to try and get them off to good starts.

Free Throw Rate

Northwestern is a very good foul shooting team (75.0%), but they struggle at getting to the charity stripe, as they only have a free throw rate of 20.7% in Big Ten play. That is the second lowest in league action. On the flip side, Rutgers have let opponents get to the line too frequently of late and are just 11th in defensive free throw rate at 30.8% in conference play. The Scarlet Knights need to limit contact and reaching fouls in its halfcourt defense. They have the size and athleticism to put pressure on Northwestern to make contested jump shots without fouling. If they get too aggressive and the Wildcats get into the bonus early in one or both halves, it will be a big advantage due to their ability to knock down freebies. At the same time, Rutgers needs to attack the rim, force contact and get to the line 20+ times on Sunday. While it’s unrealistic to expect RU to shoot as accurately from the line as Northwestern, they can equal or exceed their makes with more attempts.

Work The Crowd

Home cooking is just what the doctor ordered for Rutgers after two consecutive losses. All four remaining home games are sold out and despite it being a Sunday night tip-off, the crowd should be eager to help the Scarlet Knights get back on the right track. A strong start from Rutgers would be huge in jump starting their confidence, as well as establishing control of the game. Look for some full court defensive pressure from RU in order to generate turnovers and fast break chances. Those type of plays get the RAC faithful on their feet and the more energy the crowd can generate, the more it will benefit Rutgers on the court. This is the type of game they could establish a big lead in the first half and if so, they need to keep their foot on the gas pedal and put the issue to bed as early as possible. That being said, avoiding a disastrous quad 3 loss and winning by any margin is ultimately the goal. I expect Rutgers to come out focused and looking to get the 8,000 fans behind them as quickly as possible.

Appropriate Music Selection

For the twenty-fourth game of the season, I’m featuring “Soul to Squeeze” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. One of my favorite songs from the longtime California rock band hits the nail on the head in regard to the state of Rutgers entering this game. I find this line the most appropriate: “Where I go I just don’t know. I got to got to gotta take it slow. When I find my piece of mind. I’m gonna give you some of my good time.” This team needs to take a game at a time, keep plugging away and playing together. I do think this team is strong mentally and the recent stretch of adversity between the losses and the suspension of Jacob Young will only make them stronger. I believe they’ll get back on track in this game and help set the stage for the most important stretch run to the season in decades.