Rutgers (3-0) at DePaul (2-0) - Gavitt Games
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: Wintrust Arena in Chicago, Illinois (10,387)
Tip-off: Thurday, November 18 at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV: FS1 - Eric Collins and Donny Mitchell
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers - No. 73, one spot worse following 75-61 win over NJIT; DePaul - No. 123, improved 16 spots since 99-66 win over Central Michigan.
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 102.0 (129th) Defense 91.2 (39th); DePaul - Offense 100.3 (152nd) Defense 95.9 (101st)
KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 68 DePaul 67. Rutgers is given a 54% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Rutgers -2.5
Series History: Rutgers leads the all-time series between former Big East foes 7-4. The last time they played was in the second year of the Gavitt Games in November 17, 2016, Rutgers won 66-59. It was just the third game of Steve Pikiell’s tenure on the banks.
Gavitt Games History: Rutgers is 1-2 all-time in this annual series between the Big Ten and Big East. They last played in the Gavitt Games in 2018, losing to St. John’s at the RAC by the final score of 84-65.
Notes: This is the first road game of the season...Two seasons ago, Rutgers lost it’s fourth game of the season and first away from home (neutral) vs. St. Bonaventure, who were No. 123 in KenPom. Tonight, Rutgers plays it’s fourth game of the season and first away from home vs. DePaul, who are ranked No. 123 in KenPom.
The Blue Demons have played well under first year head coach Tony Stubblefield. They’ve scored 90-plus points in both their games. However, they were against sub-300 KenPom opponents, beating Coppin State (No. 345) 97-72 and Central Michigan (No. 308) 99-66.
For a deeper understanding of why such a high scoring team has an average adjusted offensive efficiency rating of 100.3, our KenPom expert Fred Gaudios explains, “So far this season, in a limited sample size of two games against two of the worst teams in D-1, DePaul has averaged 98 points per game. Though it looks good at a high level for DePaul, because of the level of competition they faced, it equals out to what would be an average offensive performance against an average D-1 defensive team, and may not mean much against a talented defensive team like Rutgers.”
DePaul has just seven school scholarship players and is leaning on four players who are averaging 30-plus minutes per game. 6’4” senior Javon Freeman-Liberty, who has an impressive two game average of 23.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 2.5 steals. 6’6” sophomore David Jones has started strong as well, averaging 19.5 points, 13.0 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 2.0 blocks. Minnesota transfer 6’6 Brandon Johnson is averaging 16.5 points and 7.0 rebounds while shooting 61.9% from the floor. JUCO transfer 6’7 Philmon Gebrewhit is averaging 13.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.0 steals.
As a team, they are shooting 51.1% from the floor, 34.0% from three-point range and 79.2% from the foul line. Opponents are shooting just 39.7% from the floor but are making 42.4% from three-point range. The Blue Demons are doubling up teams on the glass, averaging 48.0 rebounds compared to 23.5 boards by the opposition.
Steve Pikiell Quote
“We played three really unique teams. One team played us all zone. Lehigh is a drive it to the rim team. And NJIT took 29 threes. We played three unique styles, I kind of like that now as we move forward. The rotation isn’t perfect yet and guys are figuring it out. These guys played a lot of minutes, but the rest of our rotation is new. They are figuring it out. We got some pieces on that bench that need to keep coming and even some guys that didn’t check in have to be ready because I trust those guys still that they can do some good stuff for us.”
Keys To Victory
In the first true road game in two seasons, it would be preferred to see Rutgers start strong on both ends of the floor. DePaul will be fired up and want to earn a statement victory for new head coach Tony Stubblefield. They need to come out with purpose from the opening tip on.
Pace in this game will be something to watch for. If the Scarlet Knights don’t come out focused on the game plan, they could lose control. DePaul loves to play fast and loose, as their adjusted tempo of 73.3 is 39th fastest in college basketball. Their opponents are only averaging 14.9 seconds per possession, so they prefer to force quick shots and crash the boards. They are 4th nationally with an offensive rebounding rate at 47.8% and 1st nationally in holding opponents to an offensive rebounding rate of just 15.8%. The Blue Demons have forced a lot of one shot possessions by speeding up teams and forcing bad shots.
Rutgers will want to slow the game down and should pound it inside to Ron Harper Jr. and Cliff Omoruyi. Ball movement and working inside out is key. If RU doesn’t play smart in the early going and gets too three happy, they could find themselves in a hole. Making DePaul work on the defensive end with ball rotations and working the shot clock could wear them down physically. Rutgers has more size and athleticism and they need to use it. Shot selection is key and sharing the basketball will help in that area.
If the Scarlet Knights can establish the paint, they can work inside out and get some good looks from behind the arc as the game progresses. This could be a game that Paul Mulcahy returns his three-point stroke after producing the best season from deep for Rutgers in five years (50+ attempts) by shooting 39.3% last year. Geo Baker could have a big shooting continuing from Tuesday as well.
Defensively, the Scarlet Knights need to stay disciplined and use their length to disrupt passing lanes and take away driving lanes. However, they can’t get overzealous and steal happy, which could lead to unnecessary fouls and leave them open to dribble penetration. Keeping DePaul in front of them and forcing them to hit jumpers is key. The size of Rutgers’ wings with 6’8” Jaden Jones, 6’7” Mawot Mag, 6’7” Caleb McConnell and 6’6” Aundre Hyatt should cause problems for the Blue Demons in the halfcourt. They haven’t dealt with a good defensive team yet, so ball pressure could force a lot of mistakes tonight from the home team.
Controlling the action on the glass is really important as DePaul is averaging 17 second chance points. Harper Jr. has been very efficient on the boards so far and he needs to do the same tonight. Rutgers has the size to do it, but they have to have the mentality of making it a priority with a all hands on deck approach. When Rutgers does that, they are a lot harder to play against. Limiting DePaul to one shot possessions and avoiding kickouts is also a key will prevent the potential for open looks on the perimeter.
DePaul is also averaging 21.5 points off of turnovers, so playing a clean game is important for RU and will make it harder for the Blue Demons to control tempo. They don’t force an above average amount of turnovers and Rutgers has protected the basketball relatively well with a 15.1% turnover rate, which is 51st nationally.
Ultimately, Rutgers is the better team but needs to play like it. Having the right approach, playing with urgency and energy but under control is a must. Despite a relatively soft non-conference schedule so far, DePaul’s has been even easier. The Scarlet Knights have been involved with closer games than DePaul as well, who have not dealt with having to play with any pressure. This could be an intangible factor that benefits Rutgers. Make DePaul defend and have to make jump shots. Don’t allow them to breath and the leaders have to lead. Geo Baker will probably have the ball in his hands more as he has dished out 10 assists to just 2 turnovers in the previous two games.
This is a game that Rutgers doesn’t have to overthink. Play fundamentally sound basketball on both ends, play smart and Rutgers should win this game comfortably.
For the fourth game of the season, here is “Like a Mighty River” by St. Paul & The Broken Bones. I’ve never heard of them before, but this performance was something else.
The song is about not being hasty in a relationship. Rutgers fans have been quick to jump to conclusions about this team after a 3-0 start that has brought many tense moments. Even so, this team needs time to develop and tonight’s game is an opportunity to take another step forward.
Slowing down the game against DePaul and breaking them down is key. Rutgers can’t get caught up in the river swell of the pace of the Blue Demons. Fight the current and stay focused on the right approach. If they do that, they’ll come home at 4-0.