Northwestern (6-11; 3-10) at Rutgers (11-7; 7-7)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: The RAC in Piscataway, New Jersey
Tip-off: Saturday, February 13 at 5:00 p.m. ET
TV: BTN - Dave Revsine and Andy Katz
Radio: Live Listen - Rutgers Sports Properties Radio Network - WCTC 1450 AM/WOR 710 AM/Sirius 132/XM 196, Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM - Ronnie Wielenta
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers is 26, which is two spots worse since a 13 point loss at Iowa on Wednesday; Northwestern is 72, which is one spot worse since a 3 point double overtime loss to Indiana on Wednesday.
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 110.6 (53rd) Defense 91.2 (19th); Northwestern - Offense 107.8 (80th) Defense 95.7 (71st)
KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 73 Northwestern 65; Rutgers is given a 75% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Rutgers -8
Series History: Northwestern leads the all-time series 10-5, but Rutgers was victorious in the last meeting 64-56 on January 31 and have won four of the last five.
Northwestern SB Nation Site: Inside NU
Northwestern - 6’4” redshirt sophomore Chase Audige (12.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.0 steal; 30.8% 3-pt FG); 6’7” junior Miller Kopp (12.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 41.2% 3-pt FG); 6’10” junior Pete Nance (12.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 52.5% FG, 33.3% 3-pt FG); 6’2” sophomore Boo Buie (9.4 points, 4.5 assists, 2.5 rebounds, 35.4% 3-pt FG); 6’10” redshirt sophomore Ryan Young (8.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 58.7% FG); 6’9” sophomore Robbie Beran (6.0 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists); 6’3” freshman Ty Berry (5.5 points, 1.6 rebounds, 39.1% 3-pt FG); 6’4” redshirt junior Anthony Gaines (3.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists); 6’2” junior Ryan Greer (3.1 points, 1.8 assists, 1.6 rebounds)
Rutgers - 6’6” junior Ron Harper Jr. (16.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 33.7% 3-pt FG); 6’2” senior Jacob Young (14.1 points, 3.6 assists, 1.9 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 43.5% 3-pt FG); 6’4” Geo Baker (10.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.2 steals); 6’4” junior Montez Mathis (10.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 34.5 % 3-pt FG); 6’10” redshirt junior Myles Johnson (8.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 1.3 steals, 65.7% FG); 6’7” junior Caleb McConnell (6.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.5 steals); 6’6” sophomore Paul Mulcahy (5.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 38.2% 3-pt FG); 6’11” Cliff Omoruyi (4.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 67.6% FG)
Neither team has any significant injury issues.
The Wildcats started off the season with a 6-1 record and a stunning 3-0 start in Big Ten play with wins over Michigan State (KenPom no. 65), Indiana (KenPom no. 27) and Ohio State (KenPom no. 7). However, Chris Collins’ team is mired in a ten game losing streak, all against teams ranked in the KenPom Top 30. On Wednesday, they led Indiana most of the game, but ultimately lost 79-76 in double overtime.
Northwestern is averaging 74.5 points per game and are allowing 72.5 points per game. They are shooting 44.7% from the field, 36.2% from three-point range and 72.6% from the foul line. NU is a dangerous team from behind the arc and they take over 24 attempts from three per game.
In Big Ten play, the Wildcats are 11th in offensive efficiency and 14th in defensive efficiency. Offensively, they have the 4th best two-point shooting percentage but they are last in conference action in offensive rebounding rate and free throw rate. On the defensive end, they are also 3rd in turnover rate and 4th in steal rate, but are 13th in free throw rate, three-point shooting percentage and block rate, as well as last in effective field goal percentage.
This is a team that has length but its style is more finesse than physical. They are one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the country (335th) and do not force many turnovers (290th). Keeping them contained from behind the arc is the key to beating them.
Rutgers is averaging 72.3 points per game and they are allowing 68.9 points per contest. Overall, the Scarlet Knights are shooting 46.3% from the floor, 33.1% from three-point range and 60.3% from the foul line. In Big Ten play, they are currently 7th in offensive efficiency and 7th in defensive efficiency. Offensively, while they are 4th in turnover rate and 5th in two-point shooting percentage, they rank 12th in free throw rate and 13th in free throw shooting percentage. Defensively, Rutgers has the best steal rate and block rate, as well as 2nd in turnover rate. However, they are 13th in opponent offensive rebounding rate.
Keys to Victory
During the first meeting less than two weeks ago, Rutgers jumped out to a commanding 31-11 lead over Northwestern. However, the Scarlet Knights committed a bunch of turnovers and the Wildcats were able to get back into the game, trailing RU by just 5 at the half. While Northwestern ultimately lost by 8 points, Rutgers never completely pulled away.
In fact, they only scored 33 points in the final 29 minutes of the game. The interesting part is that Rutgers shot 18 of 25 from two-point range for 72%, which was the most efficient they’ve been in at least 20 years from inside the arc per KenPom. However, they were just 5 of 22 from three-point range for 22.7%. There was a similar theme in Wednesday’s loss against Iowa, as RU was 22 of 36 from two-point range for 61.1%, but were only 6 of 28 from behind the arc for 21.4%.
The bottom line is that Rutgers has become over reliant with three-pointers despite not being nearly as efficient from deep as they are inside the arc. The Scarlet Knights have only made more than six three-pointers twice in the last nine games, despite averaging over 19 attempts over that span.
As a result of being three happy in the first meeting, Rutgers only tied Northwestern for points in the paint at 26, which shouldn’t have been the case. On Saturday, they need to dominate points in the paint and attack the rim early and often. Myles Johnson and Ron Harper Jr. have an opportunity to establish themselves in the low post, which will in turn lead to open looks from the perimeter as the game progresses. Harper Jr. has struggled from three, but has been effective inside and needs to focus on getting into the paint. Rutgers needs to be smarter and not always take the bait from three. Driving to the rim, pulling up for mid-range jumpers and getting to the foul line needs to be the priority.
Taking better care of the basketball will be critical as well, as 18 turnovers kept Northwestern within striking distance in the first meeting. Four Rutgers players committed at least 3 turnovers against the Wildcats, who are very proficient at forcing turnovers off of steals. Geo Baker needs to have a better game after having 5 turnovers in Evanston, while Caleb McConnell and Paul Mulcahy need more touches than they had in the first meeting.
Defensively, Rutgers needs to close out on shooters on the perimeter and lock things down on the glass. Northwestern is not a good offensive rebounding team and only had 5 in the first meeting. Holding them to one shot possessions and avoiding kick outs for three-pointers is key. The Wildcats love isolation plays, but Rutgers can negate their effectiveness with relentless ball pressure. Head coach Steve Pikiell will likely mix in different defensive looks to try and keep them off balance.
Getting off to a fast start and not allowing for Northwestern to build confidence by making some shots early on is important as well. This team just lost a double overtime heartbreaker at home and could struggle mightily in this game if they fall behind early. Rutgers needs to smell blood and go for the jugular. Avoiding the dreaded quad 3 loss on Saturday is a must in keeping the program’s NCAA Tournament chances on steady ground. There are no easy games in the Big Ten, as Illinois proved on Friday night by escaping winless Nebraska in overtime. Expect Pikiell to remind his team of this roughly fifty times before tip-off.
Appropriate Music Selection
For the ninteenth game of the season, I selected “My Own Soul’s Warning” by The Killers. They are one of my favorite bands, are incredible live and haven’t made any memorable music in a long time. However, this is the one song I love off their newest album. It also serves appropriate for how Rutgers needs to approach things moving forward. These lyrics highlight that thought:
“I tried going against my own soul’s warning. And in the end, something just didn’t feel right.”
As I said above, Rutgers needs to accept its offensive identity. They are most effective when attacking the rim and scoring inside the paint. They are shooting 52.6% from two-point range (76th nationally) this season and 50.1% in Big Ten play. If they focus on sharing the game, utilize multiple ball reversals in halfcourt possessions and look to penetrate driving lanes, I think they can win this game rather easily. Be the aggressor on both ends and don’t give Northwestern a reason to believe. Stick to what feels right and don’t try to do too much because its not what serves them best.