Rutgers (13-9; 9-9) at Nebraska (6-17; 2-14)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska
Tip-off: Monday, March 1 at 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: BTN - Kevin Kugler and Shon Morris
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers is 27, which is two spots better since an 11 point win over Indiana last Wednesday. Nebraska is 109, which is five spots better since a 4 point win over Minnesota on Saturday.
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 110.3 (59th) Defense 90.2 (14th); Nebraska - Offense 101.0 (209th) Defense 93.8 (40th)
KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 71 Nebraska 64. Rutgers is given a 74% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Rutgers -7
Series History: Nebraska leads the all-time series 8-6 but Rutgers swept the series last season, including a 79-62 win in Lincoln on January 3, 2020.
Nebraska SB Nation Site: Corn Nation
Nebraska - 6’6” junior Teddy Allen (16.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.3 steals, 37.6% 3-pt FG); 6’4” junior Trey McGowens (10.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.5 steals, 36.5% 3-pt FG); 6’9” sophomore Dalano Banton (9.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.0 steal, 1.0 block); 6’9” junior Lat Mayen (7.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 33.3 3-pt FG); 6’0” senior Kobe Webster (7.1 points, 1.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 36.8% 3-pt FG); 6’6” junior Shamiel Stevenson (5.8 points, 2.5 rebounds); 6’8” Derrick Walker (5.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 59.6% FG); 6’6” senior Thorir Thorbjarnarson (3.6 points, 2.6 rebounds); 6’9” sophomore Yvan Ouedraogo (3.5 points, 3.9 rebounds,
Rutgers - 6’6” junior Ron Harper Jr. (15.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 32.8% 3-pt FG); 6’2” senior Jacob Young (14.2 points, 3.4 assists, 1.9 rebounds, 1.7 steals, 38.5% 3-pt FG); 6’4” Geo Baker (10.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.3 steals, 33.0% 3-pt FG); 6’4” junior Montez Mathis (9.0 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.0 assist, 31.1 % 3-pt FG); 6’10” redshirt junior Myles Johnson (8.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 1.1 steals, 66.1% FG); 6’7” junior Caleb McConnell (5.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.6 steals); 6’6” sophomore Paul Mulcahy (5.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 36.6% 3-pt FG); 6’11” Cliff Omoruyi (4.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, 67.4% FG)
Nebraska’s leading scorer has left the program effective immediately.
Nebraska guard Teddy Allen is leaving the program, per the school.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 1, 2021
After a 27 day break between games due to a COVID-19 shutdown within the program, the Cornhuskers have now played 11 games in the last 23 days. That’s not a typo, but the reality of playing college basketball in a global pandemic. Nebraska is on pace to play every Big Ten game but one after being inactive for a month. They were 0-5 in conference play before the break and after finally beating Penn State by 1 point on the road in its tenth league game, the Cornhuskers defeated Minnesota, who are without starters Gabe Kalscheur and Liam Robbins, on Saturday at home 78-74.
Nebraska is averaging 70.0 points per game and allowing 73.9 points per contest. They are shooting only 41.7% from the floor, a solid 33.2% from three-point range and only 62.8% from the free throw line.
In Big Ten play, the Cornhuskers are last in offensive efficiency and 9th in defensive efficiency. With an abysmal offensive efficiency rating of 89.7, it’s 6.2 points below 13th place Northwestern. While they play with the fastest tempo in the conference, they are just 12th in offensive rebounding, 13th in two-point field goal percentage, and 14th in turnover rate and free throw shooting percentage. Defensively, Nebraska is holding opponents to a league low of 30.1% from three-point field goal percentage and is 5th in steal rate, but are only in 12th two-point field goal percentage defense and opponent offensive rebounding rate.
In regard to trends, Nebraska is a bit up and down with how many three-pointers they shoot per game. They’ve attempted 25 or more shots from behind the arc in 10 games this season, but has taken 20 or less shots in 8 games. And even though they’ve shot 35% or better in 8 Big Ten games, they are only 2-6 in them. On the defensive side, the Cornhuskers have lost every game they’ve had an efficiency rating higher than 101 (11) in Big Ten play.
Rutgers is averaging 71.0 points per game and they are allowing 67.8 points per contest. Overall, the Scarlet Knights are shooting 45.6% from the floor, 32.2%from three-point range and 62.3% from the foul line. In Big Ten play, they are currently 7th in offensive efficiency and 6th in defensive efficiency.
Offensively, they are 4th in turnover rate and 5th in two-point shooting percentage, but are only 11th in three-point shooting percentage, 12th in free throw rate, as well as 13th in free throw shooting percentage. Their tempo rate is 10th in league play.
Defensively, Rutgers has the best steal rate and block rate, as well as 2nd in turnover rate and 4th in effective field goal percentage defense. However, they are 11th in opponent free throw rate and 13th in opponent offensive rebounding rate.
Rutgers’ strength of schedule is ranked 5th nationally per KenPom.
Keys to Victory
Expect Nebraska to have a little extra confidence early on after winning its last game, although being without Allen could work either way. It’s always important on the road to start well but in this case the less Rutgers allows the Cornhuskers to believe they can win, the better. (note: I mistakenly thought tonight would be senior night but Nebraska actually did that on Saturday.).
If the Scarlet Knights play the way they are capable of on the defensive end, this is a game they should win even with a subpar offensive performance. Nebraska plays fast but are highly inefficient, don’t finish near the rim or at the foul line, are weak on the offensive glass and lead the league in turnovers. They can make threes and need to be contained along the perimeter or they could make this a tough game.
Rutgers needs to play with energy and intensity on defense and in crashing the boards. They can break the Cornhuskers will by being aggressive and playing hard from the opening tip on after they’ve essentially played a game every other day for three plus weeks. Making them work for every basket and playing deep into the shot clock will wear them down.
Expect head coach Steve Pikiell to call for some full court and three quarters court pressure at times to make Nebraska work the full length of a possession. Forcing them into mistakes with ball pressure and capitalizing on those turnovers is a major key. Rutgers got out and ran well against Indiana, scoring 22 fast break points. There should be plenty of chances off of turnovers in this game, but RU needs to play with poise and not waste opportunities due to careless mistakes. Limiting turnovers and easy baskets in transition is important. The Cornhuskers can cause problems with the 6th best defensive turnover rate in the conference.
Nebraska has the best three-point shooting defense in the Big Ten and has held Michigan, Ohio State and Illinois, three of the top four shooting teams from behind the arc, to only 31.0% combined. Rutgers can’t try to win this game by hanging around the perimeter and forcing threes. They need to share the basketball and create good shot opportunities off of drives. Take threes when they come in the flow of the offense and when open in transition, but forcing deep shots too early could lead to a rough start. Nebraska is soft inside and not a physical team, so attacking the rim is key to setting the tone and establishing control of the game.
The bottom line is this. When Geo Baker handles the ball and leads the offense, is able to penetrate and looks for his shot in key spots, Rutgers is better. When Ron Harper Jr. plays with confidence and is aggressive in getting his shots and crashing the boards, Rutgers is better. When Jacob Young is a facilitator first and scorer second, as he was against Indiana and created many open threes due to his ability to penetrate, Rutgers is better. When Myles Johnson gets touches and is active in the post and on the boards, Rutgers is better.
Young and Caleb McConnell are bad matchups for Nebraska and led Rutgers to the 17 point win in Lincoln last season. That game was played without Geo Baker and McConnell led the way with 20 points on 8 of 8 shooting, as well as 5 rebounds and 5 assists. In the rematch, he scored 12 points on 50% shooting. He has struggled mightily on offense in the last two games, failing to score on 0 of 7 shooting after scoring in double digits in three of the previous four games. Facing the Cornhuskers on the road could be the answer to getting him back on track and in rhythm.
Young’s speed on both ends of the court will pose problems for Fred Hoiberg’s team. He scored 16 points and 12 points in the two meetings last season, while his defense could create havoc on Monday night.
The veterans and leaders of this team need to rise to the moment and make sure Rutgers wins this crucial end of season game. They are rested and can see the light at the end of the tunnel leading to the NCAA Tournament. With a win on Monday night, Rutgers is all but guaranteed a bid to March Madness. Seizing this moment and taking care of business will set the tone for what come’s next if they do.
Appropriate Music Selection
For the twenty-third game of the season, I chose “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie. Lyrics that are appropriate for this game include:
“Let’s dance. Put on your red shoes.”
“Let’s sway. Sway through the crowd to an empty space.”
“Let’s dance. Let’s dance. Let’s dance, dance, dance.”
Some Rutgers fans are worried about a jinx or counting eggs before they are hatched, which given the last 30 years it is understandable. However, the bottom line is that a win on Monday would mark 10 in Big Ten play. In a year that the conference is at an historically elite level per KenPom, a lack of non-conference games favor high major leagues looking for bids and there is an additional at-large bid due to the Ivy League not playing, Rutgers is making the NCAA Tournament with 10 wins in the league. The Big Ten is in line to get at least 8 bids and Rutgers is going to finish anywhere between 6th and 8th place. With a NET ranking of 30 and KenPom of 27, they remain firmly in the field with a win over Nebraska. A loss would be damaging for sure, but it also wouldn’t knock Rutgers on the wrong side of the bubble either. That’s how solid their resume is right now.
Last season, Rutgers knew when they played at Purdue in the regular season finale that a win would seal its NCAA Tournament fate in a positive way and they came through. In asking Geo Baker before the Indiana game about whether the experience down the stretch from last season helps now, he said “Being in this situation before definitely helps us. Having veterans that know how to handle these type of situations puts us in a great spot for these last three games as long as we are focused and locked in.”
The exact same situation as last year is in play for this game and its a less daunting challenge. Facing a last place team without fans is a lot easier than facing a perennial postseason team in a tough road environment. That doesn’t mean it will be easy and Nebraska did take top five Illinois to overtime at home a couple of weeks ago. However, the Scarlet Knights know the situation they are in with this game and it should give them an advantage.
Playing focused and together will get Rutgers across the finish line on the road once again. If they can do it, then the only thing left to do is to continue to play as well as possible before they go dancing in Mid-March.