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Game Preview: Rutgers at Minnesota

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Includes how to watch, stats, Steve Pikiell’s pregame thoughts and keys to victory.

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers (13-10; 9-10) at Minnesota (13-13; 6-13)

How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes

Where: Williams Arena in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Tip-off: Saturday, March 6 at 12:00 p.m. ET

TV: FOX - Brandon Gaudin and Stephen Bardo

Radio: Live Listen - Rutgers Sports Properties Radio Network - WCTC 1450 AM/WOR 710 AM/XM 385 , Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers is 31, which is four spots worse since an 21 point loss to Nebraska on Monday. Minnesota is 59, which is four spots worse since a 19 point loss to Penn State on Wednesday.

Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 109.3 (68th) Defense 90.9 (18th); Minnesota - Offense 111.4 (42nd) Defense 97.0 (80th)

KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 71 Minnesota 70. Rutgers is given a 52% chance to win.

OTB Guide to KenPom

Vegas Line: Rutgers -3.5

Series History: Minnesota leads the all-time series 8-5, but Rutgers has won four of the past five meetings, including a 76-72 victory earlier this season.

Minnesota SB Nation Site: The Daily Gopher

Key Contributors

Minnesota - 6’2” redshirt junior Marcus Carr (20.1 points, 5.0 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 33.3% 3-pt FG); 7’0” junior Liam Robbins (11.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.7 blocks, 32.7% 3-pt FG); 6’4” junior Gabe Kalscheur (9.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists); 6’8” redshirt senior Brandon Johnson (8.7 points, 5.9 rebounds); 6’2” freshman Jamal Mashburn Jr. (7.3 points, 1.5 assists, 1.4 rebounds); 6’6” junior Both Gach (6.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists); 6’5” sophomore Tre’ Williams (5.0 points, 2.0 rebounds. 1.1 assists); 6’9” redshirt senior Eric Curry (3.8 points, 2.7 rebounds); 6’9” sophomore Isaiah Ihnen (2.7 points, 3.6 rebounds)

Rutgers - 6’6” junior Ron Harper Jr. (15.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 31.7% 3-pt FG); 6’2” senior Jacob Young (14.1 points, 3.4 assists, 1.9 rebounds, 1.7 steals, 36.2% 3-pt FG); 6’4” Geo Baker (10.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.3 steals, 30.9% 3-pt FG); 6’4” junior Montez Mathis (8.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, 29.7 % 3-pt FG); 6’10” redshirt junior Myles Johnson (8.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, 1.1 steals, 65.9% FG); 6’7” junior Caleb McConnell (5.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.5 steals); 6’6” sophomore Paul Mulcahy (5.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 38.6% 3-pt FG); 6’11” Cliff Omoruyi (4.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 67.4% FG)

About Minnesota

The Gophers are in free fall mode after losing six consecutive games, including the past three to Northwestern, Nebraska and Penn State. Injuries have been a major factor and a team once considered in good position to make the NCAA Tournament is now well on its way to missing the postseason completely.

Minnesota has been without second leading scorer Liam Robbins for the past three games and without third leading score Gabe Kalscheur for the past five games. Kalscheur was expected to miss 3-4 weeks with a broken finger on his shooting hand, which means he is unlikely to play on Saturday. Robbins suffered a sprained ankle and was considered a game time decision on Wednesday before not suiting up. In addition, Brandon Johnson also has a sprained ankle and wing Both Gach is playing with a foot injury that head coach Richard Pitino said will probably require surgery after the season.

Head coach Richard Pitino gave a brief update on the status of those players on Friday:

Pitino’s squad started the season 6-1 at home in Big Ten play including wins over four of the top five teams in the league in Michigan, Iowa Purdue and Ohio State. However, they’ve lost two straight at the Barn, including an 8 point loss to Northwestern, who came in on a 13 game losing streak.

As a team, Minnesota is averaging 73.3 points per game and are allowing 73.9 points per game. They are shooting just 39.8% from the floor and 28.8% from three-point range, but are making free throws at an impressive 75.2% clip.

In Big Ten play, the Gophers are 10th in offensive efficiency and 14th in defensive efficiency, where they’ve plummeted of late.

Offensively, they have the 3rd lowest turnover rate and are 4th in free throw shooting percentage, but are 13th in two-point shooting percentage, 14th in effective field goal percentage and in three-point shooting percentage.

Defensively, they are 5th in block rate and 6th in steal rate. However, they are 12th in effective field goal percentage, 13th in opponent free throw rate and allow opponents both the highest offensive rebounding rate in league action and three-point shooting percentage.

Marcus Carr is one of the best players in the Big Ten. He is a high volume shooter at point guard who can cause opponents fits when he gets hot, but he is not an efficient scorer. Carr relies heavily on ball screens to create scoring opportunities and takes a bunch of three-point shots. He is a great distributor as well, coming in with 3rd best assist rate in conference play and 16th lowest turnover rate. They have really missed Liam Robbins, a big man who can shoot the three and tends to draw double teams in the low post. If he can play it would be a big boost for Minnesota and he posted a double-double against Rutgers in the first meeting, finishing with 16 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals.

Rutgers Notes

Rutgers is averaging 70.1 points per game and they are allowing 68.0 points per contest. Overall, the Scarlet Knights are shooting 45.3% from the floor, 31.3%from three-point range and 62.4% from the foul line.

In Big Ten play, they are currently 9th 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 12th in three-point shooting percentage, as well as 13th in both free throw rate and 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 5th in two-point field goal percentage defense. However, they are 11th in opponent free throw rate and 13th in opponent offensive rebounding rate.

Rutgers’ leads the Big Ten in blocked shots and its strength of schedule is ranked 6th nationally per KenPom.

Steve Pikiell Pregame Quotes

On bouncing back from loss to Nebraska

“These guys have great approaches. These are waters we’ve been in many of times. Guys have been great. In a league like this, I think every coach I have spoken to, this is what we signed up for. I know our guys are excited. We are playing meaningful games in February. It’s great. We have come a long way with the program. We’ve been there before too. The kids are always great, they are resilient. They move on, they do a good job with that. They are probably better than me.”

On three-point shooting struggles

“We got good looks in the last game. We really did. And if we continue to get good looks like that, we didn’t make them at Nebraska, but we have also had games where we’ve made all those looks, or made a lot of them. So that’s what happens. Don’t dictate your game plan based around the ball going in or not. So many other ways you can affect the game. Everyone will talk about that and everyone talks about free-throw percentages. No one has actually talked about that recently. Take good shots, shoot the ball. We got good shooters.”

Area of improvement needed

“We can rebound better, that’s what we really need to do.”.

On preparing for Minnesota with so many injured players

“It’s that time of the year for everybody, banged up with some injuries. You never know and you have to be prepared for everything. It’s senior night there too.”

Paul Mulcahy’s health status

“He’s banged up but knowing Paul, he will do everything to get himself feeling better. He’s banged up, but it’s not just from the Nebraska game. It’s from the wear and tear of the season and how he plays. But Paul’s great and always has a great approach. Always ready to go. He’s banged up.”

Keys to Victory

It’s simple. Rutgers has everything to play for in this game. This group of seniors has prided themselves on changing the culture of this program and win or lose, they should be commended for doing that. However, Saturday’s game is an opportunity to finish the job so to speak by clinching an NCAA Tournament berth for the first time in 30 years. There literally could not be a more vulnerable opponent to face in this situation than Minnesota.

Mired in a six game losing streak with all the injury issues, Pitino’s job in question and the team having fallen out of NCAA Tournament contention, Minnesota will literally and figuratively limp into this game on just two days rest. Yes, it’s senior night but there are only two that are core players in Brandon Johnson and Eric Curry. The Gophers were once daunting to play at home but that is no longer the case.

Rutgers doesn’t need to come out on fire, but they must avoid a bad start that has plagued them the previous two games. They need to have energy and urgency, but they also need to avoid pressing mentally and forcing things on offense. In the past three games, Rutgers missed a few shots early on and their confidence dropped in a big way, which negatively affected their defensive play. They have to be mentally stronger in this game and it starts with the leaders of the team. Geo Baker, Myles Johnson, Jacob Young and Ron Harper Jr. simply can’t let this team lose focus and it starts with them.

If Rutgers does end up needing a spark, I’d like to see Pikiell try something like inserting Cliff Omoruyi alongside Myles Johnson to give a different look. Freshman Mawot Mag looked good at the end of the Nebraska game and could potentially give some energy on the court on the defensive end. I hope this team plays well from the start, but if they don’t I think trying to mix it up with wrinkle is worth a shot.

The real key in this game though is how connected the players are with one another. Geo Baker recently said on BTN’s The Journey that “what families do is they stay together and they figure it out.” There is no denying this season has been a major challenge and mental grind for the players during the pandemic. Whatever issues they’ve dealt with, they need to put it aside, clear their minds and come together with an opportunity to punch their dance ticket. The burden of making the tournament has taken a toll, but the light is shining at the end of the tunnel with a win on Saturday.

Sharing the basketball on offense, being active moving without the ball in the halfcourt, looking to run in transition, crashing the boards and diving for loose balls are all things that need to happen for them to play to their potential. That’s also how you avoid long scoring droughts. Taking care of the ball and not allowing Minnesota any easy baskets is key as well. If the Scarlet Knights can get second chance points and generate high percentage looks off of penetration, they can have success on the offensive end. This is a game Myles Johnson should dominate on both ends.

With all that being said, we’ll know how locked in this team is by how they play defense. Marcus Carr is going to score, but how much they make him work for his points are key. Expect Pikiell to throw the book at him with double teams and multiple defenders throughout the game. Making the other players beat you and needing someone to have a career night will put the odds against the Gophers. Rutgers is the more talented team and already beat Minnesota with them at full strength. If Robbins plays, it’ll be a more difficult task, but it doesn’t change how the Scarlet Knights need to play.

This is also an opponent that Rutgers can get to the line against and that will be key to putting this game away down the stretch. Baker, Young, Harper Jr. and Caleb McConnell are all capable and need to get to the line and make shots. If RU can win the free throw margin that is something that would make it very hard for the Gophers to overcome.

Appropriate Music Selection

For the last game of the regular season, I selected “Hey You” by Pink Floyd. I chose a live version with Roger Waters from his tour of The Wall in recent years. I saw him live at Yankee Stadium during this tour and he was amazing.

As for appropriate lyrics, the opening verse and closing line are pretty spot on with the current situation.

“Hey you, out there in the cold. Getting lonely, getting old. Can you feel me? Hey you, standing in the aisles. With itchy feet and fading smiles. Can you feel me? Hey you, don’t help them to bury the light. Don’t give in without a fight.”

AND

“Hey you, don’t tell me there’s no hope at all. Together we stand, divided we fall.”

This group has accomplished a lot these past two seasons and have overcome a ton of adversity in doing so. There is just one more wall they need to climb and if they do I really believe they’ll feel liberated. They can also draw from last season’s experience in beating Purdue with it all on the line. After a few flat and uninspired performances, it’s time for them to climb that last wall together and finish the job. I believe they will do it and then there is only one thing left to do.....DANCE.