Rutgers (11-8; 5-4) at Nebraska (6-14; 0-9)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska (capacity 15,500)
Tip-off: Saturday, January 29 at 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: BTN - Kevin Kugler and Andy Katz
Stream: FOX Sports Live
NET Rankings: Rutgers No. 112; Nebraska No. 190 (Quad 3 opponent)
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers - No. 100, six spots worse following a 68-60 loss to Maryland on Tuesday; Nebraska - No. 171, three spots worse following a 73-65 loss to Wisconsin on Thursday.
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 102.7 (179th) Defense 95.7 (53rd); Nebraska - Offense 102.2 (188th) Defense 102.4 (164th)
KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 69 Nebraska 67. Rutgers is given a 56% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Rutgers -2
Series History: Nebraska leads the all-time series 9-7, including a 72-51 win the last time Rutgers visited Lincoln last season. The Scarlet Knights scored the most points in any Big Ten game since joining the league against the Huskers on January 8 at home 93-65.
Nebraska: 6’7” freshman Bryce McGowens - 16.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists; 6’3” senior Alonzo Verge Jr. - 14.1 points, 5.3 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 1.6 steals; 6’9” junior Derrick Walker - 9.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.0 steal, 1.0 block, 68.9% FG; 6’5” freshman CJ Wilcher - 7.8 points, 2.4 rebounds, 36.9% 3-pt FG; 6’2” sophomore Keisei Tominaga - 7.4 points, 1.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 35.9% 3-pt FG; 6’0” senior Kobe Webster - 6.2 points, 1.7 assists, 1.4 rebounds, 34.0% 3-pt FG; 6’4” junior Trey McGowens - 6.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.2 steals, 33.3% 3-pt FG (5 games); 6’9” junior Lat Mayen - 5.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 6’11” freshman Eduardo Andre - 3.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 57.9% FG
Rutgers: 6’6” senior Ron Harper Jr. - 16.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.4 steals, 43.8% 3-pt FG; 6’4” senior Geo Baker - 12.2 points, 4.1 assists, 2.1 rebounds, 1.0 steal, 34.8% 3-pt FG; 6’11” sophomore Cliff Omoruyi - 10.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.1 block, 58.2% FG; 6’7” senior Caleb McConnell - 6.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.1 steals; 6’6” junior Paul Mulcahy - 6.7 points, 5.2 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 30.4% 3-pt FG; 6’6” sophomore Aundre Hyatt - 5.6 points, 3.2 rebounds; 6’8” freshman Jaden Jones - 4.1 points, 1.3 rebounds; 6’7” sophomore Mawot Mag - 3.3 points, 1.9 rebounds; 6’8” senior Ralph Gonzales-Agee - 2.5 points, 1.1 rebounds, 52.2% FG; 6’10 sophomore Dean Reiber - 2.3 points, 1.3 rebounds; 6’8” sophomore Oskar Palmquist - 1.7 points, 4-8 3-pt FG; 6’2” freshman Jalen Miller - 1.1 points
The Cornhuskers are 0-13 against high major opponents this season and the highest ranked KenPom opponent they’ve beaten this season is No. 157 Sam Houston State. Six of the thirteen losses have been by single digits, including their last two defeats to No. 32 Indiana and No. 25 Wisconsin, both at home.
Nebraska has small guards who are quick and push the pace, as they play with the 14th fastest tempo in the country at 71.6 and fastest in the Big Ten (71.4). Their average possession length is just 15.3 seconds, which is the 11th shortest in Division I. Playing fast doesn’t mean they play sloppy though, as they have the 72nd lowest turnover rate nationally at 17.2%. They look to run in transition and force opponents into mistakes as their defensive turnover rate of 20.0% is 99th nationally. In conference action, Nebraska has the second best defensive turnover rate at 18.1% and third best steal rate at 9.5%.
As a team, the Cornhuskers are shooting a respectable 51.9% from two-point range (98th) but struggle from three-point range at 30.0% (310th). They are making 71.7% of their free throw attempts (163rd). Nebraska averages 72.9 points per game but are allowing 78.8 points per contest. In Big Ten play, Nebraska is last in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
Rebounding is a huge weakness. They are 351st nationally with just a 20.0% offensive rebounding rate, while they are allowing opponents a 33.0.% offensive rebounding rate (330th). Opponents are also shooting 36.3% from three-point range (307th) against them.
One potential x-factor in this game is 6’4” junior guard Trey McGowens, brother of former top 50 recruit Bryce. He’s only played in five games this season due to injury but is returned a couple of weeks ago. While he missed the game in Piscataway earlier this month, he had a good performance in the win over RU last March (12 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds). He has been patient working his way back into the offensive flow since his return, only taking five shots from the field over two games. However, he is 6 of 8 from the foul line and is a player the Scarlet Knights don’t want to get a hot hand on Saturday.
For the season, the Scarlet Knights are averaging 67.2 points per game and allowing 64.4 points per contest.....RU is shooting only 46.4% from two-point range (293rd), 34.3% from three-point range (140th) and 68.4% from the foul line (261st)......They are ranked 5th nationally in assist rate at 64.5%, 39th in two-point defense holding opponents to 45.5% .......Rutgers is 12th in offensive efficiency and 4th in defensive efficiency in Big Ten play so far this season......RU is shooting a league best 40.7% from three-point range and are 5th in offensive rebounding rate (29.4%) in Big Ten play......They are in the top 5 in five of eight defensive categories in Big Ten play including 2nd in steal rate, 3rd in free throw rate, 4th in turnover rate, as well as 5th in effective field goal percentage and block rate......Rutgers is first in Big Ten play with 16.4 assists per game and second in scoring defense, allowing just 65.9 points per game......In Big Ten play, Paul Mulcahy leads the league with 6.3 assists per game, Ron Harper Jr. is shooting a league best 53.2% from three-point range, Geo Baker has a league best 4.67 assist to turnover ration and Caleb McConnell is second with 1.9 steals.
Keys To Victory
When these two teams met three weeks ago in Piscataway, Rutgers dominated by owning the boards (+16), scored 25 points off of turnovers, had 16 fast break points and made 10 threes. The Scarlet Knights are ALWAYS better when they can generate offense from their defense. Against the Huskers, they had 28 defensive rebounds and allowed just 4 offensive rebounds. They only had one less turnover, but had 12 more points off of takeaways. And they scored in transition, something they’ve struggled to do all season.
Despite being road favorites against a winless team in conference play, this is no cakewalk for RU. They were embarrassed in Lincoln last season and are just 1-6 on the road this season, Coming off a disappointing two game stretch in which they lost to two bottom four teams in the Big Ten standings, a loss on Saturday would be the low point of the season.
The biggest key to the game is Rutgers’ mentality. Will they be able to create their own energy, stay focused, play with urgency and stick to the game plan? Can they avoid another slow start and take control from the opening tip and be assertive? Will they be locked in defensively and stay connected? These questions are less about X’s and O’s and more about the toughness and mindset of this team.
Rutgers has the potential to dominate on the glass if they play with an edge and attack with all hands on deck. They also need to attack the rim at will and not settle for jump shots, especially long two-pointers like they did against Maryland. And when they get inside, they have to finish. The Scarlet Knights are just 22 of 58 for 37.9% on layups over the last three games. Getting to the line needs to be a priority as well, as RU has not done so nearly enough of late.
Ron Harper Jr. was 10 of 10 from the charity stripe in the first meeting and has the potential to have another big game on Saturday. Rutgers desperately needs this win and it will require their best player being a major factor. Nebraska had no answer for him in the first meeting as he scored 29 points. He is a bad matchup for the Huskers and they need to exploit it once again. Cliff Omoruyi and Dean Reiber both scored 10 points in the first meeting and should have opportunities to score inside in the rematch.
Minnesota and Maryland torched Rutgers from behind the arc, making 25 of 52 attempts 48.1% despite neither team being great from deep this season. Containing Nebraska from behind the arc is key after holding them to 6 of 18 from three in the first meeting. Since that game, the Huskers have shot 39.7% from three-point range in their last four games. Identifying where the shooters are and closing out on them is essential.
RU has to take care of the basketball and avoid extended stretches of sloppy play. As good as Paul Mulcahy and Geo Baker have been with sharing the basketball and setting up teammates to score, they have to limit turnovers in this game. Preventing Nebraska from getting out in transition and not allowing easy baskets is important.
Avoiding a career day from a Nebraska player is key as well. Former 5-star recruit Bryce McGowens continues to improve and has scored 19 or more in three of his last four games. Caleb McConnell will likely defend him most of the game and needs to slow him down as much as possible.
This is a winnable game that Rutgers needs to focus on being fundamentally sound and exert intestinal fortitude.
For this game, I selected “In Your Head” by Nilufer Yanya. This song from the Irish, Barbadian and Turkish singer is one of my current favorites to listen to during a workout.
Lyrics that jumped out at me in regard to Rutgers were “It’s just a matter of time before we’re out of this place, where we’re no longer trapped. And it’s not in my head. It’s not my head.”
The Scarlet Knights have two winnable road games in a row with Nebraska on Saturday followed by Northwestern on Tuesday. They are staying in the midwest the entire time so it’s a real opportunity for them to reset themselves and earn two much needed victories. I still believe this team can figure out how to win on the road but they’re running out of time. They have to win at Nebraska less than a year from having one of the worst performances of the Steve Pikiell era. Rutgers needs to get out of their heads and rely on what works best for them. If they do, they’ll earn an all-important victory and finish the first half of league play at a respectable 6-4.