Nebraska (6-9; 0-4) Rutgers (8-5; 2-1)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: Jersey Mike’s Arena in Piscataway, New Jersey (Capacity 8,000)
(Vaccination policy for indoor events here)
Tip-off: Saturday, January 8 at 2:00 p.m. ET
TV: BTN - Wayne Randazzo and Rapheal Davis
Stream: FOX Sports Live
NET Rankings: Rutgers No. 123; Nebraska No. 208
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers - No. 93, ten spots better following a 75-67 win over Michigan on Tuesday; Nebraska - No. 145, four spots worse following a 79-67 loss to Michigan State on Wednesday.
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 104.3 (132nd) Defense 96.3 (68th); Nebraska - Offense 102.1 (177th) Defense 100.00 (124th)
KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 74 Nebraska 67. Rutgers is given a 75% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Rutgers -7.5
Series History: Nebraska leads the all-time series 9-6, including a 72-51 win in Lincoln in the last meeting on March 1, 2021.
Nebraska: 6’7” freshman Bryce McGowens - 15.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists; 6’3” senior Alonzo Verge Jr. - 14.9 points, 5.7 assists, 5.4 rebounds, 1.7 steals; 6’9” junior Derrick Walker - 9.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 1.3 assists, 1.1 steals, 77.5% FG; 6’2” sophomore Keisei Tominaga - 8.1 points, 1.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 33.3% 3-pt FG; 6’5” freshman CJ Wilcher - 7.9 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.0 assist, 36.9% 3-pt FG; 6’0” senior Kobe Webster - 6.9 points, 1.5 assists, 1.5 rebounds, 35.9% 3-pt FG; 6’9” junior Lat Mayen - 4.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, 6’11” freshman Eduardo Andre - 3.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 51.9% FG
Rutgers: 6’6” senior Ron Harper Jr. - 15.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 43.1% 3-pt FG; 6’4” senior Geo Baker - 12.7 points, 4.2 assists, 2.0 rebounds, 39.6% 3-pt FG; 6’11” sophomore Cliff Omoruyi - 11.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 58.9% FG; 6’7” senior Caleb McConnell - 7.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.3 steals; 6’6” junior Paul Mulcahy - 6.5 points, 4.6 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 1.3 steals; 6’6” sophomore Aundre Hyatt - 5.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists; 6’7” sophomore Mawot Mag - 4.4 points, 2.0 rebounds, 33.3% 3-pt FG; 6’8” freshman Jaden Jones - 4.4 points, 1.5 rebounds; 6’8” senior Ralph Gonzales-Agee - 3.2 points, 1.6 rebounds
The Cornhuskers are 0-8 against high major opponents this season and the highest ranked KenPom opponent they’ve beaten this season is No. 243 Sam Houston State. Even so, they just took No. 19 Ohio State to overtime last weekend and were scrappy on the road on Wednesday in a 12 points loss to No. 18 Michigan State.
Nebraska has small guards who are quick and push the pace, as they play with the 18th fastest tempo in the country at 73.0. Their average possession length is just 15.1 seconds, which is the 9th shortest in Division I. Playing fast doesn’t mean they play sloppy though, as they have the 48th lowest turnover rate nationally at 16.5%. They look to run in transition and force opponents into mistakes as their defensive turnover rate of 21.3% is 63rd nationally. In conference action, Nebraska has the best defensive turnover rate at 20.9% and best steal rate at 11.5%.
As a team, the Cornhuskers are shooting a respectable 53.0% from two-point range (78th) but struggle from three-point range at 28.1% (332nd). They are making 72.1% of their free throw attempts (138th). Nebraska averages 74.7 points per game but are allowing 77.3 points per contest. In Big Ten play, Nebraska is last in offensive efficiency and second to last in defensive efficiency.
Rebounding is a huge weakness. They are 339th nationally with just a 20.9% offensive rebounding rate, while they are allowing opponents a 32.6% offensive rebounding rate (306th). Opponents are also shooting 35.5% from three-point range (274th) 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 three games this season due to injury but is expected to return at some point in January. It’s unlikely head coach Fred Hoiberg will announce his return until it happens, so if he does play on Saturday, it will give Nebraska another weapon.
For the season, the Scarlet Knights are averaging 68.6 points per game and allowing 65.5 points per contest.....RU is shooting only 47.4% from two-point range (253rd), 32.2% from three-point range (222nd) and 66.5% from the foul line (290th).......They are ranked in the Top 50 nationally in turnover rate at 45th (16.5%) and two-point defense at 49th (45.3%).......Rutgers is 11th in offensive efficiency and 12th in defensive efficiency in Big Ten play so far this season......RU is shooting a league best 46.3% from three-point range in Big Ten play......They are allowing the third lowest opponent free throw rate in Big Ten play at just 21.5% and are holding conference foes to just 29.7% from three-point range (4th)......Rutgers is 7-1 this season when holding opponents under 70 points.
Keys To Victory
This is absolutely a must can’t lose game for Rutgers in facing their last Quad 4 matchup of the season. They already own one Q4 loss to Lafayette and if they go down to Nebraska at home, the comeback run to March Madness will likely be over before mid-January. Aside from that reality, the Cornhuskers embarrassed RU last March in a game they were never even competitive in.
Rutgers needs to continue to take care of the basketball and limit opportunities for Nebraska to profit in transition off of turnovers. They scored 20 points from 19 turnovers against Michigan State on Wednesday, which allowed them to stay in the game. Transition defense is going to be important when they are able to run. It needs to be all hands on deck getting back on defense. Slowing the Cornhuskers down and making them work on offense in the halfcourt will take them out of what they like to do. Forcing them into bad possessions where they take contested jumpers is key.
Nebraska does a pretty good job finishing around the rim so limiting their second chance scoring opportunities is important as well. A big reason that Rutgers controlled the entire game against Michigan was yhat they owned the boards the whole night. Doing so against Nebraska is key as well.
Closing out on shooters is a must as despite Nebraska struggling from deep this season, they will not be shy in trying to get hot from behind the arc. They have made 15 of 46 attempts from three-point range over their last two games in which they were no pushover.
It’s not rocket science for Rutgers on offense. When this team shares the basketball and makes the extra pass, they are a much more efficient team on the offensive end. Nebraska does not defend the three well, so ball reversals and kick outs to the perimeter from penetration will generate good looks from behind the arc.
The biggest advantage Rutgers has is experience and leadership. The core four need to recognize what’s at stage and seize the moment. I also think this is a game Cliff Omoruyi can have his way inside. Getting him involved early can set the tone.
At the end of the day, this game will come down to the defensive performance of Rutgers. They’re capable of making it very difficult on Nebraska on the offensive end and it’s the key to making sure they win a game they should.
Feel Good Moments
Two examples on Friday of why Steve Pikiell is running the program with class.
No. 1 Rutgers supports Dick Vitale’s cancer fight
Oh what a nice surprise from the @RutgersMBB TEAM / autographed jersey & get well wishes . @CoachPikiell Yes my 1st college exp.was at Rutgers in 1971 under Dick Lloyd .t was #awesomebaby @ESPNPR @StevePoliti @NJHoopsHaven pic.twitter.com/FcxEHGVxx9— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) January 7, 2022
No. 2 Aidan Terry awarded a scholarship for the semester
You can read more about the decision on Terry and what his family has been through in this great article by Jerry Carino.
For the fourteenth game of the season, I selected “Worry With You” by Sleater-Kinney. The female rock group has been making good music for decades and has the full respect of their Seattle counterparts like Pearl Jam, who they’ve opened for many times. This song came out last year and it is one of their best.
This matchup will have Rutgers fans on the edge of their seats in nervous anticipation due to what the ramifications would be if Nebraska wins. Cannot happen. Have to take care of business at home. Whether it’s winning by 1, 2 or 20, it doesn’t matter. Just stay alive. We’ll all worry together.