Rutgers (12-8; 6-4) at Northwestern (9-10; 2-8)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, Illinois (capacity 7,039)
Tip-off: Tuesday, February 1 at 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: BTN - Dave Revsine and Brian Butch
Stream: FOX Sports Live
NET Rankings: Rutgers No. 113; Northwestern No. 78 (Quad 2 opponent)
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers - No. 103, three spots worse following a 63-61 win over Nebraska on Saturday. Northwestern - No. 67, five spots worse following a 59-56 loss to Illinois on Saturday.
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 101.5 (198th) Defense 95.2 (47th); Northwestern - Offense 109.7 (57th) Defense 97.8 (79th)
KenPom Prediction: Northwestern 69 Rutgers 62; Rutgers is given a 27% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Northwestern -4.5
Series History: Northwester leads the all-time series 10-6, but Rutgers has won five of the last six meetings including the last two at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Last season, RU beat the Wildcats both home and away.
Northwestern: 6’10” senior Pete Nance - 16.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.8 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 50.9% FG, 44.6% 3-pt FG; 6’2” junior Boo Buie 14.6 points, 5.2 assists, 2.6 rebounds, 36.0% 3-pt FG; 6’4” redshirt junior Chase Audige - 10.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.8 steals; 6’10” redshirt junior Ryan Young - 9.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 54.5% FG; 6’3” sophomore Ty Berry - 7.6 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 41.0% 3-pt FG; 6’9” junior Robbie Beran - 6.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 34.7% 3-pt FG; 6’2” senior Ryan Greer 4.3 points, 2.0 assists, 1.9 rebounds, 40.9% 3-pt FG; 6’7” senior Elyjah Williams - 3.7 points, 2.4 rebounds; 6’3” freshman Julian Roper II - 3.5 rebounds, 3.5 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.1 steals; 6’6” freshman Casey Simmons - 2.5 points, 1.8 rebounds,
Rutgers: 6’6” senior Ron Harper Jr. - 15.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.4 steals, 42.6% 3-pt FG; 6’4” senior Geo Baker - 12.3 points, 4.1 assists, 2.3 rebounds, 1.2 steal, 33.0% 3-pt FG; 6’11” sophomore Cliff Omoruyi - 10.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.3 block, 57.9% FG; 6’6” junior Paul Mulcahy - 6.9 points, 5.0 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 28.0% 3-pt FG; 6’7” senior Caleb McConnell - 6.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.1 steals, 27.8% 3-pt FG; 6’6” sophomore Aundre Hyatt - 5.5 points, 3.2 rebounds; 6’7” sophomore Mawot Mag - 3.9 points, 2.2 rebounds; 6’8” freshman Jaden Jones - 3.9 points, 1.3 rebounds; 6’8” senior Ralph Gonzales-Agee - 2.4 points, 1.1 rebounds, 52.2% FG; 6’10 sophomore Dean Reiber - 2.2 points, 1.3 rebounds; 6’8” sophomore Oskar Palmquist - 1.8 points, 5-9 3-pt FG; 6’2” freshman Jalen Miller - 1.2 points
The Wildcats have lost eight of their last nine games, all in Big Ten play. However, all but one were by single digits, including the last two over the last week by just one possession to Michigan and lllinois. This is a competitive team that is better than their record. Their one win came at Michigan State without leading scorer Pete Nance.
Northwestern is averaging 75.1 points per game and are shooting 47.9% from two-point range (250th), 35.3% from three-point range (90th) and 73.3% from the foul line (113th). They have the 4th lowest turnover rate in the country at just 13.1% and are 24th in assist rate at 59.9%. On the offensive glass, the Wildcats are only 226th nationally with an offensive rebounding rate of 27.0%.
Defensively, Northwestern is much better on the boards, holding opponents to an offensive rebounding rate of only 23.8% which is 35th nationally. They are also holding opponents to just 46.5% from two-point range (59th). However, opponents are shooting 36.1% from three-point range (301st) and getting to the free throw line 37.8% of the time (317th).
Halfway through Big Ten play, the Wildcats are 11th in offensive efficiency and 12th in offensive efficiency. In ten games, on offense they are 4th in turnover rate (13.8%) and 6th in three-point shooting (34.4%). Defensively, Northwestern is forcing opponents into the second highest turnover rate (18.3%).
Pete Nance and Boo Buie lead a team that have multiple three point shooters. They are dangerous from behind the arc, averaging 8.1 makes per game on 22.7 attempts for the season. As a team, they also have the best assist to turnover ratio in the country at 1.85.
For the season, the Scarlet Knights are averaging 67.0 points per game and allowing 64.2 points per contest.....RU is shooting only 46.5% from two-point range (291st), 33.3% from three-point range (183rd) and 69.2% from the foul line (236th)......They are ranked 8th nationally in assist rate at 63.5% and 20th in two-point defense in holding opponents to 44.5% shooting.......Rutgers is 13th in offensive efficiency and 4th in defensive efficiency in Big Ten play so far this season......RU is 3rd from three-point range at 38.3% shooting in league play........They are in the top 5 in six of eight defensive categories in Big Ten play including 2nd in steal rate, 3rd in block rate and turnover rate, 4th in free throw rate and effective field goal percentage, as well as 5th in two-point defense as opponents are shooting 47.1%......Rutgers are tied for second in Big Ten play with 15.8 assists per game and scoring defense, allowing just 65.4 points per game......In Big Ten play, Paul Mulcahy leads the league with 5.9 assists per game, Ron Harper Jr. is shooting a league best 50.0% from three-point range, Geo Baker has a league best 3.56 assist to turnover ratio and Caleb McConnell is third with 1.8 steals.
Keys To Victory
There are several keys that jump out ahead of this game.
Rutgers has trailed by double digits in the first half of their last six road games. They are 2-4 in that stretch and simply can’t afford to continue having such slow starts. The Scarlet Knights should have confidence they can win tonight after Saturday’s comeback win and the fact they’ve won the last two times they’ve played at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Limiting turnovers as well as being locked in defensively from the opening tip are important in avoiding falling behind early on.
Offensively, Rutgers needs to exploit Northwestern’s weaknesses. They foul a lot, struggle defending the arc and are vulnerable to ball reversals. Paul Mulcahy and Geo Baker need to be assertive with being smart and sharing the basketball. They will be able to find open shooters if they are patient and make the extra pass. RU can’t settle for long two-point attempts and need to attack the rim. Finishing at the rim, particularly on layups, is key as well and something Rutgers has been too inconsistent with all season.
Getting to the foul line is a must in this game. The core four is much improved in free throw shooting this season, but they simply aren’t getting to the line nearly enough. For the season, Ron Harper Jr. is shooting 78.3%, Paul Mulcahy is at 77.8%, Geo Baker is at 76.0% and while Caleb McConnell is shooting 68.3%, it’s likely he’ll trend up towards his career average of 76.5%. Over the last six games, this foursome has only taken 29 free throws, which is less than 5 overall attempts per contest. Harper Jr. is 16-18, while Mulcahy, Baker & McConnell are 10-11 combined. The Wildcats are vulnerable and settling for contested two-pointers would be playing right into what they want you to do. This veteran core needs to have an attacking mindset in this game and get downhill. Geo and Ron are the best at doing this. RU is also 9-2 in games they go to the line more than their opponent.
While Northwestern typically contains opponents on the offensive glass, Rutgers needs to make it a priority in an effort to generate easier looks. They also should look to run as once they were able to score in transition in the second half against Nebraska, the offense opened up. They’ve struggled to run all season but Northwestern should be a team that they can get up the floor on and test their ability to get back defensively.
Limiting the Wildcats to second chance scoring opportunities and holding them to one shot possessions is key against a team that rarely turns it over. Rutgers MUST have awareness in finding the shooters and closing out on three-point attempts. They can’t afford to relax defensively and allow open shots from behind the arc. If they do, Northwestern could produce a back breaking run that could prove to unrecoverable.
Containing Nance and Buie will probably fall on multiple players, but Harper Jr. and Baker will certainly get a chance to make an impact defensively. Cliff Omoruyi needs to hold up inside and Caleb McConnell needs to find a defensive rhythm, something he’s struggled with of late.
This is not an easy game by any means, but this is a game a veteran team like Rutgers should expect to win. They need to create their own energy, stay connected on both ends of the floor and stick to the game plan. Bench play has been a positive of late and getting contributions from Aundre Hyatt, Mawot Mag, Dean Reiber and anyone else who gets minutes will be key against a team that plays ten deep.
For this game, I’ve selected “Change Your Mind” by The Killers.
Rutgers needs to change how they start road games and perhaps they can do it by changing their mindset. I think this is a good matchup and what they need to do to beat Northwestern play into their strengths. They should play with confidence.
If this group wants to get back to the NCAA Tournament, there is no more time to waste. They need to win 5-6 games over their last ten regular season contests to get into contention. Northwestern has the worst record in league play of any remaining opponents on the schedule. This is one they really need to get.
The Scarlet Knights have a tremendous opportunity tonight. It doesn’t mean a loss ends any hope, but it certainly would provide some much needed momentum ahead of a critical homestand against ranked foes Michigan State and Ohio State. A victory tonight also helps change the narrative among the fan base and nationally that they can’t win on the road as it would put them 3-3 in away games in Big Ten play.
Rutgers needs to change everyone’s mind on what type of team they can ultimately be and a win tonight would be a step in the right direction.