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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Rutgers

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That’s right the Gophers kick off Big Ten play in early December

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Rutgers
Rutgers goes on the road for the first time this season as they travel to The Barn.
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The Gophers were handed their first loss of the season on Wednesday by the Miami Hurricanes in what was a nail-biter of a matchup between two top-15 teams. While Minnesota was at a disadvantage without starting guard Dupree McBrayer, the Hurricanes used dribble drives, weak-side dishes and timely three-point shooting to sink the Gophers. In the end it was less about the Gophers being beaten by a better team and more just simply coming up short against a good opponent. That happens.

The Gophers turn around and hop into ... what’s this? Conference play? It’s December 3rd, for God’s sake. Yes, you’re reading that correctly. Because the Big Ten is so obsessed with the East Coast they forsake their traditional conference play calendar and Big Ten Tournament schedule to they could play their postseason in Madison Square Garden. That’s right, they moved the conference schedule up by three whole weeks so they can play in front of a few Knicks fans in February. It’s as dumb as I’m explaining it.

Each Big Ten team pushes pause on their non-conference schedule here for a couple conference games before getting back to regularly scheduled programming. OH THE DRAMA. That way we can get the conference season finished in time to start the Tournament on February 28. You know who else starts their conference tournaments in February? The Big South and Ohio Valley.

Essentials:

Who are the Gophers playing?

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (6-1, 0-0)

What time are they playing?

Sunday, Dec. 3 @ 5 p.m.

Where are they playing?

Williams Arena

Can I watch the game on TV?

Yes, BTN.

Can I listen to the game on the radio?

Yes, 1130 KTLK-AM | 103.5

Tell me more about the opponent.

Oh, Rutgers. The Knights come in at 6-1 with their lone loss to Florida State last week as part of the B1G/ACC Challenge. They actually played the Seminoles pretty close and we’re within four points late in the game, but couldn’t pull it off. And while the Knights have a good record on paper, FSU was far and away the best team they’ve played so far. The rest of the schedule has been a whole lot of nothing with Rutgers beating up on the Coppin States and Central Connecticuts of the world.

The Knights are led by junior guard Corey Sanders, who basically does it all. He’s leading the team in scoring at 13 ppg, the team actually distributes its scoring pretty effectively, with five players averaging more than nine points per game. Freshman guard Geo Baker has made the transition to college ball look easy, averaging more than 11 ppg and looking dangerous from the three-point line.

Still, Rutgers is not without its warts, and it’s hard not to see their early-season success as partially inflated by playing 300-plus ranked opponents. Their offensive efficiency has been atrocious and they’re last in the conference in FG%. Their defense has been stellar, giving up only 52 points per game, which is a full 10 points better than the second-best B1G team. But, still, that average was blown away when they faced a good-not-great Florida State team.

Oh, and this will be the first game away from home for the Knights. Hopefully we don’t get a sleepy Sunday evening crowd.

Keys to the Game

Lockdown on Defense

One thing that’s already clear this season: the Gophers can score. They lead the conference in points per game and are fifth nationally. The problems have come on defensive breakdowns, specifically on the perimeter. Teams have keyed in on driving the lane and dishing the ball to the outside where our bigger guys have trouble making up the ground. And those long-range shots have been going in. Miami combined that approach with well-executed interior distribution to basically score at will on Wednesday.

Rutgers does not shoot the three-ball well and their ability to score has been questionable, so if the Gophers can at least slow down an offense that is already having trouble, they should have smooth sailing. Scoring hasn’t been an issue for Minnesota this year, even against good defenses.

Predictions

KenPom likes the Gophers in this one, predicting a 13-point drubbing at 78-65. I think Minnesota handles Rutgers with ease, and will take them by a dozen.