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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Rutgers

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Gophers look for three in a row in road contest

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa fans still aren’t shutting up about feeling wronged by a late call that happened to go against them, but now that the dust has long settled the season reset is this: the Gophers have won back-to-back games for the first time in a month and are clawing their way back up the Big Ten standings.

Standing in the way of a three-game winning streak is everyone’s favorite punching bag, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Yes, the Knights are 2-10 in the conference and losers of four of their last five, but they’ve had a bit of pep in their step the past few weeks and have been slugging it out with conference foes.

Consider that Rutgers beat Nebraska at home, took Wisconsin to overtime, beat Penn State and nearly knocked off Ohio State on the road and it’s clear they’re not complete slouches. Yes, they’ve mixed in 20- and 12-point drubbings at the hands of Iowa and Maryland in that span, but they’ve also only allowed more than 70 points only once in their past six games.

Now, that’s not to say Minnesota is heading into Piscataway expecting to lose. Far from it. Rutgers is simply atrocious on offense no matter how you slice it, even though sophomore phenom Corey Sanders has been lighting up opponents. But they’ve kept themselves in plenty of games recently thanks to stout defensive performances. And we saw how the Gophers performed in their other noon ET game in a sleepy gym against another “gimme”, Penn State.

Long story short, a road game against Rutgers these days is no picnic.

Essentials:

Who are the Gophers playing?

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (13-12, 2-10)

What time are they playing?

11 a.m. CT

Where are they playing?

The RAC

Can I watch the game on TV?

Yes, ESPNU

Can I listen to the game on the radio?

Yes. ESPN 1500.

Tell me more about the opponent.

It’s amazing what one calendar year will do. 12 months ago the Gophers and Scarlet Knights were battling it out for ultimate supremacy of the conference basement with no hope whatsoever of a postseason berth. Today, the Gophers playing their way into the NCAA Tournament and have even spent some time in the AP Top 25. Rutgers, well, hasn’t had quite the same luck. They’ve been mired in the Big Ten cellar since they joined the conference three years ago.

The biggest knock on the Knights is their offense. And it’s a doozy. In fact, they rank near the bottom of the entire nation in several key metrics including FG%, 3P%, TO% and FT%. It’s gotten bad. One of their lone bright spots has been sophomore Corey Sanders, who leads the team in scoring, assists and steals. He had a rocky start to the season but has found his groove recently, and has a couple 25-point games to his credit.

If there’s something to hang their hat on, it’s defense. In fact, the Knights have the nation’s 50th best defense according to KenPom, and it’s a big reason they’ve kept games relatively close recently. Teams have had trouble scoring close to the hoop and they’ve forced the third-most TOs in the conference.

Keys to the Game

1. Don’t get lulled into complacency

It was only a few weeks ago that the Gophers were headed east to face Penn State for a game that started at noon, local time. They came out flat and, while they played great defense, had their worst offensive performance of the season and dropped a winnable road game. Minnesota has since found its offensive groove, but it’s imperative they don’t fall into a trap of looking past Rutgers. The Gophers are better in nearly every category; it’s just a matter of executing.

2. Keep second-chance points to a minimum

For all its warts, Rutgers is actually a very good offensive rebounding team. They can’t shoot the three and they can’t really score all that well, but the one thing they can capitalize on is second chances through offensive rebounds. The Gophers aren’t a great rebounding team in terms of margin, so the one area they’re susceptible to against a team like Rutgers is giving up too many additional chances.

Predictions

KenPom likes the Gophers in this one, though it’s only a narrow margin of 67-61, so that should give some pause. Still, the Gophers should take this one if they score even semi-competently. Minnesota by 6.