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3 keys and a prediction for Nebraska basketball vs. Rutgers



Nebraska basketball
Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

Nebraska basketball takes on Rutgers tonight in a huge matchup and here are three keys as well as a prediction for the Huskers.

It’s probably too early to use the phrase must-win game for Nebraska basketball on Wednesday night against Rutgers, but if not, this one comes pretty close.

The Huskers are 13-4 overall and 3-3 in the Big Ten. They have marquee wins over Purdue, Kansas State, and Michigan State, along with a bad loss to Minnesota and lopsided defeats at the hands of Creighton, Wisconsin, and Iowa.

Still, their resume has them seeded in the NCAA tournament right now according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. As it stands, Nebraska basketball is set for the last first-round bye. Rutgers is 9-7 overall and 1-4 in the Big Ten. But the Scarlet Knights are tough to beat at home and are listed as a three-point favorite tonight. Nebraska is ranked 49th according to Kenpom. Rutgers is 93rd.

Here are three keys and a prediction for Nebraska basketball.

Shoot the ball better

This is a given and it won’t be easy against an elite defensive team like Rutgers which ranks 27th in college basketball allowing just 64 points per game. However, Rutgers does rank 148th in opponent 3-point percentage and the Huskers are loaded with shooters. They are making more than nine 3-pointers per game this season but shot just 4-of-26 against Iowa. That’s not going to cut it on Wednesday night.

The Scarlet Knights have an elite defense, especially on the interior with Clifford Omoruyi who averages 3.4 blocks per game. Rutgers holds teams to 43.3 percent on 2-point shots and 39.1 overall (21st). So scoring won’t be easy, but if the Huskers can make shots from the perimeter, they’ll have a good shot to escape with a win.

Make sure the defense travels

Nebraska basketball hasn’t played well on defense during its last two road trips against Iowa and Wisconsin. Those teams are a much different animal than Rutgers, a team that ranks outside the top 300 in 2-point field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, free throw percentage, and overall field-goal percentage.

You can explain away some of Rutgers’ scoring issues by chalking it up to their slow tempo, however, they don’t shoot the ball well at any level.

Yet, Nebraska has allowed 28 3-pointers in the last two road games. The Huskers have also allowed an average of 91 points per game. Certainly, Rutgers won’t come close to that but allowing Rutgers to hit 70 is basically like giving up 90 to Iowa and that can’t happen again.

The bottom line is if the Huskers can’t get their defense right against Rutgers, that’s a bad sign.

Protect the basketball

One thing the Scarlet Knight do really well is force turnovers. They force 15.5 per game, which puts them among the best teams in all of college basketball. Nebraska forces 11.7 turnovers per game while turning it over 10.8. If they can keep that number below 10, that will be a big factor in leaving Piscataway with a win.

Nebraska basketball also needs to stay out of foul trouble. You just don’t want to give a struggling offense an abundance of free throw attempts. They rank 29th in opponent free throw attempts this season and if they can maintain that and keep the turnover battle even, I like the Huskers’ chances of getting win No. 14.

Prediction: Nebraska 66, Rutgers 58 

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Chris has worked in sports journalism since 2005 writing for multiple newspapers and websites such as the Bleacher Report and Fansided before starting Husker Big Red, A fan site for hardcore followers of the #Huskers offering articles, podcasts, videos and more exclusive content on all things Nebraska