The Northwestern Wildcats (13-4, 2-2) are in Piscataway, NJ, to take on New York City’s Big Ten team, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (11-6, 0-4) at the famed Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) on Thursday night.
It hasn’t been the ideal start to the Big Ten season for the Scarlet Knights, who are in their first year under former Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell. Rutgers went 11-2 in non-conference play, but only beat one team inside Kenpom’s top 200 teams (DePaul, who currently sits at 180). Pikiell’s team has lost five straight with the most recent defeat coming at Iowa, as the Scarlet Knights led by nine with under 10 minutes to go but ultimately fell 68-62.
However, Northwestern cannot take this team lightly; every conference game will be a fight in this year’s Big Ten. Rutgers is vastly improved from last year’s laughingstock of a team. They have four double-digit scorers, led by Kansas State transfer Nigel Johnson (12.1 points per game). Redshirt junior forward Deshawn Freeman is averaging 11.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, and talented sophomore guard Corey Sanders is right behind him with 11.1. The fourth and final Scarlet Knight averaging double figures is Mike Williams (10.8). Williams leads the team at 36.7 percent from three if you don’t count Freeman’s 1-of-2 performance on the year.
That Williams leads the team from deep at under 37 percent is indicative of the team’s biggest struggle: shooting. The team shoots just 29.3 percent from three (330th in Division I) and just 46.3 from two (261st). Those numbers are even worse — 27.9 and 37.1, respectively — in conference play, ranking 13th and 14th in the two categories among Big Ten teams. The Scarlet Knights are also shooting just 52.7 percent from the charity stripe.
Northwestern, however, absolutely cannot get caught looking forward to Iowa on Sunday. The Wildcats will do themselves a huge favor if they come out and get ahead of the hosts early and put any chances of an upset to bed early.
Here’s how to watch:
Game time: 8:00 p.m. CT
TV channel: ESPNU
Online streaming: Watch ESPN
Mobile: Watch ESPN app
Radio: 720 WGN
Betting line: Northwestern -6
Kenpom projections: Northwestern wins 68-64, 66 percent chance of winning