Nebraska gets a shot at revenge against a ranked Rutgers team. Here's a preview of the matchup.
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Rutgers Athletic Center, Piscataway, New Jersey
Radio: 590 AM (Omaha), 1400 AM (Lincoln)
2019-20 record: 14-5, 5-3
Offensive efficiency (KenPom): 77th
Defensive efficiency (KenPom): 9th
Trending: Up. Way up. With a victory Saturday, Rutgers would match a season-high for wins under Steve Pikiell. He won 15 games in his first two years with the Scarlet Knights, and 14 last year. But now Rutgers is ranked in the AP poll for the first time in 41 years and capturing the country's attention. The RAC is sold out, so Nebraska is walking into the lion’s den. Rutgers is 2-2 in its last four games — with wins over Indiana and Minnesota at home and road losses to Illinois and Iowa — but it's unbeaten at home this season.
Players to watch
» Myles Johnson had 18 points and 14 rebounds against Nebraska last time. He has to be licking his chops again. Johnson averages 9.2 points and 7.9 rebounds a game this season. He had 10 and 4 against Iowa in the five-point road loss Wednesday. He only scored 4 in 13 minutes due to foul trouble in the loss at Illinois.
» Geo Baker is back. The junior facilitator sat out against the Huskers earlier this month with an injury sustained in practice the day before. Since returning on Jan. 15, Baker is playing about 22 minutes, scoring 5.3 points with 2.7 assists. He’s been pretty inefficient from the floor since coming back, just 4 of 18 (22.2%).
» Sophomore Ron Harper leads Rutgers with 12.7 points per game. He had 11 points and 10 rebounds against NU. He’s recently gotten hot, including last time out at Iowa, when he scored 29 points on 14 shots. He grabbed nine rebounds, too.
Three keys for Nebraska
1. Rutgers out-rebounded Nebraska 48-31 in the last matchup, secured 16 offensive rebounds for 14 second-chance points and scored 52 points in the paint. That’s going to happen again. It just is. So give Rutgers 50 points to start the game. Add in a few 3-pointers, and there’s your game. Teams have crushed the Huskers from the outside in the last four games with opponents making 46 combined 3-pointers. Has to be five or fewer makes from deep for the Huskers to have a chance, because Nebraska simply won’t stop Rutgers down low.
2. Nebraska shot 31.7% from the field against Rutgers last time, and was 8 of 31 from 3-point range. In that game, Dachon Burke, Yvan Ouedraogo and Thorir Thorbjarnarson shot a combined 6 of 19 from the floor. Nebraska said at the time it was just one of those nights. The problem with that? Rutgers is actually the best field-goal percentage defense in the Big Ten. Can’t have one of those nights again, especially against a great defense. You won't win a game against Rutgers shooting below 40% from the floor. Burke is great when he makes a few early. He needs that again.
3. Haanif Cheatham, Matej Kavas and Jervay Green have all but disappeared. Cheatham scored just two points at Wisconsin and spent a good portion of the game on the bench. Kavas didn’t see the floor. Green played 12 minutes and didn’t score. Two of those guys have to show up. You can’t carry all that weight on the team and get zero production from a starter and two players recruited specifically to score. Charlie Easley plays as hard as anyone, but it's unlikely he'll score more than 6 or 7 points, and Nebraska needs points in this game. If nothing changes between those three, play Kevin Cross 20-plus minutes. When that’s happened, though, it’s a gamble. He played 21 at Wisconsin and scored 17. Other 20-minute games include a 3-of-11 showing at Northwestern for 9 points, 3-of-8 shooting for 7 points in a win over Purdue and a 19-point night in 36 minutes in a loss to Southern Utah. Hard to lean on freshmen, but when two seniors and a junior go through slumps, this is what you're forced to do.
KenPom: Rutgers wins 76-62.
Chris Heady’s take: No use in sugar coating this one. This is shaping up to be a cover-your-eyes game. Rutgers is on a roll, the team in the Big Ten this year with a growing national following. They're a feel-good story, and this is a Saturday afternoon game at a sold-out arena against a small team in the middle of a losing streak. That doesn't bode well for Nebraska. They need something miraculous to happen to run away with the upset here. But even keeping this close for 30 minutes would be something to be proud of this season. Rutgers 72, Nebraska 55.
In total, Nebraska spent nearly $9.4 million on men’s basketball, a near $3 million increase in spending since 2015.