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Wisconsin vs. Rutgers preview: B5Q grills On The Banks

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Both Wisconsin and Rutgers have changed a lot since last year, but Greg Gard gets his shot to beat the Scarlet Knights on Saturday, something Bo Ryan never did.

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Even in defeat, the Wisconsin Badgers showed some encouraging signs of life against Purdue this past week. Jordan Hill continued to provide solid, if unspectacular minutes at guard; the entire team took much better care of the ball; Alex Illikainen showed a nice outside shooting touch. Yet Wisconsin's shooting struggles continued overall and Bronson Koenig failed to break out of his slump. The bigger Boilermakers cancelled the UW's usual proficiency on the offensive glass as well.

Wisconsin (8-6, 1-0 Big Ten) is hoping for a little role reversal Saturday afternoon. The Badgers expect to have the edge in talent against a Rutgers (6-8, 0-1) team that has not yet won a road game in the Big Ten and has one of the least efficient offenses in college basketball. The Scarlet Knights pulled a colossal upset of the heavily-favored Badgers a year ago, but unfortunately, a repeat would be much less shocking this time given UW's struggles at home.

Aaron Breitman is the managing editor at On The Banks and he was kind enough to drop some Rutgers basketball knowledge on us.

B5Q: Rutgers has lost 16 consecutive games against Big Ten foes since beating Wisconsin in Piscataway last January. Besides that upset, were there any positives that came out of last season from a program-building perspective?

On the Banks (Aaron): Not really, it just proved how far away the program is from being competitive in the Big Ten. Our best two players last season, Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack, graduated and left big shoes to fill this season. Mike Williams and D.J. Foreman gained valuable experience playing big minutes as freshman. However, the biggest impact of last season's 15 game losing streak was reinforcing the narrative that Rutgers is the worst power 5 team in the country. The Wisconsin win was certainly a highlight and memorable moment, but the fact that they didn't win another game took away most of the positive vibes.

B5Q: According to the Pomeroy ratings, the Scarlet Knights are still searching for their first win over a Top 200 team this year so it's quite likely that Rutgers has played it's best ball in a losing effort. In which games do you feel Rutgers has truly played well this season and what went well in those instances?

OTB: Rutgers lost to St. John's and Wake Forest by one possession, falling apart at the end of both games. Against both teams, they played an up tempo style and took quality shots within the offense, enabling them to jump out to double digit leads. Another key factor was the play of the seniors. Bishop Daniels put the team on his back against St. John's while Greg Lewis and Omari Grier played well against Wake.

Unfortunately, Rutgers broke down on both ends of the floor in the last ten minutes in both games. They get caught up in one on one play on offense, taking quick shots that are bad looks. On defense, they failed to get back in transition and left too much open space in the paint. Both opponents outworked them on the glass, capitalizing on offensive rebounds down the stretch.

Rutgers also played well Wednesday against Indiana. They played perhaps their best team ball of the season, making the extra pass on offense and taking quality shots. The problem was they failed to execute, missing countless layups and close shots in the paint. It was disappointing, as Indiana did not play their best game and was there for the taking. Rutgers must take advantage of these opportunities in the near future or another 15 game losing streak is probable.

B5Q: Freshman Corey Sanders appears to have taken over for the departed Myles Mack at point guard and is leading Rutgers in points (14.2), minutes (31.8), assists (3.6) and three-point percentage (34.6%). Between he and senior guard Omari Greer, who is more important to the offense?

OTB: Sanders is the key to the offense. He is the first true point guard Rutgers has had in years and is effective in multiple ways. Sanders is effective at driving the lane and kicking it out on the perimeter to open shooters. At the same time, Sanders has asserted himself as a solid outside shooter as well. He is 10-20 from three-point range in his last three games. He leads the team in minutes played and the offense is not the same when he is off the court. Sanders is the number one reason to have hope for the future.

Grier had been a major disappointment up until the past two games. He has broken out in a big way, scoring 42 points on 16-25 shooting against UMass-Lowell and Indiana. It's a huge a development and while he can't be expected to keep up this torrid pace, Grier being a consistent contributor on offense is vital to the team's success the rest of this season.

B5Q: Wisconsin hasn't shot the ball very well this year, but has made a habit of grabbing lots of offensive rebounds. At On The Banks, I read that Jordan's defense loves to collapse the lane, leaving Rutgers vulnerable to weakside kickouts for three-pointers. That would be a good strategy against the Badgers in my opinion. Rutgers also turns the ball over a lot normally, but faces a Badger team that doesn't force many turnovers. How do you feel about this matchup and what's the key to the game in your opinion?

OTB: Rutgers has struggled on defense all season but has actually defended opponents well from three-point range. With such little depth down low, Rutgers must improve their interior defense moving forward. Expect a lot of zone in conference play. In terms of turnovers, Rutgers is averaging 15 per game, second worst in the conference. Against Wisconsin, Rutgers must stay composed and play together in their first conference road test of the season. As I mentioned before, when they stop running the offense and force bad shots, the game can get away from them in a hurry. They can't afford any prolonged breakdowns on either end of the court. Rutgers will also need to shoot well from three-point range to have a chance at winning.

B5Q: The Scarlet Knights missed a ton of layups against Indiana the other night and on the season, Rutgers' two-point shooting has been poor. Has that been problematic for everyone on the team or just a few players? Has Eddie Jordan found the right pieces yet to replace Kadeem Jack's production at forward?

OTB: Everyone has had their moments missing shots near the rim, but the lack of frontcourt scoring has been a major issue. Of course, you need frontcourt players in order to have them score. With injuries to Deshawn Freeman, Ibrahima Diallo and Shaq Doorson, Rutgers only has two true frontcourt players left. Freeman was supposed to fill the void left by Jack and was doing a solid job, averaging 13.1 points per game in seven games before his injury. Senior Greg Lewis has never been a reliable scorer and only averages 4.5 points per game. D.J. Foreman is steady down low, averaging 7.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, but hasn't scored more than 11 points in any game this season.

As a team, Rutgers is only shooting 43% from the field and need players like freshman Jonathan Laurent to step up. He is a natural wing but has played down low the past couple of games, scoring 21 points combined on 8-13 shooting. They will need him to continue to develop to help fill the void as Freeman, Diallo and Doorson may not return this season.

B5Q: Last year's schedule was terribly unforgiving for Rutgers. The home slate looks a little more manageable this season, but the team appears a bit weaker. What are your expectations and hopes for your second time through the Big Ten?

OTB: The reality is they enter Big Ten play with eight scholarship players and just two true frontcourt players. They just don’t have the depth to compete successfully on a nightly basis in conference play. I am optimistic they can steal a few wins, but their first nine conference games are as tough as it gets. If no progress is made and another 15 game losing streak ensues, the fanbase will start demanding change. The best hope is for freshman Sanders and Laurent to continue to develop, along with Foreman and Williams, who form the core four of the future. Freeman will be reevaluated in two weeks but it's possible he will not return and take a medical redshirt. That's a solid base for next season but with no recruits currently committed to the program for next season, Eddie Jordan needs to land players to add to the mix in order to make progress in the near future.

B5Q: A little off-topic, but Rutgers is one of the teams that has fallen to Monmouth this year and I'm curious to see whether the Hawks can maintain a profile worthy of an NCAA bid. Did you find yourself more annoyed or entertained by the bench antics as Rutgers was losing? From your one-game experience, how "for real" is Monmouth?

OTB: Monmouth is a good team and I think they are for real. Wins over UCLA, USC, Notre Dame and Georgetown prove that. However, they are beatable and have losses to Canisius and Army. They can score in bunches and seem to always win the battle for loose balls. They definitely play up to their competition and have multiple players that can beat you. Rutgers did have success in the second half defending Monmouth with a 2-3 zone. It wasn't until Rutgers surprisingly switched back to man to man on defense that Monmouth pulled away and sealed the victory. I think if Monmouth wins their conference regular season title, they deserve an at-large bid to the NCAA's if they fail to win their conference tournament.

Find more Rutgers takes on Twitter @OTB_SBNation and tweets from Aaron @aaron_breitman.


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