Illinois will take on Rutgers at the State Farm Center tomorrow night. This will be the first of the two meetings between the teams this season. Steve Pikiell is in his second season as the head coach of Rutgers, and has an overall record of 27-29.
For more on the historic Rutgers-Illinois rivalry, I provided a Requiem for Illinois-Rutgers earlier during the offseason.
Rutgers is 12-11 on the season and 2-8 in conference play. The team is improved from a year ago, but this is a very winnable home game for the Illini. Rutgers best win of the season came in the non-conference schedule against Seton Hall. Rutgers also has two Big Ten wins over Iowa and Wisconsin, both of which have come at home. The Scarlet Knights are still looking for their first true road win of the season.
The calling card for the 2017-2018 Rutgers basketball team has undoubtedly been its defense. The Scarlet Knights are 4th in the country in opponents points per game, holding held their opponents to 62 PPG. The Knights also rank 11th in opponents FG%. Rutgers opponents are only shooting 39.2% from the field this season.
Rutgers has also been a top-notch rebounding team. The team has averaged 40 boards per game, which ranks 22nd in the country and over 11 offensive rebounds per game, which puts them at 12th in the country in that category.
The biggest loss from last year’s team is guard Nigel Johnson. Johnson was the teams third leading scorer with 11 points per game. He transferred to Virginia to play his final season where he is currently coming off the bench for the No. 2 team in the country and scoring six points per game. The Knights also lost leading rebounder and seven-footer C.J. Gettys to graduation.
The biggest addition to this year’s Rutgers squad has been freshman guard Geo Baker. Baker is a six-foot-four guard out of New Hampshire who has averaged 11 points and three assists per game in his freshman season in Piscataway, NJ.
The player at the top of the scouting report has been the same for the past three years, Corey Sanders.
Sanders is a six-foot-two junior guard from Florida who has led the Scarlet Knights in scoring each of his three years on campus. Sanders is a dynamic playmakers who can score at all three levels and has the ability to take complete control of the game.
It’s important to note that Sanders is also having his best statistical season. Even though his points per game are down slightly, he is shooting a career high from the field and from behind the arc. Sanders has also set a career high for assists in a season already, he is average four per game, which is one more than he averaged his first two seasons. If the Illini want to have success against Sanders they will have to bring the pressure and keep him out of a rhythm, forcing Sanders’ teammates to do a lot of the work.
I promised myself I wouldn’t predict another Illini win in any future scouting reports after I predicted an Illini win against Iowa earlier this year.
I am notoriously bad at keeping promises.
This is a huge game for Underwood and the Illini. It’s always important to protect home court and this is a very winnable game. Additionally, it will be great for a young team to build some confidence and string together back-to-back wins. Consistency and confidence are the two things fans should hope to see from Underwood’s team the rest of the season.
Illinois 75, Rutgers 69.