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The Journal Gazette

Monday, February 05, 2018 6:40 pm

Pregame: Indiana (12-12, 5-7 Big Ten) at Rutgers (12-13, 2-10)

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Indiana plays in Piscataway, N.J. tonight for just the third time since Rutgers joined the Big Ten for the 2014-15 season. The Hoosiers are looking to break a four-game losing streak and avoid losing to the Scarlet Knights for the first time in team history (Indiana is 5-0 all-time against Rutgers, 4-0 since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten).

Rutgers comes in having lost five consecutive games, including a 91-60 blowout against Illinois last week. That would be the same Illinois team that lost its first eight Big Ten games before beating the Hoosiers because Indiana missed 13 free throws. In short, this is not Rutgers team that has had a lot of success this season. Still, the Hoosiers can't afford to look past this game. If they want to play in the NIT this season (that's essentially the best they can hope for this year), this is almost a must-win game, and it's no sure thing.

If Indiana needed any extra motivation that a four-game losing streak couldn't provide, watching the Scarlet Knights take No. 3 Purdue to the wire before falling 78-76 should suffice. The Hoosiers have probably been having nightmares about Corey Sanders (31 points against Purdue) for the last 36 hours.

Indeed, this game is not assured even if the Hoosiers play well. Rutgers is not anyone's version of a good team, but it's certainly better than last year, and it owns wins over Seton Hall and Wisconsin, both teams that beat the Hoosiers already this season. KenPom.com actually projects a 51 percent chance to win for the Scarlet Knights. All of this is to say, don't assume a win for Indiana tonight. After losses to IPFW and Indiana State, it's difficult to assume a win against anyone, especially on the road in the Big Ten.

That said, the Hoosiers should win this game, especially if their effort on defense matches the level it reached against Michigan State. With a two-day turnaround, it might be difficult to achieve that level again, but the schedule spaces out a bit after tonight, so Indiana should be able to leave everything on the court as it finishes this stretch of seven games in 18 days. 

What I'm watching for: Rebounding. Indiana dominated on the glass against Michigan State, with Juwan Morgan pulling down 11 rebounds and Freddie McSwain Jr. grabbing a career-high 16. McSwain has been a great spark for the Hoosiers both on the boards and with his energy, and he could be one of the keys to victory against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights were able to stay with Purdue mostly because they gave themselves extra opportunities on the offensive glass. Rutgers pulled down 15 offensive rebounds against the Boilers, including four from senior forward Deshawn Freeman. If the Hoosiers keep Rutgers to one shot per possession, they should win this game.

Prediction: Indiana 68, Rutgers 63

dsinn@jg.net