Illinois has been locked in some close games at home recently, winning against Purdue and Penn State and losing to Indiana, which has been a lot of fun but not so good on the hearts of those people who just want to see Illinois win. Tonight’s matchup with Rutgers, however, should not be that kind of game.
Rutgers is the worst team in the Big Ten, which is not an exaggeration. In a down year for the conference the Scarlet Knights are a lot closer to the top than they would be otherwise — they did beat Wisconsin (without Frank Kaminsky, but still) — but they’re not likely to win more than a handful of conference games this year.
The biggest struggle for Rutgers is on offense. The team is averaging just 59.1 points per game, which ranks 334th in the nation; KenPom.com has them ranked 264th in adjusted offensive efficiency, just behind Texas A&M Corpus Christi. Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack are decent players, averaging 14.5 and 13.2 points per game, respectively. When effectively defended, however, Rutgers runs out of fuel for the offense. For instance, in Big Ten games where Mack has gotten less than 4 free throws, the Knights are 1-5 and have been outscored by 72 points.
Because of inclement weather last week, Rutgers’ game against Michigan State was postponed three days to January 27th. With the Knights’ game Saturday against Indiana, this evening’s matchup marks the third game in 6 days for Rutgers. Illinois, too, is on short rest after playing Saturday, but the Illini had a week off prior, which gives them an edge in terms of fatigue.
Wearing down Mack and Jack without letting them play their game will be the key for Illinois. If they can execute that I believe they can cruise to a victory. Which is really what the team needs at this point. Every home game is a must-win for the Illini, so an easy one would be quite a relief for the team. Plus, I think everyone in the State Farm Center wants to see manager-cum-walk-on Ryan Schmidt get some minutes on the floor.
My prediction: Illini 74 – Rutgers 59