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Game Preview: Rutgers vs George Washington

The Scarlet Knights will face a tough matchup in their opening game against the Colonials from George Washington. Will they be able to keep up with the NCAA tournament team from last season?

USA TODAY Sports

Matchup: Rutgers University Scarlet Knights vs George Washington University Colonials

Date / Time: Sunday, March 16th, 7 PM Eastern

Location: Rutgers Athletic Center, Piscataway, NJ

TV: Big Ten Network

Rutgers finished last season at 12-21, and 5-13 in their inaugural (and final) season in the American Athletic Conference. Three starters return from that team as they make the move to the Big Ten. Top to bottom, the Big Ten is much better than the AAC. There are no USFs in the Big Ten (who Rutgers beat 3 times last season). Eddie Jordan's team will likely struggle in the new conference, but they will look to get off to a strong start against a team they lost to last season.

Getting to know George Washington

Coach Mike Lonergan will be in his fourth season with the Colonials. Lonergan led the Colonials to a 24-9 (11-5 A-10) record last season, good enough for a 9 seed in the 2014 NCAA tournament. The Colonials had won 23 games in the previous two seasons combined. This turnaround has been somewhat miraculous, and the Colonials are expected to keep up the pace this season.

George Washington is projected to finish 2nd in the Atlantic 10 this season, behind unanimous leader VCU. Three starters return from last season's team, Kevin Larsen, Kethan Savage, and Joe McDonald. The three combined for 35 points last season against Rutgers. Larsen is a 6-10 forward who scored 11.4 PPG and had 6.9 RPG last season. Shooting guard Kethan Savage averaged 12.7 PPG last season before suffering a broken foot that ended his season. Joe McDonald was slowed by a hip injury suffered against Rutgers last season. McDonald is fully healthy now, and will be a great distributor. Joining them in the starting lineup this year will be wing man Patricio Garino. Garino filled in for the injured Savage last season, and scored 12.1 points a game. 6-8 forward John Kopriva will round out the starting 5.

It's amazing how well the Colonials were able to play last season, especially considering the injuries to two of their top players. With everyone healthy this season, the Colonials will be right back in the NCAA tournament conversation, even without Maurice Creek and Isaiah Armwood who both graduated after last season. They had an extremely balanced attack last season (5 players scored between 11 and 14 points a game), and that won't change this season. Their biggest threat is that any of them can score 20 points on any given night.

What to Watch For

There will be several exciting matchups to look out for in this game. Kadeem Jack is questionable for the game due to a hand injury. If he plays, he will be matched up against Kevin Larsen. In last season's game, Larsen was able to hold Jack to 12 points, but Jack was efficient, scoring those points on only 8 shots. Larsen scored 11 points in that game on 9 shots. They will likely be matched up against each other again this game, and the battle in the paint will be intense.

The next exciting matchup will be Myles Mack vs Joe McDonald. Mack lit it up from all over the court in last season's game, hitting 5 three pointers en route to a 26 point outing. McDonald scored only 6 points, but dished out 9 assists and only had 2 turnovers. McDonald injured hip hurt him mostly on defense, where he was unable to keep up with Mack. Now that McDonald is healthy, this matchup should be a lot closer.

The last matchup to watch in this game will be between Junior Etou and Patricio Garino. Garino didn't play in last year's game, and Etou had only 5 points in 23 minutes of action. Both players will have bigger roles on their teams this season, and it will be the first look at Junior Etou's progress in the offseason.

Prediction

How this game plays out will largely be predicated on how much, if at all, Kadeem Jack plays. If Jack plays, Rutgers will be able to keep it close. George Washington will be favored, and will face a hostile crowd at the RAC. This game is massive for both teams, as it will be a good barometer for each team. The balanced attack of the Colonials will wear on the Scarlet Knights, and they will be able to pull away in the end. George Washington 77 - Rutgers 68