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1/15 Big Ten Preview: Rutgers heads to Purdue looking to shock the Midwest

The Scarlet Knights will look to pick up its second road Big Ten win since joining the conference

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Minnesota Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since it joined the conference five years ago, Rutgers playing in the lone Big Ten game of the day isn’t cause to automatically tune out.

I know, I can’t believe it either.

Game of the Day:

-Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Purdue Boilermakers

  • Time/TV: 7:00PM ET - BTN
  • KenPom Spread: Purdue (-13.5)

You know how sometimes you write something and it just looks weird, so you end up writing it over and over again until it starts to look normal? That was my experience when typing out the following sentence: Rutgers basketball is fun now.

I know, that’s crazy, right? I mean, there are a lot of adjectives I’ve used to describe Rutgers men’s basketball since it joined the Big Ten in 2014, but fun has never been one of those words.

Yet here we are, with Rutgers playing enjoyable and, dare I say, competent basketball since really last year’s surprising run to day three of the Big Ten tournament.

Coincidentally, it was tonight’s opponent – albeit a very different group of Boilermakers, that turned the Scarlet Knights back into pumpkins last March in New York City. Head coach Steve Pikiell and company, however, have seemingly turned that experience into some desperately needed positive momentum for the much-maligned basketball program, picking up two marquee wins this year that include a road victory at Miami and a rare conference win over a ranked Ohio State team.

However, if the Scarlet Knights want to pick up only its second road Big Ten win since joining the conference, it’ll need to do so without leading scorer Eugene Omoruyi, as the junior forward dislocated his left kneecap in Rutgers upset victory of Ohio State. The most optimistic of timetables for his return wouldn’t see Omoruyi back on the court until late January, meaning Rutgers will hang its hopes to escape West Lafayette with a win on sophomore guard Geo Baker.

The talented guard had arguably the best game of his Rutgers career in last year’s Big Ten Tournament loss to Purdue, scoring 25 points on 10-for-20 shooting, including an impressive 4-for-9 from three. The Knights will have its collective fingers crossed that Baker can recreate some of that MSG magic on Tuesday night.

For the Boilermakers, it still looks to be a team that’s trying to figure out its identity beyond stud junior guard Carsen Edwards.

In Friday’s overtime win at Wisconsin, all Edwards managed to do was score 36 points while shooting 6-for-14 from distance, putting the Boilermakers on his back yet again.

Ryan Cline has been the closest thing to emerge as a sidekick to Edwards, with the senior averaging 12.6 points per game, but it remains fairly clear that coach Matt Painter hasn’t quite figured out how to replace the departed Isaac Haas, Vincent Edwards, and Dakota Mathias from last year’s 30-win team.

As far as tonight’s matchup goes, it’ll be strength versus semi-strength as Purdue (read: Carsen Edwards) checks in as the fifth best team in terms of offensive efficiency, while the Scarlet Knights own a top 50 defense, both according to stats-guru KenPom.

On the flip side, while the Boilermakers have a so-so 76th ranked defense, Rutgers possesses a statistically terrible offense that checks in as the 219th best in the country – a figure that’ll be compounded by the absence of Omoruyi.

As badly as I want to pick the Knights on the road – and don’t get me wrong, they very well could pull out a big-time road conference win at some point this season, I don’t think it’ll be tonight.

Lay the points and roll with the Boilermakers.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Purdue

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Season Record vs KenPom’s Spread: 9-13