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Preview: 11-7 Michigan vs. 10-9 Rutgers

Michigan hits the road for New Jersey, hoping its first trip to Rutgers goes better than it did for the team on the gridiron this past fall.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Who: 10-9 (2-4) Rutgers Scarlet Knights

When: 6:30 ET (BTN)

Where: Louis Brown Athletic Center -- Piscataway, N.J.

The Scene

Michigan currently sits at 4-2 in the Big Ten, in sole possession of 5th place in the conference (behind three 4-1 squads). That's the good news.

The bad news? Caris LeVert is out for the season, and this is likely as high as Michigan's going to get in the Big Ten pecking order this season. As odd as it is to say about a 4-2 team, the NCAA Tournament is now the longest of long shots, and even an NIT berth is probably not going to happen.

So, here we are. The rest of this season is essentially about getting the freshmen minutes, going through the accompanying growing pains and hoping the experience translates to something when the 2015-16 season tips off.

Them

Coming into the season, it seemed like a decent bet that Rutgers would be one of the worst teams in the Big Ten. While their record might not show it, they have actually proven themselves to be a dangerous team of late.

The nonconference slate featured losses against George Washington, Saint Peter's, Virginia (by a ridiculous high school score, 45-26), Seton Hall and St. Francis.

In terms of wins approaching quality, they won at Clemson (RPI No. 75 currently), their only top 100 win. They also defeated Penn State (No. 103) at home on Jan. 3 and Vanderbilt (No. 116) back in November.

Despite being 2-4 in the league, things have actually looked fairly respectable for Eddie Jordan's squad thus far. After starting conference play with a home loss against Northwestern, Rutgers beat PSU at home by four, then lost by 16 at Nebraska. Not a great start, sure.

Then, of course, Rutgers beat Wisconsin, because of course. Now, Wisconsin was without the services of the Pride of Lisle, Frank Kaminsky, out with a concussion, and Traevon Jackson left the game early in the second half with an injury. Still, beating Wisconsin is an impressive feather in head coach Eddie Jordan's cap.

Rutgers followed that up by taking Maryland down to the wire on the road, ultimately losing by eight. They then fell at The Barn by nine, a game they trailed in by just five with about 12 minutes to play.

Nobody likes moral victories, but this team has proven itself to be a sneakily dangerous one.

Personnel

Paving the way for RU is the Mack and Jack attack. Myles Mack leads the way with 14.7 points per game and 4.5 assists per game, but the 5-foot-10 senior shoots a pedestrian 33 percent from three. Being a little guard, naturally he's got quicks; he also manages 1.8 steals per game.

Jack, on the other hand, a 6-foot-9 junior from Queens, averages 12;8 ppg and 6.5 rebounds per game, He's not much more efficient than Mack; they shoot 40.9 and 40.5 percent from the field, respectively. They've also attempted 220 and 205 field goals, respectively; needless to say, the odds are pretty good that one of these guys will be shooting the ball on any given possession.

Sophomore guard Bishop Daniels checks in at 8.1 ppg. He's not much of a three-point threat either, with just 21 attempts on the season at a 33 percent clip.

Forwards Junior Etou (7.7 ppg) and Greg Lewis (5.4 ppg) round out the top five. Etou, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, leads the team on the glass with 7.1 rebounds per game.

Guard Mike Williams, a 6-foot-2 freshman from Brooklyn, is a super-sub of sorts, averaging 7.3 ppg on 24.3 minutes per game. With that said, he shoots an atrocious 23 percent from three. and 34 percent from the field overall.

Game Keys

  • Zone out. Rutgers is dead last in the Big Ten in three-point field goal percentage; simply put, pack the paint and force them to hit shots. If they do, they do, but there's no reason to not force them to do it. Expect lots and lots of zone.
  • Active in the passing lanes. With Kam Chatman set to get real minutes again, this is a chance for him to utilize his length in LeVert's stead. Rutgers is second-to-last during conference play in turnover percentage. Especially when Michigan is in the 1-3-1, the Wolverines should be able to deflect some passes and turn some Rutgers turnovers into points. They'll have to, because points were already hard to come by, even with LeVert on the floor.
  • Irvin and Walton time. With LeVert out, the burden now moves to Michigan's two other very much hyped players, Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin. Rutgers is fourth in three-point field goal defense, which might not mean anything; regardless, with LeVert out, these two just have to hit shots, especially Irvin, with Walton being banged up and tasked with ball-handling duties.

The Outlook

Again, it's a bizarre thing to think that Michigan is probably the underdog against a 2-4 Rutgers team -- I haven't even looked at the line, but I'd imagine they are -- but when your best player who leads you in almost every statistical category goes out, that's what happens.

As mentioned at the start, Michigan isn't playing for the postseason anymore, barring Ricky Doyle transforming into Mitch McGary overnight and Mark Donnal metamorphosing into Kevin Pittsnogle, like a caterpillar becoming a three-point shooting butterfly.

The stakes have been depressed. It's not fun, but it is what it is. Down years will happen, and while most of us would have hoped that a "down year" would equal sneaking into the tournament as a 9- or 10-seed or something, it's just not in the cards this year.

In any case, Rutgers is not a good basketball team, but they have played well of late, despite dropping their last two. Without LeVert, Michigan loses a serious portion of its overall playmaking, something that was already in such short supply that you'd think it was being rationed out like butter in wartime. This has the makings of a game in which the Wolverines score in the 40s. It's an earlier start, so if you conveniently "forget" to set your DVR, well, I don't blame you. Michigan 47, Rutgers 56.