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Preview: Michigan vs. Rutgers

Michigan hits the floor for Senior Day against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Who: Rutgers Scarlet Knights 10-20 (2-15)

Where: Crisler Center -- Ann Arbor, Mich.

When: Saturday, March 7, 2:15 ET (BTN)

The Stage

The regular season comes to an end tomorrow afternoon; it feels as if those early season wins against Oregon and Syracuse and the strong performance against Villanova happened only yesterday, but such is the way of things.

This season has sped on quickly, stopping for no one and nobody's injuries. The Wolverines have made do with what they have, but more often than not, it hasn't been enough -- in short, that's how you get to a 7-10 conference record. To avoid the convenience store record of 7-11, the Wolverines will have to put things together at home against a very beatable Rutgers squad.

Regardless, the game has little meaning, except for the fact that Max Bielfeldt will be playing his last game on the Crisler Center floor. I have no idea if Dan Dakich is calling any of Michigan's remaining games, but we may have already heard the last televised reference to Bielfeldt's calves, which is a saddening thought indeed.

Should Michigan win in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament (against Illinois, most likely), Wisconsin awaits in the quarterfinal round -- needless to say, that's where the season ends.

But, for tomorrow, it's all about getting a win at Crisler for Bielfeldt, and sending the team into the tournament with a little confidence.

Them

What is there to say about a team that has two Big Ten wins?

The Scarlet Knights, led by second-year head coach Eddie Jordan, actually started the conference slate well enough, splitting their first four. This included, of course, a home victory against Wisconsin (albeit a not full-strength Wisconsin, but still). Rutgers then went to Maryland and gave the Terps quite the game Jan. 14 before ultimately falling by eight.

The Knights haven't won since that Wisconsin upset, making for a 13-game losing streak spanning almost two months, a streak that includes a 54-50 defeat against Michigan on Jan. 20.

The month of February was especially rough. Rutgers lost to: Illinois by 12, Ohio State by 19, Purdue by 10, Iowa by 34, Indiana by 30, Purdue by 7 and Maryland by 10. That's an average margin of defeat of 17.4 ppg.

Personnel

Again, check the last preview for a complete roster breakdown.

Rutgers is paced by the guard-big Mack and Jack Attack, with guard Myles Mack and big man Kadeem Jack. Mack, however, is 10-for-36 from the field in his last three games, two of which were at home. He's averaging 13.6 ppg on the season and is 33 percent 3-point shooter but is just 39 percent from the field overall.

Jack hasn't had a real good time lately either. In the 30-point loss against Indiana, he scored six points and fouled out. On Tuesday against Maryland, he scored five points on 2-for-13 from the field. He's a big strong guy, and Michigan just got demolished by Northwestern's Alex Olah (who is a solid player but not the most physical player in the world).

Junior center Greg Lewis was actually Rutgers's most effective big Tuesday, scoring 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting and grabbing seven rebounds. At 6-foot-10, he and Jack provide the size that Michigan has struggled with game after game.

Sophomore forward Junior Etou averages 7.3 ppg and 6.6 rpg, while sophomore guard Bishop Daniels is third on the team in points (8.0 ppg).

Of the contributors worth noting, Mack is RU's best 3-point shooter, and he has connected on a modest 33 percent of his triples. Needless to say, for as much as Michigan has struggled to put up points, Rutgers has struggled even more.

Game Keys

  • Play big. As mentioned, Rutgers does have some solid size down low in Jack and Lewis (which sounds like either a law firm or a bait and tackle shop). I saw it at Welsh-Ryan Arena firsthand, but Northwestern's big man might as well have been called Alex Olah-juwon given how easily he maneuvered around Michigan's frontcourters for buckets. That can't happen in this game, especially as Rutgers poses little threat from outside.
  • Zone it up? Well, Rutgers is about as bad as it gets in the conference beyond the arc (only has shot worse from downtown). I suppose this would be the game to maybe stick with the zone, although it still feels as if the 1-3-1 is just asking for a wide open shot on a majority of possessions. Rutgers is last in the Big Ten in points per possession, eFG% and 13th in 3-point field goal percentage. If this Rutgers team gets into the 60s, that would represent a truly disappointing performance for this Michigan defense.
  • Keep attacking, Mr. Irvin. On the bright side, Zak Irvin had an impressive performance in Evanston Tuesday evening, flashing the ability to both bury it in your eye from beyond the arc while also being able to take a few dribbles and rise up for two. This isn't so much a game key as it is a general desire to see Irvin's game continue to develop as such. Two big games for Irvin in a row might give him the confidence needed to get the Wolverines a win tomorrow afternoon, and possibly even in Chicago when the Wolverines hit the United Center floor.

The Outlook

Michigan has struggled all year to close out games, so it says something that Michigan was able to hold off Rutgers on the road for a four-point victory.

This is a bad Rutgers team, and while it's somewhat difficult to compare these sorts of things, I would guess that that bad Penn State team Michigan lost to two years would beat this Rutgers team by double digits.

Rutgers is an average to below average rebounding team, coming in 7th in ORB% and 9th in DRB%. Barring another complete collapse from Michigan's frontcourt and a similarly poor performance from Ricky Doyle, Michigan should have more than enough to score a comfortable win at home on Senior Day, sending the Pride of Peoria off the Crisler Center floor with one more win. Michigan 65, Rutgers 54.