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Five things to know about Rutgers

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The IU bench cheers on the team after a play against Michigan State on Saturday evening in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Michigan State defeated IU, 63-60. Bobby Goddin Buy Photos

IU has finally reached the end of a condensed seven-game portion of its schedule played in a 17-day span, and the Hoosiers are limping to the finish line. Beginning with a loss at Michigan State on Jan. 19 and ending with Monday’s game at Rutgers, IU will have played in five different states in a little more than two weeks.

The busy schedule hasn’t been kind to IU, which had four losses in a row and now owns a 5-7 conference record. The good news for the Hoosiers is their next four games will be against the league’s four worst teams, which provides a chance to get back on track heading into the Big Ten Tournament at the end of the month.

But even though IU gets to play last-place Rutgers at 7 p.m. Monday night, they’ll be doing so with just one day of rest. Here are five things to know about the Scarlet Knights.

At the bottom of the pack and dropping

Rutgers hasn’t always been in last place in the Big Ten, but a recent five-game losing streak has dropped the Scarlet Knights to the basement, where they finished in each of their first three seasons in the Big Ten.

Included in Rutgers’ recent decline have been a 31-point loss at Illinois and a loss against Penn State, in which the Scarlet Knights scored just 43 points. Second-year coach Steve Pikiell led his team to a 6-0 start this year, but they’re now 12-13 and seem to be fading fast.

Despite what the record may say, ‘They're a tough out’

In the minutes after his team lost another close game at home against a top opponent, IU Coach Archie Miller was reminding himself that Rutgers rarely goes down without a fight.

“Rutgers plays very hard,” Miller said. “They're a tough out any single time that you play.”

Blowout losses to Illinois and Penn State aside, Rutgers has found themselves right in the thick of some close games this year. On Saturday afternoon, the Scarlet Knights staged a second-half comeback to lose to No. 3 Purdue by just two points at home. Last month, Rutgers took Michigan State down to the wire on the road and only lost by four. Miller won’t be expecting an easy win Monday.

Sanders still leading the way

Junior guard Corey Sanders leads Rutgers in scoring for the third season in a row. The former top 100 recruit is averaging 14.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while also leading his team in steals.

After going through a bit of a dry spell along with the rest of his team, Sanders broke out for a season-high 31 points against Purdue and almost willed the Scarlet Knights to victory. The volume scorer is prone to inefficient outings, but he could get a confidence boost from his recent performance against the conference’s best team.

More size to challenge IU

The Hoosiers have been heavily affected by their opponents’ frontcourt size in each of the last three games, and Miller hasn’t been afraid to admit it.

“Clearly the inside play here lately has really taken its toll on us quite a bit,” Miller said after his team shot worse than 30 percent against Michigan State.

Rutgers has four rotation players at six-foot-nine or taller, and that doesn’t include their leading rebounder, senior DeShawn Freeman. The Scarlet Knights average more than four blocks per game and rank 37th in Division I in total blocks. Though their post offense isn’t very efficient, IU could struggle with Rutgers’ size if the Hoosiers are fatigued.

Injuries hurting Rutgers’ depth

Senior guard Mike Williams has been out the last several weeks with an ankle injury. The Scarlet Knights also lost sophomore Eugene Omoruyi to a knee injury in their defeat against Illinois last week. 

Williams and Omoruyi were scoring more than 16 points per game between the two of them and helping out on the boards with more than four rebounds per game each. Without their contributions, Rutgers will either have to lean on less experienced players or shorten the rotation.

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