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Maryland basketball vs. Rutgers preview: Terps return home to face the Scarlet Knights

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Rutgers is solidly improving, even if the program’s still at the bottom of the Big Ten.

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

After playing two consecutive road games, Maryland basketball gets to return home to College Park Tuesday for what could be its easiest conference game.

The Terps are hosting the Rutgers at 7 p.m. on BTN. The Scarlet Knights are only 1-6 since Big Ten play started, good for last in the conference.

But this isn’t exactly the Rutgers team fans might be used to ragging on. It might still be the worst in the Big Ten, but this is an improving program. That’s probably due in part because there wasn’t anywhere to go but up after the Scarlet Knights finished 1-17 in Big Ten play last season, but it’s improvement nonetheless.

Rutgers beat Nebraska, a team that beat Maryland, on Saturday to equal its conference win total from last season.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (12-8, 1-6 Big Ten)

2015-16 record: 7-25

Head coach: Steve Pikiell. He’s in his first season at Rutgers, coming over after establishing himself as Stony Brook’s winningest coach of all time.

KenPom ranking: 134 (Maryland is 44)

Players to watch

Corey Sanders, guard, sophomore, 6’2/181, No. 3. Sanders is Rutgers’ best scorer, though he doesn’t convert at a great percentage. He’s scoring 12 points per game on 12 shots, and only makes 41 percent of his field goals.

DeShawn Freeman, forward, junior, 6’7/225, No. 33. Freeman is Rutgers’ most-utilized low-post player. He possesses the team’s best KenPom offensive rating among “major or significant contributors,” or players who use at least 20 percent of the team’s possessions. Freeman scores 11 points per game and averages 8.6 rebounds.

Nigel Johnson, guard, junior, 6’1/186, No. 0. Johnson is the other piece of the Scarlet Knights’ backcourt, and he has similar stats to Sanders. He’s scoring 11 points per game, but only makes 36 percent of his field goals. He’ll likely receive the wrath of Maryland’s Anthony Cowan when he has the ball, which makes for a tough existence.

Strengths

Rebounding. Rutgers is quite good at clearing the glass. The Scarlet Knights have the ninth-best offensive rebounding percentage in the whole country, which is an out-of-nowhere turn for a team that ranked 299th in that same category last season. They rank 145th in defensive rebounding percentage, which is still fine.

Defense. The Scarlet Knights block the 13th-most shots in the country (by percentage) and have top-50 rankings in two-point and three-point defenses. Scoring on this team might not be easy.

Weaknesses

Shooting. Rutgers is better at two-point shots than it is at three-pointers or free throws. Problem is, Rutgers is the 288th-best team in the country at two-pointers. The Scarlet Knights’ three-point and free-throw shooting percentages rank in the 300s, which makes it really hard to win, even with such a good defense.

Offense. This team’s offense ranks 247th in adjusted efficiency, according to KenPom. Its best hope is to get enough rebounds and convert on second chances.

Shooting, again. It must be emphasized just how bad this Rutgers team is at putting the ball in the hoop. Just look at all that red (via KenPom):

Predictions

KenPom’s prediction: Maryland 72, Rutgers 60. Terps have a 86 percent chance of winning.

Ryan’s prediction: Maryland 84, Rutgers 62. I think it’ll be a little bigger than what the stats project.