Busting Brackets

Illinois at Rutgers: 2023-24 college basketball game preview, TV schedule

Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports /

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights and Illinois Fighting Illini both look to start Big Ten play on a positive note when they meet in New Jersey.

TV Schedule: Saturday, December 2nd, 4:00 pm ET, BTN

Arena: Jersey Mike’s Arena in Piscataway, New Jersey

The Big Ten enjoys giving fans a whiff of conference play before getting into the full entree later in the season. One of the most intriguing match-ups of the early foray into league competition pits the Illinois Fighting Illini against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

Both teams enter the game at Jersey Mike’s Arena in New Jersey with one loss on their ledger. For Rutgers, it came in the season opener against a Princeton squad still riding high on its postseason performance. Illinois fell victim to Marquette in mid-November.

The same records don’t put the two teams in the same discussion at the moment, though that may have already been clear by the caliber of their losses. While the Illini are ranked No. 24 in the country, the Scarlet Knights didn’t receive a single vote in the most recent Associated Press poll.

Rutgers’ biggest issue right now is finding an elite scorer from their core. Five Scarlet Knights are averaging at least nine points per game but known is averaging more than 12. Aundre Hyatt leads the team in scoring, with Clifford Omoruyi and Derek Simpson following behind.

A player the Scarlet Knights could sorely use will be wearing the opposite uniform on Saturday. Terrence Shannon Jr. has been one of the best players in the Big Ten this season, averaging 19.5 points per game on 43.9 percent shooting from three. He’s become the one player Brad Underwood can’t live without in Champaign, especially as Coleman Hawkins struggles with his knee.

Omoruyi is a defensive force, ranking in the top five in both rebounds (9.2 per game) and blocks (2.7 per game) in the Big Ten. As a whole, Rutgers has one of the nation’s best defenses, allowing just 55.5 points per game while forcing an average of 17.3 turnovers per game, including at least 21 in three straight games, all at Jersey Mike’s.

Illinois is also one of the best defensive teams in the country, meaning we might be in for a slugfest. No team in the country has a better defense by field goal percentage (34 percent). They’re also giving up a mere 58.7 points per game.

The Illini haven’t been faced with many challenges on their schedule, though (arguably, neither has Rutgers). The loss was to Marquette, but the wins were against Oakland, Valparaiso, Southern, Eastern Illinois, and Western Illinois. That’s not exactly a group of juggernauts.

Illinois won the teams’ only meeting last season, but Rutgers has secured the last three head-too-heads to take place in Piscataway. Rutgers is 4-1 against the Illini in Piscataway during Steve Pikiell’s tenure, comprising every win the Scarlet Knights have in the head-to-head series.

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Being at home should be the decisive swing factor in this game. Rutgers is riding a five-game winning streak at home and has become extremely difficult to beat at the arena formerly known as the RAC in recent years. That could make all the difference.

Prediction: Rutgers 66, Illinois 65