On Wednesday night, the Michigan State Spartans welcomed the Rutgers Scarlet Knights to East Lansing. With Michigan State coming off two wins to kick off the conference season, the Spartans were licking their chops to take on the struggling Scarlet Knights and win their third straight Big Ten game.
While the deficit teetered around ten points in the first half and remained in reach for a few minutes into the second half, Rutgers proved to be no challenge down the stretch for Michigan State.
Eron Harris could do no wrong for the Spartans, scoring 24 points on 7-for-12 shooting, including 5-for-8 from three-point territory. The duo of Corey Sanders and Nigel Johnson provided over half of Rutgers’ points in a 93-65 loss to send the team to an 0-3 start in conference play.
Let’s see what we learned from the game.
What We Learned:
1. The Scarlet Knights are still not poised to compete with most Big Ten teams.
Following a conference season in which Rutgers only won one game, the expectations surrounding the team entering this year weren’t exactly high. However, under a new coach and a dazzling 11-1 start to the season, an inkling of hope emerged from the perennial laughing stock of the Big 10.
Until a further look into their schedule revealed an absence of quality opponents.
Until they lost both of their games to open conference play by over 20 points.
They are just not good. But, their backcourt of Corey Sanders and Nigel Johnson may win them a couple games this year. Sanders shot just 4-for-21 in the two contests leading up to the matchup with Michigan State but the sophomore poured in 22 points Wednesday night to lead the team. Nigel Johnson added 13 points. While this duo is flashy and quick, they are essentially the team’s only threat, making the team predictable and substantially easier to defend.
2. Miles Bridges is Back.
Freshman Miles Bridges missed the last seven games with an ankle injury. Prior to his absence, he was averaging 16.6 points and 8.8 rebounds before being sidelined after the loss to Duke last month. Michigan State was 6-1 without him but they undoubtedly are excited to have him back in the lineup to add another wrinkle in their offense and bolster their length and athleticism on the defensive side.
Bridges was clearly on a minutes restriction by coach Tom Izzo, who limited his prized freshman to just 14 minutes. Bridges was 3-for-5 with six points (including two emphatic ally-oop finishes) and six rebounds.
3. Michigan State is on the straight and narrow road to March Madness.
Michigan State is on the cusp of the NCAA tournament this year and will need a strong conference season to solidify their spot. They have now secured wins against Minnesota, Northwestern and Rutgers to jump to a 3-0 record in the Big 10.
Their team is littered with youth—four of their impact players are freshman, led by Miles Bridges and Nick Ward. While it is intimidating to rely on a freshman core in such a competitive and talented conference, senior Eron Harris has proven to be a viable veteran leader who can both score and facilitate the ball.
There’s still a long way to go for Michigan State, but as things currently sit, things are starting to look up for the Spartans in march.
Michigan State is off to an undefeated 3-0 start in the Big Ten. The Spartans have returned their star freshman Miles Bridges in time for the brutal Indiana-Purdue-Michigan part of the schedule that is looming large in a couple weeks.
On the other hand, Rutgers is destined for another miserable conference season, but their dynamic backcourt may get them over the hump against the other lowly teams in the conference.