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1/28 Big Ten Basketball Preview: Rutgers Host Spartans

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Michigan State Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Spartans are set to return tonight for their first game in almost three weeks. Last time out Michigan State squandered a double digit second half lead and lost to Purdue at home in the closing seconds. Tonight they will take on Rutgers in New Jersey.

Game of the Night

Michigan State Spartans at Rutgers Scarlet Knights

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET FS1

Michigan State got off to a quick start in non-conference play but an unexpected loss to Northwestern kicked off a rough 2-4 start in conference play. They were still ranked early in January when they beat a 15th ranked Rutgers team by 23 points, but they lost at home to Purdue and have been off ever since. Now they’ll return with a rough three game slate that includes road trips to Rutgers, Ohio State and Iowa.

Rutgers finally ended a five game skid this past weekend when they beat Indiana on the road. It was the first win for the Scarlet Knights since December. Now they’ll look to try to build some momentum and pick up a win that would be huge if they want to get to the NCAA Tournament this spring.

In the Spartans loss to Purdue they shot 39% from the field and 23.1% from three while being incapable of stopping forward Trevion Williams down the stretch. They also gave up a rough 16 offensive rebounds, huge as Purdue ended up shooting 15 more field goals in a one point game. Michigan State ranks 146th in field goal percentage and 123rd in three point percentage, so the offense has had it’s problems at times this season. Led by Aaron Henry, who leads the team in points (13.9), assists (3.7), steals (1.6) and blocks (1.6), the Spartans could use more production elsewhere on the court. Besides forward Joey Hauser, who is averaging 11.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, no other Spartans is averaging in double digits.

Rutgers isn’t that much better offensively, ranking 83rd in field goal percentage and 105th in three point percentage. They only shoot 18.8 three pointers per game, 286th in the nation, so they routinely attack inside. That’s somewhat interesting when you realize the Scarlet Knights are led in scoring by four guards, including Ron Harper Jr., who averages 18.3 points per game. Rutgers likes to get inside and has done a pretty effective job at it this year, making up for only making 6.6 three pointers per game.

This an interesting matchup because Michigan State having to break off the rust on the road against Rutgers isn’t an easy matchup, even if they rolled past the Scarlet Knights last time they played each other. On the flip side the Scarlet Knights have been struggling as of late and there’s no guarantee that a win over Indiana is proof that they’ve turned things around.

As good as Steve Pikiell has been at Rutgers, it’s also hard to pick against Tom Izzo. Even when the Spartans look flawed and underwhelming Izzo still finds a way to get his team to the postseason and become a threat. It’s only a matter of time before Michigan State gets back up and running and tonight would be a great night for the Spartans to start playing up to their potential.

Pick: Michigan State