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1/5 Big Ten Preview: Top-25 Showdown In East Lansing

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

COVID-19 issues have caused another league game to be postponed, thus leaving just one game on the docket tonight.

Game of the Day:

-No. 15 Rutgers Scarlet Knights vs. No. 23 Michigan State Spartans

  • Time/TV: 9:00 p.m. EST (ESPN2)

What was originally a Tuesday double-header has become a lone matchup for the night, but it looks to be shaping up to be a big one. The Breslin Center in East Lansing will host its second AP top-25 showdown of the season as the 3-2 Scarlet Knights take on the 1-3 Spartans.

Rutgers suffered a hard fought two point home loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday. Rutgers couldn’t slow down Luka Garza, but stifled the nation’s top offense while failing to hit free throws to secure the upset of Iowa. Rutgers went just 4-for-12 from the charity stripe. Had they hit their season average of 62 percent, they would have won by one.

On the home front, the Spartans finally righted the ship on a three game skid with a road win at 0-4 Nebraska late Saturday night. Aaron Henry finally found his three-point shot on the season, going 3-for-5 from deep while leading MSU with 27 points. AJ Hoggard also got the start at point guard and impressed in the eye test in addition to 5 assists (team high), 3 rebounds, and 2 blocks (tied for team high).

The Spartans are going to need more than just Aaron Henry’s scoring to stretch the win streak into multiple games. Despite having the obvious talent advantage on defense, Husker players continually raced past Spartan defenders almost at will to surge back from big deficits at times and make it a close game in the final minutes. Not only improved defense is needed, but also the team’s 30.4 percent shooting from deep at Nebraska hopefully missed the final boarding call on the flight back to Michigan if you’re a Spartan fan.

As for Rutgers, the strong defensive performance the Scarlet Knights put up in Piscataway should be more than enough to ensure a win in this one, even with poor free throw shooting. Rutgers held Iowa to 10 percent fewer field goal attempts than their season average, and Michigan State has been struggling far more on offense than the nation’s top squad by advanced metrics. Add in Hoggard getting the start against Nebraska and then facing one of the tougher defenses in the Big Ten in just his second start as a true freshman is quite the change in terms of a challenge.

The Spartans might have finally found the spark they needed in the road win at Nebraska, but they still struggled in their road win while struggling to put away a vastly inferior opponent, at least on paper. Despite entering the school year as the only program to not lose in conference play to relative Big Ten newcomer Rutgers in men’s basketball or football, it seems in all likelihood the Spartans will fall in both sports this season.

  • Pick: Rutgers

The Rest:

Postponed: Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Purdue Boilermakers