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Rutgers Men's Basketball Game Preview: Michigan State

The Scarlet Knights travel to East Lansing, Michigan to take on conference royalty, in hopes of picking up their first Big Ten road win in program history.

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch & Listen

TV: 5:15 pm on BTN

Radio: Rutgers IMG Radio Network WOR (710 AM) & WCTC (1450 AM); WRSU (88.7 FM)

Spread: Michigan State  -29

Injury Update

Deshawn Freeman, Shaq Doorson, and Ibrahima Diallo have all been declared out for the season. Rutgers has eight active scholarship players for tonight's game.

About Michigan State (KenPom #6)

The Spartans enter the game with a 5-4 conference record and 18-4 record overall. They went undefeated in non-conference play, including wins against Kansas, Providence, Florida, and Louisville.  They were the #1 in the country for a time, but have struggled some in Big Ten play.  They were swept in their season series against Iowa, which started a three game losing streak that included losses to Wisconsin and Nebraska. However, they have rebounded from that stretch with an impressive win over Maryland and a 31 point blowout of Northwestern on Thursday.

Michigan State is a terrible matchup for Rutgers, as they are the second leading rebounding team in the Big Ten, trailing only Purdue.  Their frontcourt includes 6'9" senior forward Matt Costello, who is averaging 9.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game, along with shooting 51.3% from the field. He is flanked by 6'10" freshman Deyonta Davis, who in his last game against Northwestern posted a stat line of 8 points, 11 rebounds, 6 blocks and 3 assists.  Davis is shooting 63.3% from the field and along with Costello, are going to be difficult assignments for the Rutgers frontcourt of Greg Lewis and D.J. Foreman.

Of course, the Spartans best player is senior guard Denzel Valentine, who is a legitimate contender for Big Ten player of the year. Valentine does it all on the court for head coach Tom Izzo, as he averages 18.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 6.7 assists, and 1 steal per game. He has made 20 of 39 attempts from three-point range in his last five games.  The entire team shoots well and are in the top four of the conference in field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage.

Keys To The Game

Crash The Boards

Michigan State is the best rebounding team Rutgers will face since playing Purdue.  Every player on the court needs to be active after every shot and fight for the rebound.  Rutgers has had better effort on the glass since they lost the rebounding battle by 40 to the Boilermakers, even edging Michigan by 1 on Wednesday.  However, tonight will be a major test and they cannot stand around flatfooted after shots are taken or the Spartans will make them pay dearly.

Limit Open Looks

Rutgers is lucky that Michigan had an off shooting night on Wednesday, as they had far too many open looks on the perimeter.  Surrendering easy looks from the outside has been an issue during conference play, but Wednesday was the worst of it. Michigan still shot a solid 11-28 for 39.3% from behind the arc, but could have put the game out of reach early if they hadn't started 2-12 in the first half. The Spartans are shooting 40.5% from deep, good for the third in the conference and right behind Michigan. Rutgers can't keep playing with fire and needs to mark the shooters tonight or they have little chance to keep this one close.

Attack The Rim

Rutgers has made just 24 of 106 three-point attempts for 22.6% in their past six games.  Despite their lack of depth in the frontcourt due to injuries, Rutgers has been successful recently in attacking the rim.  Rutgers actually shot a better percentage from the field against Iowa and Michigan because of their ability to get points in the paint. They need to stop taking contested three-point shots and drive to the basket.  In shooting 3-18 for 16.6% from deep against Michigan, starting forward D.J. Foreman only took one shot from the field.  Foreman leads the team in shooting 49.6% from the field and must be a priority on offense.  In addition, Corey Sanders and Mike Williams have done well when slashing to the basket and need to do so even more. Freshman Jonathan Laurent also had a quiet game against Michigan and needs to be involved around the rim on offense.

Limit Bad Stretches

Even though Rutgers played Michigan closer than expected, they still had a couple rough stretches that end up making the difference in the outcome.  After outplaying Michigan most of the first half, Rutgers allowed a 12-0 run during which they committed four turnovers, six fouls and two missed shots in a 5 minute stretch. That prolonged futility cannot happen on the road in a conference game.  Part of why it happened was because of Rutgers lack of discipline on offense, failing to spread the floor and rushing contested jump shots.  Sanders needs to be the anchor in ensuring Rutgers doesn't get impatient and stays the course in slowing down the game and working to find quality shots.  Rutgers has shown flashes in the past two games and have played better, but they aren't going to get in the win column without playing consistently smart and giving maximum effort on defense the entire game.