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Rutgers Men's Basketball Game #9 Preview vs. Michigan State

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Includes how to watch, keys to the game, and thoughts from head coach Steve Pikiell

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch & Listen

#3 Michigan State (7-1; 1-0) At Rutgers (6-2; 0-1)

Where: The RAC (capacity 8,000)

Tip-off: Tuesday, December 5th at 7:00 p.m. ET

TV: BTN - Dave Revsine and Jon Crispin

Stream: BTN2GO

Radio: WCTC 1450 AM & WOR 710 AM - Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #111; Michigan State #3

(Note: Rutgers retained the same ranking as they held before their last game, a 22 point loss to #23 Minnesota)

KenPom Prediction: Michigan State 73 Rutgers 61; Rutgers 14% chance to win

Series History: Michigan State leads the all-time series 5-0.

Michigan State SB Nation site: The Only Colors

About Michigan State

Head coach Tom Izzo brings one of his best teams in recent memory to the RAC in what is the second Big Ten game for both programs. The Spartans have been absolutely killing its opponents lately. The last four games Michigan State has beaten UConn by 20, Notre Dame by 18, North Carolina by 18, and Nebraska by 29. While UConn and Nebraska aren't having good seasons, Notre Dame and North Carolina are both top 15 teams.

The Spartans lead the country in field goal % defense (34.2%), is fourth in blocked shots (7.3 per game) and is fifth in rebound margin (+12.4). They are also shooting 56.9% from two-point range and are seventh in the country in offensive rebounding percentage (38.9%).

As a team, they score 81.5 points a game and have five players averaging double figures. They're only allowing its opponents to score 62.3 points per game.

Here are stats for key players on Michigan State:

6'7" sophomore guard Miles Bridges - 14.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.7 blocks

6'8" sophomore forward Nick Ward - 14.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks

6'5" sophomore guard Josh Langford - 13.4 points, 2.6 rebounds

6'0" sophomore guard Cassius Winston - 13.3 points, 7.3 assists, 3.6 rebounds

6'11" freshman Jaren Jackson - 10.0 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.1 blocks

6'4" junior guard Matt McQuaid - 7.1 points, 1.6 rebounds

Know Your Three-Point Shooters:

Cassius Winston - 18 of 33 for 54.5%

Josh Langford - 11 of 23 for 47.8%

Jaren Jackson - 8 of 25 for 32.0%

Miles Bridges - 11 of 36 for 30.6%

Thoughts From Head Coach Steve Pikiell

Here are some quotes from Pikiell during a conference call with the media on Monday:

On Corey Sanders not returning after picking up a technical foul:

“Honestly, I just want him to play. I want him to play basketball. Refereeing isn’t in his future, basketball is, and it wasn’t as much a message as it was a reminder for him to stick with what he does.”

On keeping it close against Minnesota for most of the game:

“Certainly, we got the toughest test in the league right now. These two teams are playing at an elite level. We’re gonna have to play really well in those games, we’re going to have to make some shots, which would help, but our defense wasn’t where it needed to be and in order to beat the elite teams, you have to be elite on one end of floor at least, maybe two ends of the floor and we certainly weren’t that yesterday. We fouled a lot, which we haven’t been doing. We showed some signs. I think some of our young guys were “Welcome to the Big Ten.” It’s a big boy league with some big time players and I think you saw that with Minnesota last night. Nate Mason is the best point guard in the league or one of and obviously Lynch and Murphy two outstanding bigs. Welcome to the league and now we have one day to prepare for Michigan State which has arguably the other three best players in the league.”

On the play of Mamadou Doucoure:

“I think those freshmen are learning valuable lessons. They’re really coachable kids, Geo (Baker) and (Mamadou Doucoure). They devour tape, they’ve gotten better, they’ve done a decent job of getting out of foul trouble. They’re on elite learning curves and we’re throwing them against some elite tests so really like how he’s coming along. He’s making jump shots now, he’s figuring himself out offensively and he’s staying on the floor by not being in foul trouble, so real pleased with his progress against good teams.”

On Michigan State:

“They have a lot of matchup problems. I think Cassius Winston, their point guard, is a massive problem. They’re playing as good a basketball as anyone in the league … Miles Bridges is an inside-outside, knows how to play, physical nightmare, but these other guys too are elite at their position. They have a Hall of Fame coach, they always play at an elite level heart-wise on both ends of the floor. That’s what I’m most amazed by watching the tapes, like how hard they play on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. And the guys they sub in the game keep them at that level. They don’t lose a lot when they go to their bench, which is unusual of teams in college.”

Keys To Victory

Veteran Core Needs To Step Up

In the loss to Minnesota, Corey Sanders, Deshawn Freeman, and Mike Williams combined to shoot 9 of 37 from the floor and scored just 23 points combined. While the freshmen duo of Geo Baker and Mamadou Doucoure, as well as Eugene Omoruyi all scored in double figures, the bottom line is Rutgers isn't going to beat a top tier Big Ten team with their three veterans all having off nights. Against Michigan State, they don't have much of a chance unless all three play near their best. Regardless, from a big picture view of this season, it would be a positive development to see all three play better tonight than they did in the loss to Minnesota.

Guard The Perimeter

As is typical of a Tom Izzo team, the Spartans have multiple shooters around the perimeter that can make you pay from behind the arc. Michigan State is shooting 37% from three-point range this season and are averaging 20 attempts a game. They made 11 of 22 attempts from deep in a 29 point victory over Rutgers in the lone meeting between the two teams last season. As we know, the Scarlet Knights do not have the shooters on the perimeter to keep pace if Sparty gets on a roll. Knowing where the shooters are at all times and getting a hand in their faces on every shot is absolutely a must in this game.

Offensive Rebounds & Second Chance Points

I think I may just keep this one on for every conference game this season, as Rutgers needs to have a legitimate upper hand in both to win any contest in Big Ten play. The struggles shooting from the perimeter are no secret, but the amount of shots Rutgers has missed near the rim the past two games has been frustrating to watch. Part of why they are getting so many offensive rebounds is they are grabbing their own misses, but still not finishing. Less offensive rebounds would be a positive if they can increase scoring through second chance points. Michigan State leads the country in two-point defense (33%) and fifth in block rate (18.6%), so tonight will not be easy, but scoring off of offensive rebounds is the best chance Rutgers has to keep up with them.

Stay Out Of Foul Trouble

The past two games against Florida State and Minnesota, Rutgers has had key players struggle with foul trouble. Geo Baker was limited and fouled out against FSU, while Mamadou Doucoure fouled out against Minnesota, in addition to Corey Sanders and Deshawn Freeman finishing with four fouls. The starters need to avoid fouling so much early on in the game, as it takes the team out of rhythm and puts pressure on the bench to produce. It also puts their opponent in the bonus early on in the half. The pace of the last two games have been faster and Rutgers has been slow to adjust defensively. Hopefully, the third time is the charm against the #3 team in the country.

Minimize Unforced Errors

Our own Brian Fonseca highlighted the uptick in turnovers that has occurred the past two games, many as a result of mistakes made by Rutgers. However, there are other unforced errors that Rutgers needs to avoid against a team like Michigan State as well. Blowing defensive assignments, fouling after turnovers, avoiding emotional meltdowns and technical fouls, as well as taking bad shots and missing free throws are all majorly important to be able for them to stay in this game.

In The Bonus

Pack The RAC

Last Tuesday against Florida State, the RAC rumbled for the first time this season and the most it has in some time. Rutgers needs all the help it can get tonight and a strong home crowd would be a real positive. Playing a top five opponent at the RAC has produced some classic games over the years, most recently, the best win of the Eddie Jordan era with the upset victory over #4 Wisconsin. I think back to the days of when UConn and Syracuse barely survived the RAC and in the case of Jim Boeheim's 2003 national championship team, when they didn't. The Riot Squad does a great job with the student section and I expect another great turnout tonight. Here is what coach Pikiell had to say about the students and the hope for a great crowd against the Spartans.

“The students were great against Florida State and if they want to see some good basketball, hopefully they’re going to come out again. Our players are really excited and playing better when the students are there so I really hope we have a tremendous turnout and make the RAC a tough place to play because we’re going to need everybody.”

Toy Drive

If you are attending tonight's game, get in the holiday spirit by participating in a toy drive. From the press release:

The Rutgers Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) will hold its annual toy drive on Tuesday (Dec. 5), when men’s basketball hosts No. 3-ranked Michigan State at 7 p.m. in its Big Ten Conference home opener. In conjunction with drive, the Rutgers Leadership Academy (RLA) will sponsor a halftime “Teddy Bear Toss.”

All fans are encouraged to bring new or gently used teddy bears to the RAC for the contest with the Spartans. At halftime, fans will throw the stuffed animals upon the court when instructed. All teddy bears will be donated to children in need this holiday season as part of the annual SAAC Toy Giveaway.