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Rutgers Men’s Basketball Game Preview #7 vs. Michigan State

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Includes coach Pikiell’s thoughts on the matchup, how to watch, stats, and keys to victory

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

#9 Michigan State (5-2) At Rutgers (5-1)

How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes

Where: The RAC in Piscataway, New Jersey (Info on alternate traffic pattern here)

Tip-off: Friday, November 30th at 6:00 p.m. ET

TV: BTN - Kevin Kugler & Jon Crispin

Stream: BTN2GO (free)

Radio: Rutgers IMG Sports Network - WCTC 1450 AM/WOR 710 AM/Sirius 133/XM 196 - Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM - Justin Sontupe & Matt Howe

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #103; Michigan State #11

(Rutgers moved forward 15 spots since the win over #21 Miami)

KenPom Prediction: Michigan State 73 Rutgers 65; Rutgers has an 25% chance to win.

Vegas Line: Michigan State -8.5

Series History: Michigan State leads all-time 7-0, including a 76-72 overtime win last January

Game 6 recap & four thoughts & newcomers report

Q&A With The Only Colors here

Notes: Rutgers is eighth in the country in scoring defense, allowing just 56.5 points per game. They also have a adjusted defensive efficiency of 91.9, which is 10th best in Division I per KenPom. The Scarlet Knights also lead the Big Ten in blocked shots per game and 10th in the country as well.

About Michigan State

Head coach Tom Izzo is in his 24th season at the helm for MSU, who have a 5-2 record this season. They have KenPom top 50 wins over UCLA and Texas, as well as losses to Kansas and Louisville.

The Spartans are led by a trio of juniors in Josh Langford, Cassius Winston, and Nick Ward. The 6’5” Langford is averaging 18.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.6 assists. The 6’0” Winston is the point guard and averages 17.3 points, 7.3 assists, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.7 steals per game. Both players are shooting lights out from behind the arc so far this season, as Langford is 20 of 44 for 45.5% and Winston has made 21 of 49 for 42.9%. The 6’8” Ward is a big body inside and is posting a line of 13.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.3 blocks per contest. He is also shooting 57.9% from the floor.

Michigan State has five players averaging between 5 to 8 points per game in senior guard Matt McQuaid, junior forward Kyle Aherns, sophomore forward Xavier Tillman, senior forward Kenny Goins, and freshman wing Aaron Henry.

As a team, Michigan State is shooting 49.0% from the floor and 42.4% from three-point range. They have struggled at times from the free throw line and average 68.8% for the season. In the loss to Louisville, they made just 14 of 23 from the charity stripe. The Spartans are always a strong rebounding team, averaging 45 per game, but have struggled taking care of the basketball, committing 15 turnovers per contest.

Advanced stats has Michigan State in the top twenty in Division I in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, as well as in the top 40 in seven individual categories. They block shots at a high rate and defend two-point shots well, while dominating the offensive boards on both ends of the floor.

Pikiell Quotes

On the quick turnaround:

“We got in at like 3, 3:30 last night. The part of college is that thee freshmen had 9 a.m. tutors and then they had a test at 10 a.m. so they are college students too and they had a full day of school today. We have one practice and we play at six too, so we have an early tip-off. We are going to try to get them focused on a few things and try to jam as much information on them in this time frame that we can. Our guys have been good, they have been able to soak in scouting reports quickly and game plans. We are going to certainly have to do that for today.”

On what the sold out RAC will be like and how team will respond:

“Michigan State plays in that environment all the time and they have redshirt juniors and seniors, the whole nine yards. We have a lot of guys who are going to be playing in front of their first sellout. I don’t have a great feel for that. I do like the vibe of this team. They like each other and they are real attentive to game plans and trying to do a good job of communicating with each other on the court. I think they will be very excited.”

“I am hoping that we are ready and we come out with some toughness like we did last night, to win our first true road game. A lot in one day to soak in for them. I know our riot squad and our students mean a lot to our guys. Having the place full of those people and the students and the enthusiasm, guys play better in front of those kind of crowds. It is going to be another step for us, an exciting step.”

On the play of Geo Baker:

“Geo’s been really good. One of the most important things against Miami was the way he defended. He played an elite guard in Chris Lykes, the fifth-leading scorer in the ACC. Defensively he was just outstanding. He has to do a lot for us, leadership wise and offensively. Blocking shots and guarding guys, and he only had two fouls, that really shows how far he’s coming. He’s got the hardest test. Cassius Winston is the best point guard in our league. He’s going to have to guard someone completely different (than Lykes) — bigger and can shoot the three like nobody else. He’s going to have to bounce back and face someone different, bigger and can shoot the three. Geo’s prep has been outstanding. He’s a huge key to us with his continued development.”

On the development of Shaq Doorson & Issa Thiam:

“A huge factor. Shaq two straight career highs in rebounds. Vasiljevic was leading the ACC in three-pointers and he made one three against us. A huge part of that is Issa’s development as a defender. I hope we see their veteran presence against Michigan State.”

Keys To Victory

Defend The Three

Aside from Langford and Winston, Matt McQuaid is 8 of 22 this season and has hovered around 40% his entire career. Kyle Aherns is the other threat from deep and he has connected on 7 of 17 attempts this season. Michigan State loves to shoot the three and Rutgers needs to have good awareness of where the shooters are on the floor at all times. This is particularly important with transition defense, as the Spartans love to find the open look off of the break. Rutgers needs to defend every three-point attempt Michigan State takes in the game.

Offensive Rebounds

Michigan State is so athletic and excellent on both ends, grabbing boards off the offensive glass at a rate of 35.6% (36th in DI), while holding opponents to just 20.5% (7th in DI). Rutgers needs a total team effort on the glass and is where the freshman trio of Myles Johnson, Montez Mathis, and Ron Harper Jr. can make an impact. Rutgers needs all the offense they can muster to keep up with the high powered Spartans, so the more second chance points they can produce off of offensive rebounds, the better. They also need to limit MSU defensively from getting easy putbacks.

Keep Them Under 65

Rutgers did an amazing job keeping Miami almost 30 points below its scoring average in the upset win on Wednesday. Michigan State is even more high powered, averaging 88 points a game and haven’t scored below 78 points so far this season. I think it’s probably asking too much to expect Rutgers to hold the Spartans in the fifties like they did against Miami, but they certainly need to slow them down and make this game more of a grinder than they prefer to play. Realistically, holding MSU to around 65 points in this game would give Rutgers a chance to shock Tom Izzo and the Big Ten.

Counter Body Blows

Basketball is a game of runs and Rutgers needs to limit Michigan State from producing quick 10-2 type spurts in this game. The Scarlet Knights don’t have the firepower to keep up with MSU if they stretch the game out like that with multiple big runs. Transition defense is so important in this game, as Rutgers can’t allow Michigan State to get down the floor and generate quick and easy baskets. They need to make them work for every score and force them into a halfcourt game. Otherwise, it could certainly get out of hand. On the flip side, Rutgers needs to be able to generate a few runs of their own, but it starts on the defensive end. Finishing high percentage shots near the rim, as well as any open looks on the perimeter are a must if Rutgers wants to win this game.

Balance, Balance, Balance

This team is at its best when every player on the court is contributing in some way. They got a complete team effort in the win over Miami and it will take the same again tonight. Rutgers probably needs at least four players scoring in double figures to win this game, as they can’t just rely on Geo Baker and Eugene Omoruyi for offense, guys the Spartans will obviously key on defensively. They need to share the basketball and make MSU work on the defensive end in the halfcourt. Like I said before, the entire team needs to rebound, as well as play great team defense too. Every player needs to make free throws when given the opportunity, as those free chances must be taken advantage of. It will take the best performance of a Steve Pikiell team since his arrival at Rutgers to win this game.

In The Bonus

The St. John’s game was a near sellout, but Rutgers trailed the entire game and fell far behind in the second half, wasting what was a amped up crowd waiting for exciting moments to cheer about that never came. Rutgers needs to channel the homecourt advantage as much as possible tonight and hopefully can make some plays early to get the RAC rocking. They can’t fall into the trap of playing hero ball and forcing the action, they need to play together and pick their spots. The RAC can be a powerful weapon with Rutgers is clicking on the court and tonight COULD produce another special moment if everything falls into place. Either way, root for a strong effort from Rutgers and giving Michigan State a street fight for 40 minutes.