Rutgers (6-2) at no. 11 Michigan State (5-3)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: The Breslin Center (14,759 capacity) in East Lansing, Michigan
Tip-off: Sunday, December 8th at 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: BTN - Brandon Gaudin, play-by-play, Shon Morris
Stream: FOX Sports App
Radio: Live Listen - Rutgers Sports Properties Radio Network (WCTC 1450 AM/WOR 710 AM/SiriusXM 390; Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan); WRSU 88.7 FM (Justin Sontupe & Randy DeGregorio)
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers 75th; MSU 4th; Rutgers moved down 5 spots since the loss to Pitt.
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 103.8 (104th) Defense 93.8 (61st); MSU - 115.4 (1st) Defense 90.0 (23rd)
KenPom Prediction: MSU 78 Rutgers 64; Rutgers has a 10% chance to win
Vegas Line: Michigan State -14.5
Series History: Michigan State leads the all-time series 8-0.
MSU Scouting Report
Head coach Tom Izzo has seen his team face plenty of adversity this season. They lost starting senior guard Josh Langford before the season began, reinjuring his foot after missing the second half of last season with the same issue. His team has been inconsistent to start the season and they’ve lost to Kentucky, Virginia Tech, and Duke, who beat the Spartans easily at MSU on Tuesday by 12 points. They are 5-3 and Seton Hall is their marquee win at this point of the season.
6’1” senior point guard Cassius Winston is averaging 17.1 points, 6.1 assists, and 2.3 rebounds. The All-American is struggling from the floor, shooting just 41.3% overall, although he is making 36.2% of his shots from three-point range. He is joined in the backcourt by 6’2” freshman Rocket Watts, who is averaging 6.5 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.0 steal.
Michigan State is led upfront by 6’8” junior Xavier Tillman, who is averaging 13.3 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.1 blocks per game. 6’6” wing Aaron Henry has been the Spartans best shooter so far this season, averaging 56.9% from the floor and 43.8% from three-point range. He is posting 10.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per contest. 6’7” sophomore Gabe Brown is another three-point threat, as he has made 9 of 22 attempts for 40.9% from behind the arc, as well as averaging 8.0 points and 3.6 rebounds.
The bench of MSU is useful with 6’7” freshman Malik Hall averaging 6.1 points and 3.9 rebounds, 6’11” sophomore Marcus Bingham Jr. averaging 5.8 points and 3.6 rebounds, and 6’8” sophomore Thomas Kithier posting 4.9 points and 3.3 boards per contest.
As a team, the Spartans average 80.1 points per game and shooting 46.7% from the floor, 32.9% from three-point range and 74.0% from the free throw line. Despite the perimeter shooting being nothing more than average, MSU has the most efficient offense in college basketball with a rating of 115.4 through 8 games. Their defensive efficiency of 90.3 ranks 23rd out of 353 Division I teams. Even with a slow start to the season, Michigan State’s stats are still impressive.
Michigan State has been without starting forward Josh Langford all season. Watts is also now out of tonight’s game as reported yesterday to be in a walking boot. Rutgers has no injuries reported.
Notes: As a team, Rutgers is shooting 47.4% from the floor, 27.4% from three-point range, and 65.5% from the free throw line......The Scarlet Knights are third in the Big Ten in blocks with 5.5 per game, in steals with 7.4 per game, and forced turnovers at 15.4 per game and are fourth in scoring defense with 61.3 per game.....While Rutgers only has two players with a scoring average in double digits per game (Ron Harper Jr. 13.3 points; Geo Baker 12.8 points), there are seven players total averaging close to 7 points per contest (Akwasi Yeboah 9.3 points; Myles Johnson 9.0 points, Montez Mathis 8.1 points; Caleb McConnell 7.8 points; Jacob Young 6.8 points).
Steve Pikiell Pregame Thoughts
“They have a Hall of Fame coach in Tom Izzo and that’s a very tough, tough place to play on the road. It’s the first league game of the year, at a time early in December when the team is still coming together. You are going to have to play really good basketball when you go to a place like that, on both sides of the ball. It’s a huge challenge. Everyone has to be ready to go. It’s going to take unbelievable effort. We’re going to have to be tough as nails. I love coaching this group of guys. I think we can have a really fun season if we continue to sacrifice and continue to work hard.”
Keys To Victory
Be Road Warriors
Rutgers laid an egg in its first road game of the season at Pitt on Tuesday and are walking into a buzzsaw on Sunday night after MSU was blown out at home by Duke in its last game. The Spartans will be looking to take out some frustrations and you know Izzo has told them all week that Rutgers is the team that beat the team that just beat Duke, who just beat them handily. If Steve Pikiell’s team has any chance to win this game, they have to start fast and keep their composure throughout the contest. They’ll need to play a near perfect game to win, but they have to embrace the challenge and be the tougher team to have a chance.
The Bench Needs To Travel
Rutgers needs contributions from every player, which is especially true on the road. On Tuesday in the loss to Pitt, Shaq Carter, Jacob Young, and Paul Mulcahy played a combined 33 minutes to produce zero points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, and 6 turnovers. That can’t happen if you want to win on the road, especially when Rutgers relies on balanced scoring rather than one or two primary scorers. Carter has been a major disappointment this season, as has Young, who has the worst shooting percentage (35.7%) and most turnovers per game (2.6) of any player on the roster. Mulcahy looked out of his comfort zone in the Pitt game, which hurts this team because he is the best passer and maybe best decision maker on the team. Akwasi Yeboah has arguably been the most consistent player on the team and scored 15 points against MSU when he played them while at Stony Brook two seasons ago. Mamadou Doucoure will find some minutes on Sunday as well and they’ll need his rebounding and defense.
Stick to the game plan
Rutgers got frustrated against Pitt by struggling to get penetration into the paint and settled for some terrible three-point shot attempts that sunk the offense. This team dating back to last season has always been the most dangerous when they were sharing the basketball and attacking the rim. It won’t be easy against MSU, but they have to be aggressive and force the Spartans to stop them, rather than chuck terrible three-point shots. They’ll have to avoid running the offense too high above the three-point arc and make good entry passes to get inside the paint. Avoiding silly mistakes and limiting MSU from getting too many easy baskets in transition is a must. Rutgers can’t take any possessions off on either end of the floor, which leads to the next key.
Defense, Defense, Defense
Rutgers need to face guard well and avoid getting blown off the dribble the way they did against Pitt. Communication needs to be strong and not getting tied up in ball screens is important as well. MSU is second in the nation with 18.8 assists per game and fourth with a 1.58 assist to turnover ratio as a team. They don’t make mistakes, so Rutgers needs to contest every shot and rebound very well, as limiting second chance scoring opportunities for the Spartans is a must. The Scarlet Knights need to play at another level to have a chance on Sunday night.
After Rutgers opened the second half against Pitt on a 12-2 run to take a 2 point lead, they quickly saw it disappear, as the home team put together a game defining 13-0 run in which they never recovered from. The Scarlet Knights certainly can’t afford to allow a similar type run on Sunday and they even need to put together a few runs of their own in order to seriously challenge for the victory. Avoiding mistakes such as turnovers, limiting fouls, and not allowing easy baskets are absolute musts if they want to stay in this game.
Appropriate Music Selection
For the ninth game of the season, I’m featuring My Hero by the Foo Fighters. Classic song and Dave Grohl is one of the best front men in music, as his energy is unreal. If Rutgers is going to knock off the preseason no. 1 team on their home floor, they’ll need plenty of hero type performances and a ton of energy. Hopefully, Rutgers comes out with a lot of fight on Sunday night and gives the Spartans all they can handle. Remember, last season Rutgers led MSU at the half at the Breslin before getting blown out in the second half. This team should come out with something to prove and at least some sort of comfort level playing in this venue, which hopefully leads to a good performance.