No. 13 Michigan State (17-4; 8-2) at Rutgers (12-9; 6-5)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: Jersey Mike’s Arena in Piscataway, New Jersey (capacity 8,000)
(Vaccination policy for indoor events here)
Tip-off: Saturday, February 5 at 4:00 p.m. ET
TV: FS1 - Dave Sims and Donny Marshall
Stream: FOX Sports Live
NET Rankings: Rutgers No. 112; Michigan State No. 19 (Quad 1 opponent)
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers - No. 104, one spot worse following a 79-78 overtime loss to Northwestern on Tuesday. Michigan State - No. 17, two spots better following a 65-63 win over Maryland on Tuesday.
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 101.9 (191st) Defense 95.3 (48th); Michigan State - Offense 112.5 (30th) Defense 92.7 (25th)
KenPom Prediction: Michigan State 69 Rutgers 63; Rutgers is given a 31% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Michigan State -2.5
Series History: Michigan State leads the all-time series 10-1 but Rutgers won the last meeting 67-37 at the RAC on January 28, 2021.
Michigan State : 6’8” senior Gabe Brown - 12.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.0 assist, 35.8% 3-pt FG; 6’8” junior Malik Hall - 10.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 57.2% FG, 56.4% 3-pt FG; 6’6” freshman Max Christie - 10.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 35.0% 3-pt FG; 7’0” senior Marcus Bingham Jr. - 9.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.7 blocks, 56.5% FG; 6’9” redshirt senior Joey Hauser - 7.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 38.9% 3-pt FG; 6’0” junior Tyson Walker - 7.1 points, 4.8 assists, 1.4 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 52.9% 3-pt FG; 6’4” sophomore A.J. Hoggard - 6.3 points, 4.8 assists, 2.0 rebounds; 6’9” junior Julius Marble II - 6.2 points, 2.7 rebounds, 62.0% FG; 6’4” freshman Jaden Akins - 4.0 points, 2.7 rebounds, 35.5% 3-pt FG
Rutgers: 6’6” senior Ron Harper Jr. - 15.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.4 steals, 42.1% 3-pt FG; 6’4” redshirt senior Geo Baker - 11.6 points, 4.0 assists, 2.3 rebounds, 1.2 steal, 31.7% 3-pt FG; 6’11” sophomore Cliff Omoruyi - 11.1 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.2 block, 58.4% FG; 6’6” junior Paul Mulcahy - 8.0 points, 5.1 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 30.2% 3-pt FG; 6’7” senior Caleb McConnell - 6.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.0 steals, 27.0% 3-pt FG; 6’6” sophomore Aundre Hyatt - 5.2 points, 3.0 rebounds; 6’8” freshman Jaden Jones - 3.9 points, 1.3 rebounds; 6’7” sophomore Mawot Mag - 3.8 points, 2.4 rebounds; 6’8” senior Ralph Gonzales-Agee - 2.2 points, 1.1 rebounds, 52.2% FG; 6’10 sophomore Dean Reiber - 2.2 points, 1.3 rebounds; 6’8” sophomore Oskar Palmquist - 1.7 points, 5-11 3-pt FG; 6’2” freshman Jalen Miller - 1.1 points
About Michigan State
The Spartans are a very balanced team with very few weaknesses. They’re a top 30 team with offensive and defensive efficiency. Their non-conference schedule is ranked 34th nationally and they went 9-2. They own ten top 100 KenPom wins with four against top 50 foes.
One thing that jumps out statistically about MSU is that things they do well they also defend well against. They are 53rd in effective field goal percentage (53.0%) and 16th in holding opponents to only a 44.9% eFG. They’re 10th nationally in three-point shooting (38.9%) and 21st defensively in holding opponents to just 29.2% from behind the arc. The Spartans 42nd nationally with an offensive rebounding rate of 33.1% and holding foes to just 26.6% (96th). And lastly, they’re free throw rate 33.3% is 89th nationally while holding opponents to 24.9% (64th).
Other notable stats is that MSU is 14th nationally in assist rate (61.5%) and 6th in defensive block rate (16.1%). Michigan State is averaging 74.2 points per game and allowing 65.5 points per contest. On the road, they’re 4-1 in Big Ten play, 5-1 overall and 8-3 in games played away from East Lansing.
In Big Ten play, they’re 5th in offensive efficiency and 3rd in defensive efficiency. They lead the league shooting 79.6% from the free throw line, second in three-point shooting (39.4%) and third in effective field goal percentage (53.6%), offensive rebounding rate (31.1%) and free throw rate (34.3%). Defensively, they lead the conference in block rate (15.5%) and three-point defense (28.5%), are second in effective field goal percentage defense (45.4%) and third in defensive free throw rate (24.8%).
For the season, the Scarlet Knights are averaging 67.5 points per game and allowing 64.9 points per contest.....RU is shooting only 46.9% from two-point range (280th), 32.9% from three-point range (211th) and 70.2% from the foul line (211th)......They are ranked 8th nationally in assist rate at 63.2% and 32nd in two-point defense in holding opponents to 45.3% shooting.......Rutgers is 13th in offensive efficiency and 4th in defensive efficiency in Big Ten play so far this season......RU is 3rd from three-point range at 37.1% shooting in league play........They are in the top 5 in six of eight defensive categories in Big Ten play including 2nd in steal rate and turnover rate, 3rd in block rate, 4th in free throw rate and 5th in effective field goal percentage and two-point shooting.
Black History Month Uniforms
Rutgers and Adidas created a special uniforms for “honoring black excellence” to celebrate Black History Month. The uniforms will be worn for the first time on Saturday against Michigan State.
Keys To Victory
The only area in which Rutgers has an advantage on paper is turnover rate. Michigan State has the worst offensive turnover rate in Big Ten play at 20.2% while RU has the second best defensive turnover rate at 18.9%. To beat a team as strong as MSU, the Scarlet Knights need to force takeaways and create scoring chances from them.
At the same time, the Spartans are the only team to have a worse offensive turnover rate in Big Ten play than Rutgers. Giving the ball away far too often, particularly in the first half of games, has been an Achilles heel for RU. They’ve trailed by double digits in the first half of all six Big Ten road games this season and did so the last time at home as well against Maryland. The biggest reason for the poor starts is that Rutgers makes too many mistakes with the basketball and turns it over at an exorbitant rate. The good news is Michigan State is not a team that forces many takeaways and rank just 11th in the league in defensive turnover rate. Geo Baker and Paul Mulcahy must be smart with the ball and avoid giving MSU any easy scoring chances off of turnovers.
Defensively, Rutgers has to be locked in from the opening tip on or risk losing the game on even just one sustained run by Michigan State. They are tremendous from three-point range but are 0-3 against high major opponents when shooting under 30% and just 2-4 when shooting under 35%. The problem is keeping under those percentages as almost the entire rotation for the Spartans can knock down shots from deep. Closing out on shooters and not getting caught on screens after ball reversals is key.
MSU shares the basketball well so disrupting passing lanes, limiting driving lanes and forcing iso plays and contested jumpers would be ideal. Transition defense is huge as well, with the Spartans able to push and score quickly on the break.
The flip side is Rutgers has to hit shots. They’re just 15 of 60 from three-point range (25.0%) over the last three games and reasonably need at least 7-8 makes in this matchup to have a chance to win. They also need to make shots near the rim and can’t afford to shoot under 50% on layups. MSU has Marcus Bingham Jr. inside who is a true rim defender and one of the best shot blockers in the country. The Scarlet Knights need to draw contact inside and if they can get their top big man in foul trouble it would change the game.
RU is shooting their best from the foul line of any team in the Steve Pikiell era. As a team, they’ve made 57 of 70 attempts from the charity stripe over the last 5 games for 81.4%. The biggest reason has been Ron Harper Jr., who is a perfect 16 of 16 during that stretch and shooting 79.8% for the season. Paul Mulcahy didn’t have a free throw attempt over the first 4 games before making 9 of 11 in the loss to Northwestern. He is now shooting 79.3% on the season. Geo Baker is shooting 76.0% but isn’t getting to the line much at all (6-6 last five games). Mawot Mag is someone who needs to get to the line more as well, as he is 14 of 18 this season for 77.8%.
Of course, MSU is a great free throw shooting team. If Rutgers struggles to defend without fouling, the Spartans could bleed them dry from the line if they get into the bonus early in either half. RU will likely need to win free throw margin to win the game.
It’s no secret Rutgers needs to make what feels like an improbable run in February to even get close to NCAA Tournament contention. Beating Michigan State will take their best performance of the season and if that happens, it means Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker likely played well. They haven’t had too many games this season where both were dealing so Saturday would be a timely if they were. Paul Mulcahy is playing really well and his confidence is growing. You can’t expect the same type of performance in what was the best of his career in the loss to Northwestern, but he should have plenty of confidence entering this game. RU could use a vintage defensive performance from Caleb McConnell, as well as quality bench minutes from Mawot Mag, Aundre Hyatt and Dean Reiber. If the Scarlet Knights pull the upset, it’s likely because they received contributions from almost every player.
For this game I selected “Victory” by The Walkmen. One of my favorite songs from one of my favorite all-time bands is poetic for the situation Rutgers is coming out of after Tuesday’s gut punch overtime one point loss at Northwestern.
These lyrics speak to the brutal way RU lost to the Wildcats:
“Victory right beside me. There’s blood all over my head. Victory should be mine.”
“Victory right beside me. There’s so much blood. All over my hands. Victory right beside me. I’ve blood, blood on my hands.”
The mindset of this team is crucial to how they respond following a Tuesday’s loss following a 24 point comeback. Throw in the recent string of poor starts, inconsistent defense and too many turnovers and it’s enough to wonder what team will show up on Saturday. Coming from behind the way they did to lead in overtime, only to loss anyway can have a major impact on a team. They could use it as motivation and come out giving the Spartans all they can handle or they could have a hangover from the defeat and not give MSU much of a fight at all.
We’ll see what happens, but obviously it’s up to this team to be who they want to be. A path to March Madness still exists, but the road is close to leading to a dead end. Victory has been right beside them this season with five one possession losses. Saturday is a chance to grab their biggest win yet!