Tonight, No. 23 Rutgers visits Michigan State in East Lansing, a place where the Scarlet Knights have never won. But there’s reason to believe that can’t change tonight. While Rutgers is on a two-game winning streak, the Spartans have dropped two straight. The magnitude of this game can’t be overstated. With a win, Rutgers stays firmly in second place in the Big Ten, and a loss puts Rutgers back into the big pack of Big Ten teams vying for the double bye.
Players to Watch
Rutgers: Cam Spencer
The transfer guard has been on fire lately. Over the last two games, Spencer has 44 pts, eight ast, and 11 reb. He’s been Rutgers’ best player this month and he’ll look to continue that tonight. Defensively, he’s averaging 2.6 steals per game, but his defense will be tested tonight. The starting Michigan State backcourt combines for 27.4 points and 9 assists per game. Locking down one of those guards when he’s on the court is key to winning this game. Spencer is shooting 53.3% from three in the month of January and having one or two of those go down early could make all the difference.
Michigan State: Tyson Walker
Where Rutgers has Cam Spencer, Michigan State has Tyson Walker. The senior guard is averaging 14.8 pts, 2.4 reb, and 2.7 ast. He shoots at a high clip from beyond the arc (41%). If Walker gets hot the Spartans are as dangerous a team as anyone in the Big Ten. Coming off a 30-point performance in a 64-63 loss to Purdue and 13+ points in each of his last five. However, Walker being just 6’1 is a major advantage for Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights can use the length of their guards to effectively defend his jumpshot.
Keys for the Game
Control The Boards: The Scarlet Knights need to be strong on both the offensive and defensive glass tonight. Cliff Omoruyi needs to continue to grab tough rebounds and outwork the MSU forwards. Izzo’s teams always play tough and physical, but Rutgers needs to be tougher. Michigan State will be prepared to play hard, but Rutgers can’t allow them second chance buckets if they want to win on the road.
Defend the Three: Michigan State has four players that shoot 38.9% or higher from beyond the arc. If Rutgers gives up open shots from deep, Michigan State can get hot and steal a game. Forcing Michigan State into isolation offense and contested shots will play to Rutgers’ strengths. The Scarlet Knights need to make the Spartans play their game. If Michigan State can get into their offense and create open looks for their shooters, they’ll be a much tougher team to beat.
Make Your Layups: Rutgers often struggles at and around the basket, but they need to be good there tonight. Offenses can often struggle on the road, and making the easy ones will be key to getting a win tonight. The Scarlet Knights can’t let MSU force them into one on one offense in the half court. Lots of post touches for Cliff will be important, as well as drives to the basket by Spencer and Paul Mulcahy. Getting in the paint will also lead to more free throws, which as we know, can be hard to come by on the road.
Rutgers may not have won in East Lansing before, but that changes tonight.
Rutgers over Michigan State, 68-62.