Wednesday, September 30, 2020

No. 9 Michigan State to get first taste of Big Ten play Friday vs. Rutgers

November 29, 2018
Junior guard Joshua Langford (1) moves with ball against University of Louisiana-Monroe’s guard Javien Williams (3) during the game against University of Louisiana-Monroe at Breslin Center on Nov. 14, 2018. The Spartans defeated the Warhawks, 80-59.
Junior guard Joshua Langford (1) moves with ball against University of Louisiana-Monroe’s guard Javien Williams (3) during the game against University of Louisiana-Monroe at Breslin Center on Nov. 14, 2018. The Spartans defeated the Warhawks, 80-59. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

After losing an overtime thriller to Louisville on Tuesday night, the No. 9 Michigan State men’s basketball team (5-2) will take a short break from their non-conference slate to open up Big Ten play Friday evening against Rutgers (4-1). 

In the Spartans’ first conference game, they will be looking to rebound from a tough Tuesday night at Louisville, in which MSU accumulated 17 turnovers and shot for 39 percent in the first half.

“Just disappointed that we didn’t do the things you need to do to win games on the road,” MSU coach Tom Izzo said Wednesday after his team's practice. “Now, don’t kid yourself. That’s a good team, tough place to play. We’re in a tough stretch here, we all know that.” 

The Big Ten is off to a strong start

Rutgers is off to a strong start this season with their only loss coming at the hands of an undefeated St. John’s team. However, so is the rest of the Big Ten, as 13 of the 14 teams currently sit above the .500 mark while four remain undefeated.

“I think it is a better conference than we’ve had, and it’s really only been four or five years since we’ve been playing with the two extra teams in Rutgers and Maryland,” Izzo said. “So, it’s been exciting to see what the conference has done out of conference.” 

Outside of Michigan State, six other Big Ten teams are currently sitting in the AP Top 25 rankings, the most representation from any conference in the NCAA. Those teams are No. 7 Michigan, No. 14 Iowa, No. 16 Ohio State, No. 19 Purdue, No. 22 Wisconsin and No. 24 Maryland. 

Big Ten teams have some pretty impressive wins on their resume already. To name a few, No. 13 Virginia Tech, No. 17 Texas,  No. 18 Oregon and No. 23 Villanova have all fallen to Big Ten teams this season.

Rutgers won’t be an easy win

Though the Spartans are favored (quite heavily) to win this matchup, the Scarlet Knights have given them a run for their money in their last two matchups. 

Going back to last December, the Scarlet Knights and the Spartans ended the first half of their game tied up at 26 points each. However, the Spartans came back out in the second half and finished them off 62-52 though it is worth noting that it was a four-point game with less than five minutes left on the clock in the second half before Michigan State pulled away. Then, back in January, the Scarlet Knights took the Spartans to overtime, narrowly losing 76-72.

Rutgers is off to a strong start this season, but the only winning team they have beaten is a 4-2 Eastern Michigan team. 

A possible area of concern for the Spartans on Friday night is matching the size of the Scarlet Knights, according to Izzo.

“For some reason, we’ve hit this stretch of a lot of teams that are very, very big,” Izzo said. 

Rutgers’ starting point guard Geo Baker measures in at 6-foot-4, three inches taller than MSU point guard Cassius Winston. Rutgers also features 6-foot-10 forward Issa Thiam and 7'0'' center Shaquille Doorson, both of which could create problems for the Spartans' big men inside the paint.

“I think they’re very well coached,” Izzo said. “Steve’s (Pikiell) a great coach, very defensive. It reminds me of my teams in my early days here. A very tough, physical, defensive team and is getting better offensively.”

Tipoff against the Scarlet Knights is set for 6 p.m. at the Rutgers Athletic Center.

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