Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Preview: Redemption on the line for MSU men's basketball against Rutgers

January 13, 2024
Graduate student forward Malik Hall (25) dribbles the ball during a game against Hillsdale at the Breslin Center on Oct. 25, 2023. The Spartans defeated the Chargers 85-43.
Graduate student forward Malik Hall (25) dribbles the ball during a game against Hillsdale at the Breslin Center on Oct. 25, 2023. The Spartans defeated the Chargers 85-43.

After narrowly falling to No. 10 Illinois on Thursday, the 9-7 Michigan State men’s basketball team will look to put its 1-4 start in Big Ten play behind it and take advantage of its favorable schedule for the next month, starting Sunday at noon against Rutgers in East Lansing. 

The Spartans, ranked No. 4 in the nation to begin the season, fell out of the Top 25 in early Dec. following losses to James Madison, Duke and Arizona. They dropped their first two games in conference play before embarking on a five-game win streak over the holiday break. Then, Michigan State suffered consecutive setbacks on the road at Northwestern and Illinois. 

MSU was simply outplayed and out-coached in their 88-74 defeat in Evanston. Failure to get to the free-throw line with consistency cost them against Illinois — the Fighting Illini shot 22 and made 18 free throws while MSU shot just seven and made five.  

Now more than ever, head coach Tom Izzo and his squad need to start picking up wins in conference play; they have the personnel and schedule to do so. In the team’s six away games played this season, MSU is a measly 1-5 with its lone win coming against Baylor in Detroit. 

Though the odds are stacked against the Spartans in the Big Ten, they’re not out of the picture yet. If there’s a team to overcome such an underwhelming, disappointing start to the season, it would likely be a team led by five upperclassmen and a Hall-of-Fame coach. MSU’s next three contests — at home versus Rutgers and Minnesota and away at Maryland — all present them with the opportunity to rebound and find a groove that will stick. 

Rutgers, led by head coach Steve Pikiell, enter the Breslin Center on four days’ rest, fresh off a nine-point victory at home against Indiana on Tuesday. The Scarlet Knights sit at 1-3 in the Big Ten and 9-6 overall.

Pikiell as the head coach has resurrected Rutgers’ basketball with its recent 2021 and 2022 NCAA tournament appearances, the first in three decades. Pikiell has also landed two of the nation’s top five 2024 recruits, according to ESPN, Dylan Harper and Ace Bailey. What was once essentially a bye game for the Spartans has evolved into a perennial intraconference showdown. 

The Scarlet Knights are led by starting center Clifford Omoruyi, a familiar face for Spartan fans, alongside LSU transfer leading scorer Aundre Hyatt on the wing. MSU will need all hands on deck in the paint to neutralize Omoruyi while staying solid on the perimeter. Additionally, forward Mawot Mag has assumed a larger role than that of a year ago, reaching double figures in Rutgers’ last three games highlighted by a 24-point outing versus Iowa. 

Rutgers has struggled shooting from outside this year, shooting just over 28 percent from three-point range. This will allow Izzo and Michigan State to focus on limiting the Scarlet Knights in the paint. But, as college basketball watchers know all too well, teams get hot shooting the ball. The Spartans will have to hope that isn’t the case Sunday afternoon. 

MSU and Rutgers will tip off at noon at the Breslin Center on Sunday, Jan. 14.

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