Rutgers prepares for No. 10 Michigan State
After losing to a top-25 team in Iowa three nights ago, the Rutgers men’s basketball team will now have to go on the road to take on another ranked team — this one in the top 10. So it goes for life in the Big Ten.
But the Scarlet Knights (12-13, 5-10) aren’t just traveling anywhere, they will be going to the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Michigan where Michigan State boasts a robust home record of 56-6 in the last four seasons, including a 12-1 showing this season.
“Michigan State is the best team in the league,” said head coach Steve Pikiell. “They've got really good players and a Hall of Fame coach. They'll be ready and well-coached. They play really good at home.”
The No. 10 Spartans' (21-5, 12-3) only loss at home this season came a little more than two weeks ago when it lost to Indiana in an overtime thriller. Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped Michigan State from standing atop the conference standings alongside in-state rival No. 7 Michigan.
Although last year Rutgers came close to upsetting the then No. 4 Spartans inside the very same arena the two teams will be playing in tonight, the home team secured the win halting what would have been a monumental upset.
Still, the Knights always seem to play Michigan State tough, just as recently as this season losing a hard-fought 78-67 match inside a sold-out Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) on Nov. 30. Since then, this young Knights squad has begun to define themselves and even Michigan State's head coach Tom Izzo is taking notice.
“One thing they have is great depth,” Izzo said. “They're going to just keep throwing people at us. I have a lot of respect for the job Steve Pikiell has done with them. This team is so much better. Everybody has gotten a little bit better.”
As evidenced by its near upset over the No. 21 Hawkeyes over the weekend, Rutgers has gotten better, not only from last season to this season, but from game-to-game.
And although it will be tough for a young team possibly still reeling from that heartbreak a few nights ago, Pikiell will make sure his players are ready for the next challenge.
“Sometimes you’re going to win games you’re supposed to lose, and sometimes you lose games you’re supposed to win. Iowa was one of those and now we move on,” Pikiell said.
The Knights better move on quick because the Spartans are no easy task as they are the only Big Ten team who rank in the top 50 in both scoring offense (34th) and scoring defense (46th).
And even though Rutgers is one of the tallest teams in the country — sixth to be exact — they will still have trouble containing Michigan State on the glass as it has hauled in the fourth-most rebounds in the nation.
On top of that, the Knights will need to be aware of the Spartans’ guard Cassius Winston all game.
“He’s their maestro,” Pikiell said. “They’ve got the best quarterback in the league and (we) have got to stop him.”
But Rutgers has a pretty good point guard of its own in sophomore guard Geo Baker who will look to build on a decent performance against Michigan State last time out inside the RAC where he scored 10 points on 4-13 shooting.
Couple Baker and junior forward Eugene Omoruyi with the onslaught of freshman talent making its way to the forefront and the Knights believe they can beat anybody, anywhere, any time. And where better to show it than on the road against the best team in the conference?
“I love the enthusiasm around our program,” Pikiell said. “Our guys keep getting better. There are some exciting opportunities coming up with some huge games in front of us.”
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