The Big Ten’s rough and tumble life continues on Tuesday with a top-25 match between the no. 15 Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the no. 23 Michigan State Spartans. The Spartans are a slim 1-point favorite with the over/under listed at 151 points at home.
Despite losing two of their last three games, the Scarlet Knights have to be pleased with their season thus far. Rutgers is 3-2 inside a loaded Big Ten, including an upset of Illinois. They also lost by two points against a top-10 Iowa team over the weekend. In other words, losing two out of three games isn’t a sign that the Scarlet Knights are struggling.
Of course, it’s unclear if the same can be said of the Spartans. Over the weekend, Michigan State knocked off Nebraska to stop a three-game losing streak that included a blowout loss against Minnesota and a disappointing 14-point loss to Northwestern. On the bright side, Michigan State has non-conference wins over Notre Dame and Duke. But the Spartans are 1-3 inside the Big Ten, a league with no easy games.
Do We Have a Backcourt?
As expected, the Spartans have had difficulty replacing point guard Cassius Winston from last year’s team. MSU’s guard play has been a little lacking early in the season. Rocket Watts and Joshua Langford have been solid but unspectacular, as both are being forced into a much larger role than last season. Watts was huge in the win over Duke but has gone five straight games without scoring in double figures. Langford, meanwhile, has been up and down this season. Both he and Watts were dreadful in the blowout loss to Minnesota.
Fortunately for the Spartans, they have some serious talent in the frontcourt. Marquette transfer Joey Hauser has fit right in as MSU’s second-leading scorer and top rebounder. Meanwhile, versatile wing Aaron Henry is doing everything for the Spartans, including leading the team in both points and assists. But without better guard play, Michigan State is a little too reliant on Henry and Hauser.
Like Father, Like Son
Rutgers has been led this season by Ron Harper Jr., the son of a 15-year NBA veteran and five-time NBA champion. The younger Harper has emerged as one of the best players in the Big Ten. He’s averaging 22 points for the Scarlet Knights, shooting 48% from the perimeter while showing the toughness to score inside. Harper plays a little bigger than his 6’6″ frame, helping him average seven rebounds per game.
The Scarlet Knights also have a nice supporting cast around Harper. Jacob Young and Montez Mathis both average over 15 points per game and shoot better than 40% from three-point range. Meanwhile, the return of senior point guard Geo Baker over the last five games has helped the Rutgers offense flow a lot easier. Compared to the previous season, the Scarlet Knights aren’t as reliant on winning ugly, defensive battles; they have several capable scorers on the floor at all times.
Beware the Knights
Despite a win in their last game, the Spartans have been uninspiring since the start of Big Ten play. Also, MSU’s inconsistency at guard is a concern against a versatile Rutgers team. Bet on the Scarlet Knights to steal a win at the Breslin Center on Tuesday night.