In this matchup between Big Ten rivals, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and Michigan State Spartans battle for a victory that will be very important in March.
Tuesday at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center will feature two teams who are not currently inline with their pre-season expectations. In the pre-season poll, the Michigan State Spartans were ranked No. 13 and after their three-win week versus Duke, Detroit Mercy, and Western Michigan the Spartans were ranked No. 4 and resembling the team that was supposed to be tier behind the Big Ten favorites; Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa.
Since their 6-0 non-conference start, the Spartans have gone 1-3 with losses to Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. As a result, the Spartans are resembling a team that is more likely to be fighting for a single bye in the Big Ten tournament than they resemble a possible top ten team in the nation.
Fortunately for the Head Coach Tom Izzo and the Spartans, they had the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Saturday who are always a welcomed sight for a team in a slump and were able to capture their first win in Big Ten play.
Head Coach Steve Pikiell and Rutgers have started their Big Ten season at 3-2. A record that could have been better if not for Jacob Young having to leave a game versus Ohio State in the second half and for having to lose to Iowa by two points on Saturday. Even with those two losses, the Scarlet Knights is exceeding preseason expectations, which were their highest in decades, and they look like they belong in that second-tier of Big Ten contenders.
Almost every spot on the court has a story to be told in this first of two matchups this month. The plot begins in the paint, then as it progresses to the free-throw line where a hero may emerge and as the shots get deeper so does the conflict of this story. Ultimately the team that sticks together and overcomes the obstacles placed in front of them by their foe will win the hearts of the AP voters.