Busting Brackets

Michigan State vs. Rutgers: 2020-21 college basketball game preview, TV schedule

Michigan State's Joshua Langford, right, scores as Rutgers' Myles Johnson defends during the second half on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.210105 Msu Rutgers 163a
Michigan State's Joshua Langford, right, scores as Rutgers' Myles Johnson defends during the second half on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.210105 Msu Rutgers 163a /

TV schedule: Thursday, January 28, 7:00 pm ET. FS1

Arena: Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) in Piscataway, New Jersey

After hot starts to the season, both the Michigan State Spartans and Rutgers Scarlet Knights find themselves on the bubble halfway through the 2020-21 season – and now, both will face each other for the first time in 23 days, and much has happened in that short timespan in the Big Ten.

After starting the season undefeated in their first six games, the Spartans (8-4) have struggled in their last six outings.  They dropped three-straight games to end 2020 and open up Big Ten play and struggled at Nebraska – but rebounded ferociously in a 68-45 romp over the Scarlet Knights back on January 5th.

The issue for the Spartans is that their following game – a January 8th loss to Purdue, 55-54 – was their last played game.  Michigan State was forced to go on pause due to COVID-19 protocol, which could not have come at a worse time, given the Spartans’ performance against the Boilermakers, was, arguably, one of the best of their previous six games.

Despite scoring just 0.89 points per possession and shooting 46.4% (2PT) and 23.1% (3PT), the Spartans’ defense was locked in, holding the Boilermakers to 0.90 points per possession and an abysmal 12.5% (3-24) from long range – all the while recording nine blocks.  Where the Spartans ran into issues was inside, surrendering a 50.0% clip to Purdue, getting outscored 28-12 in points in the pain, and allowing big man Trevion Williams to score 26 points (9-14 2PT, 8-12 FT) and haul down nine rebounds.

Rutgers (8-6), meanwhile, has undergone an astronomical meltdown.  After appearing like one of the best teams in the Big Ten courtesy of a 6-0 start to the season – which included wins over Syracuse, Maryland, and Illinois – the Scarlet Knights have now lost six of their last eight games, which included a five-game losing streak that spanned January 2nd to the 21st.

Most recently, the Scarlet Knights snapped their losing streak in a significant 74-70 win at Indiana back on Sunday.  While Rutgers allowed the Hoosiers to shoot a deadly 10-16 (62.5%) from beyond the arc, the Scarlet Knights shut down Indiana inside, holding them to 35.0% (14-40) on two-pointers.  Rutgers’ offense recorded opposite marks, being average on three-pointers (36.4%) but being efficient inside (19-31, 61.3%).

The Scarlet Knights featured a balanced onslaught of scoring, with seven players recording seven points or more, with Geo Baker leading the way behind game-high marks of 19 points and five assists.  Ron Harper Jr., meanwhile, tallied 15 points while hauling down a career-high 12 rebounds.

Again, these two teams met back on January 5th – in what was an absolutely atrocious game for the Scarlet Knights.  Just days after their loss to Iowa – one of the best games of the season, undoubtedly – Rutgers came out flat at Michigan State, scoring just 0.66 points per possession and recording abysmal marks of 31.9% (2PT), 25.0% (3PT), and 35.3% (FT).  The Spartans outrebounded Rutgers, 45-25, en route to a dominant 68-45 win.

It’s not like the Spartans played necessarily well, either – they turned the ball over a whopping 18 times.  But they got solid performances out of Aaron Henry, Joshua Langford, and Rocket Watts – all of whom recorded double-digits with 20, 11, and 11, respectively.  Joey Hauser, meanwhile, nearly recorded a double-double with nine points and 14 rebounds.  The Spartans were effective in shutting down Rutgers’ Baker, holding him to just five points.  Harper and Jacob Young were the lone Scarlet Knights in double-figures, with 13 and 11, respectively.

That game indicates that Michigan State is the clear favorite – but they have to face the daunting task of returning from a 20-day layoff.  In that same span, the Scarlet Knights have played four games – and have had the opportunity to pick up a win that could, potentially, give the team the boost needed to overcome their sluggish stretch.

That confidence may be enough to doom Michigan State, ultimately.  We have seen teams flounder after returning from break – Clemson, after appearing like the team to beat in the ACC, has been blown out in three-straight games, while the A-10’s Saint Louis dropped their first game back from a month-long layoff.  What additionally ails the Spartans is that they were already struggling prior to their pause – and now have to bounce back from a 20-day pause.

If the Spartans hope to win, they will need to shut down the Scarlet Knights inside – something they failed to do against the Boilermakers.  Myles Johnson, Rutgers’ big man, is coming off a solid eight-point, eight-rebound, five-block, three-steal performance over Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis – one of the best players in all of college basketball.  If anything, Rutgers’ performance against the Hoosiers indicates that the Scarlet Knights are finally re-meshing together.

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A win for either team would do wonders, particularly given their struggles in, arguably, the best conference in college basketball.  But all the signs point to a reemerging Rutgers squad getting revenge on the Spartans, in a reversal of the showdown earlier this game.

Prediction: Rutgers 66 – Michigan State 59