PREVIEW: Michigan State heads to Madison Square Garden to face Rutgers


Sarah Smith

Jaden Akins and Tyson Walker celebrate after a basket during Michigan State’s victory over Brown on December 10, 2022. Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM

Caden Handwork, General Assignment Reporter

EAST LANSING – The Michigan State men’s basketball team returns to action as they face off against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Saturday, Feb. 4. The Spartans will play at Madison Square Garden for the first time since Nov. 9, 2021, when they faced Kansas in the Champions Classic. 

The Spartans lead the all-time series against Rutgers 12-2 and they came out on top with a 70-57 win the last time they met on Jan. 19.  

While it was an unusually poor shooting performance for Rutgers when they last visited East Lansing, the Scarlet Knights look to remain in the top-three in the Big Ten standings with a win at one of basketball’s greatest arenas. 

The Scarlet Knights defeated Minnesota 90-55 earlier in the week to improve their conference record to 7-4. It was their largest win since joining the Big Ten conference back in 2014.

Currently, Rutgers sits behind second-place Illinois in the conference standings and could make a push past them with a win over the Spartans and a favorable result elsewhere. 

On the other hand, the Spartans are coming off a 77-61 loss to No. 1 Purdue, where their star center Zach Edey once again set a new career-high against the Spartans. Edey led the Boilermakers with 38 points and sent a disappointed group of Spartans back to East Lansing.   

The Spartans dropped to eighth place in the standings and are tied with five other teams with a 6-5 record in the Big Ten. 

Keys for Rutgers:

In their last meeting in East Lansing, the Scarlet Knights started out fast against the Spartans before a late first-half rally and quality performances by MSU point guards A.J. Hoggard and Tyson Walker gave the Spartans the 70-57 win. 

The key for the Scarlet Knights will be to win the rebounding battle and the play of Clifford Omoruyi.

Rutgers out-rebounded the Spartans 42-34 and Omoruyi started out fast scoring the first four points of the game for the Scarlet Knights before finishing with a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.

Rutgers had 18 offensive rebounds in the game, which didn’t impress the Michigan State coaching staff. 

Rutgers will also need to get key contributions as they did on Wednesday night against Minnesota from Cam Spencer and Caleb McConnell.

Spencer finished with a game-high 17 points while shooting 3-3 from three-point range.

According to KenPom, Rutgers is ranked second in adjusted defense (86.5) and 122nd in adjusted offensive efficiency (106.4). 

Keys for Michigan State:

The key for the Spartans to snatch a win at MSG will ultimately come down to the matchup between centers Mady Sissoko and Omoruyi. If Sissoko finds himself getting into foul trouble on Saturday, it will put more pressure on the young talents of Jaxon Kohler and Carson Cooper to perform well on defense to help the Spartans earn a win.

The Spartans’ backcourt is among one of the best in the Big Ten conference as well as one of the fastest with Hoggard and Walker leading the team. 

While Hoggard recorded 20 points against No. 1 Purdue last weekend, Walker struggled to put points on the board. Walker is averaging 9.8 points per game in his last four games. 

Jaden Akins and Malik Hall will also be key pieces for the Spartans on the wings. Head coach Tom Izzo said multiple times after the game against Purdue that Akins is quickly becoming a crucial piece of the starting lineup. 

After the trip to New York City, the Spartans will return home to face off against the Maryland Terrapins on Tuesday, Feb. 6. Tip-off against Rutgers at Madison Square Garden is scheduled for noon on Saturday, Feb. 4.