Happy Sunday Spartans. In just a couple hours, MSU will tip off at home against The Rutgers Scarlet Knights. It is a chance for MSU to get a win after a pair of road defeats ended their 5-game winning streak. Here to discuss today’s opponent is Greg Patuto from On The Banks. Let’s see what we can learn about Rutgers.
TOC: This is year 8 under head coach Steve Pikiell. Rutgers made it to the NCAA Tournament twice under his leadership, and last year got bounced in the first round of the NIT. How hot is Pikiell’s seat this season?
GP: Pikiell’s seat isn’t even the slightest bit warm. He took over this program at the very bottom and has transformed them into a competent team that comes into each year with NCAA Tournament hopes. This year, it’s a bit of a gap year waiting for 2024-25. Also, Pikiell recruited a top three class in the nation for 2024 led by Dylan Harper and Ace Bailey. For now, Pikiell is comfortably in his role and should be for a long time.
TOC: Rutgers is currently sitting at 9-6 overall and, like Michigan State, 1-3 at the bottom of the Big Ten standings. Having watched the Scarlet Knights this year, do they have the feel of a 9-6 team, or is this a team who could possibly have won more or lost more games? What is the best case scenario for this team for the remainder of the season?
GP: Every team could have switched a win to a loss or a loss to a win at some point but Rutgers is about where they belong. Fans were hoping to get back to the tournament this season, especially after a slight snub last year, but the personnel just isn’t there. Paul Mulcahy and Cam Spencer transferred out for their final seasons and left big holes to fill. This team would have to go on a serious run to be considered for a tournament spot.
TOC: Senior forward Mawot Mag missed the first 8 games this year? Is he up to speed now or does he still have another level you expect him to return to? Clifford Omoruyi was Rutgers’ leading scorer last season, but his average is down this year. What has been the biggest factor behind that? Aundre Hyatt has become the leading scorer. How is he most dangerous offensively?
GP: Mag proved to be one of the most important players for Rutgers last season. Once he went down with a torn ACL, the team felt the impact and struggled to fill his role. This season, you can see him being a bit more aggressive offensively and Rutgers has needed that. He is an elite defender though and that is where he excels. Mag can definitely hit another gear as the season goes on but he has reached this one pretty quickly.
As for Omoruyi, there are holes in his game and this is something I have said since he was a freshman. Yes, the potential is there and he is a crazy athlete but he is very raw and that is something that should have been improved over four years. He is not a big that can catch the ball with his back to the basket and score in the post. Omoruyi has also struggled to shoot the ball. His offensive production is way down but he continues to rebound well and play exceptional defense.
Hyatt is a fearless player. He can heat up quickly and is not afraid to shoot out of a slump. He just brings. abig body with strength that can score at all three levels. He is another player that has shown a different level of aggressiveness this season and that needs to continue because Rutgers has gone through many cold stretches this season.
TOC: Rutgers is at or near the bottom in a number of offensive categories in the Big Ten (scoring, FG%, 3P%). Conversely, Rutgers is near the top in rebounding, particularly offensive boards, and leads the conference in blocked shots. Knowing their strengths and weaknesses, how has Rutgers been adjusting their game plans as this season progresses?
GP: The offense was expected to be a fast-paced unit this year. That has not worked out because the team doesn’t shoot well. Games for Rutgers will need to be played in the 60s-70s but like we saw against Iowa, there is also the ability for opponents to score upwards of 80 and 90.
The game plan for Rutgers is to play strong defense and make it difficult for the opponent. That has to be the plan if it wants to win some games.
TOC: What is the number one thing Rutgers must do Sunday to beat MSU?
GP: Exactly what I mentioned above. Rutgers has to make this game ugly and keep it low scoring. It is unlikely that it will be able to keep up with high-scoring teams. If Michigan State gets comfortable early and exploits some weaknesses, it could be a long night.
TOC: Bonus question: Predict the final score.
GP: Michigan State 77, Rutgers 69
TOC wishes to thank Greg for his help in this piece, especially since he is predicting a Spartan victory.
GO GREEN! GO WHITE!