The Big Ten season kicks off this Sunday when the Rutgers Scarlet Knights go to visit the No. 11 Michigan St. Spartans. Rutgers comes into this one off a loss to Pittsburgh in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, but they have looked solid out of the gate, posting a 6-2 record. As the season has progress, Rutgers has looked more and more dominant against lower-level opposition, suggesting that they may be improving just in time for the Big Ten season. Michigan State has a less appealing record of 5-3, but their losses came to Kentucky, Virginia Tech, and Duke. The losses are certainly not ideal, but they are nothing to panic about.
Rutgers shows signs of improvementSince joining the Big Ten, Rutgers has been somewhat of a break for other teams in the conference. They have not seen a winning Big Ten record since joining and can always be found near the bottom of the standings. This season, they look to be improving, stringing together dominant wins over Stephen F. Austin, NJIT, and UMass before losing to Pittsburgh by 11. Of course, none of those teams are world-beaters, but Rutgers handled them all by double figures and the latter two by over 20. In all three wins, the Scarlet Knights did not allow their opponents to reach the 60 point mark. That defense which is allowing an average of 61.2 points per game, will need to hold stronger than ever to have any chance against the Spartans.
To keep up with a team as dominant as Michigan St. the offense will have to do its job as well. Rutgers' downfall in the past has been a great defense and very little offense. They seem to be inching away from that this season, putting up an average of 73.9 points per game through their first eight. With a 47 percent team field goal percentage despite below-average three-point shooting, they have shown very good shot selection. Ron Harper Jr. has led the way with 13.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. His 52 percent field goal percentage is just the kind of consistency Rutgers needs to make the most of their offensive opportunities on Sunday.
Michigan St. aims to get back in the top 10Michigan St. did themselves no favors with their non-conference schedule and it shows through their 5-3 record. Still, playing such high-level competition could pay off in the Big Ten season and even further down the road. As usual, they are a balanced team with a strong offense and defense. Despite the top competition they have played, the Spartans still only give up an average of 67.5 points per game and opponents shoot just 40 percent from the field. While Rutgers' offense is improving, they are not ready to deal with that type of pressure from a team as good as Michigan St.
Offensively, the Spartans have looked very good, putting up 80.1 points per game with a 47 percent field goal percentage. Consistency can always be expected from the Spartans offense. They have failed to score 75 points just twice this season and both resulted in losses. 75 points would certainly do the job against a slow-paced team like Rutgers. Cassius Winston is likely to be a problem for Rutgers. He averages 17.1 points and 6.1 assists per game. He also leads the team in threes and shoots from a 37 percent mark from deep. This is trouble for the defense of Rutgers which relies on forcing outside shots and not letting offenses get in deep. Players like Winston who can still score from the outside can exploit their system.
- Rutgers is 1-4-1 ATS in their last six games against teams with winning records
Trends from DonBest:
- Michigan St. is 5-0 ATS in their last five Sunday games
- 7-3 ATS in their last 10 game following an ATS loss