Rutgers guard Geo Baker (0) shoots over Illinois guard Trent Frazier during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Piscataway, N.J., in this Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger, File)
- #23 Michigan State (7-3) hosts #15 Rutgers (7-2) on Tuesday, Jan. 5, at 9:00 pm ET
- The Spartans have lost three of four and the Scarlet Knights have lost two of three, all within Big Ten conference play
- The odds for the game, as well as matchup analysis and a pick, can be found in the article below
Being a member of the powerhouse Big Ten conference has its upsides and its downsides for basketball programs: your RPI is bound to be sky high at the end of the season, but it’ll be a heck of a journey to get there.
Both Michigan State and Rutgers are going through a bit of a rough patch lately, with mini skids entering Tuesday’s 9:00 pm ET matchup in East Lansing, Mich. The Spartans have lost three of four, while the Scarlet Knights have dropped two of their past three.
Michigan State vs Rutgers Odds
|Michigan State||TBD||-1 (+105)||Over 151.5 (-110)|
|Rutgers||TBD||+1 (-125)||Under 151.5 (-110)|
Odds as of Jan. 4th, 2020.
How They’ve Fared So Far
Michigan State’s highs and lows this season can be distilled to their games that bookended the month of December. On Dec. 1, the Spartans beat then-#6 Duke, 75-69, on the road. They ripped off a 13-2 run late in the first half and never looked back, maintaining a lead for the final 22 minutes of the game.
But on Dec. 28, Michigan State capped 2020 with its third loss in a row — this time, by a score of 81-56 against Minnesota. The Spartans were unconscionably bad inside the arc (26.7 percent) and no better beyond it (24 percent). Sometimes you just go cold, I guess.
Then again, are the Spartans simply cold as a team? They rebounded in their most recent game to beat an OK Nebraska team (116th in KenPom) by seven. That Duke win looks less and less impressive, given that the Blue Devils are 3-2 this year without an impressive win.
Rutgers is coming off of a two-point loss to #5 Iowa, and two weeks ago the Scarlet Knights were dealt a 12-point loss to Ohio State (20th in KenPom). Otherwise, they’ve been pretty darn good.
Looking closer at the Iowa game, Rutgers was plagued by its biggest weakness this year: free throws.
Defense (@dean_reiber) ⏩ Offense (@Geo_Baker_1).@RutgersMBB has impressed on both sides so far. pic.twitter.com/EqAHf4NwgB
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) January 2, 2021
The Scarlet Knights are 322nd in NCAA Division I in free throw percentage (60.5 percent), and they made just 4-of-12 at the line against the Hawkeyes. In tight games, free throws have the potential to be Rutgers’ nemesis time after time — so far, it has only really bitten them once.
2021 Naismith College Basketball Player of the Year Odds Tracker
Michigan State is ice cold against the spread, having failed to cover in seven consecutive games, four of which have come by an ATS margin of 11 or more points. That also means they haven’t covered against a Big Ten opponent yet.
On the season, the Spartans are 2-8 ATS. They’ve been favored all but once, when they earned a straight up win as 4-point underdogs versus Duke.
Rutgers is a more palatable 5-3-1 ATS, having covered in five of their past six games (and four of five in conference matchups). The Scarlet Knights are 2-2-1 ATS this season as favorites.
In the past three seasons, Rutgers has covered in four of five matchups with Michigan State. The Spartans have won all five of those games straight up, though.
The last time these teams played was way back on Dec. 8, 2019. Michigan State won, 77-65, failing to cover a juicy 14.5-point spread. Four of the Scarlet Knights’ top five scorers from that game are back, including junior guard Ron Harper, who has been one of the best players in the nation.
Don’t forget to block out Ron Harper Jr. on the FT 😱 pic.twitter.com/H5HCExnCPz
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 2, 2021
The Spartans return two of their top four scorers, but the losses of Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman are clearly weighing heavy this season. For all sorts of reasons — not the least of which is Michigan State’s ATS record this year — Rutgers should be your selection here.
Pick: Rutgers -1 (+105)
Jordan Horrobin is a sports journalist whose MLB, NHL, NFL and NCAA work has appeared in outlets such as The Athletic, MLB.com, the Detroit Free Press and more. He is currently based in Toronto, also working as a contributor for Forbes.com and a freelance editor for Sportsnet.