The stakes will be high and the stage will be grand when Rutgers and Michigan State head to Madison Square Garden for the annual Big Ten Super Saturday matchup in New York.
Both programs are trying to make headway in the jam-packed Big Ten Conference, with the Spartans (14-8, 6-5) having lost four of six and the Scarlet Knights (15-7, 7-4) winners of four of six. Rutgers enters the weekend tied for second in the league with Illinois; Michigan State is part of a six-way tie at 6-5.
Rutgers is the designated home team for the matchup, and the NCAA told the program this week that it will also count as a home team for the purposes of the NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool) rankings rather than a neutral-site game. That means it will be a Quadrant 2 game for Rutgers rather than a Quadrant 1 game.
The Scarlet Knights fired on all cylinders their last time out, thrashing Minnesota at home 90-55. Cam Spencer led six players in double figures with 17 points, reserve Oskar Palmquist broke out for a career-high 13 points and the team shot 59.7 percent overall, including 65.7 percent (23 of 35) in the second half.
Coach Steve Pikiell said the team's 30 assists on 37 field goals "says it all."
"It really starts with Paul," Pikiell said of Paul Mulcahy, who notched his 400th career assist. "But all these guys, Cam, I mean, they can all pass the basketball. They embrace the success of a teammate."
Michigan State has been off since falling 77-61 at No. 1 Purdue on Sunday. Two of its past three losses have come against the Boilermakers, who got a career-high 38 points from star center Zach Edey.
A.J. Hoggard led Michigan State with 20 points and six assists. The Spartans drew within 10 with more than 11 minutes left but never got closer.
"He needs to run our team. He did do a nice job of that," coach Tom Izzo said of Hoggard. "When you get it to 10, that's when (former player Cassius Winston would say), you know, let's get a good shot, let's slow down. We throw it ahead, we got a couple guys that just go like a bat out of hell. We gotta control that."
Rutgers had won two straight games in the all-time series before losing at Michigan State 70-57 on Jan. 19.
Five Spartans scored in double figures that day, led by Hoggard (16 points, seven assists). Jaxon Kohler had a double-double off the bench (12 points, 11 rebounds).
It's Rutgers' third appearance in the Super Saturday event. They lost their previous two trips to MSG.
"I'm just really excited," Palmquist said. "I'm from Sweden, so I've been dreaming about playing in an arena like that my whole life."
--Field Level Media