Rutgers-Michigan St. Preview

BY foxsports • January 30, 2016

Michigan State wants to get into its halfcourt sets as fast as possible, often inbounding the ball quickly following an opponents' basket or throwing a long outlet pass after grabbing a rebound.

It's also a style that occasionally leads to turnovers, though the 12th-ranked Spartans don't feel as much wrath from their coach if they're converting regularly on other opportunities.

It certainly wouldn't be a surprise if Michigan State puts a big number on the scoreboard Sunday when it hosts a Rutgers team allowing the most points per game in the Big Ten.

The Spartans (18-4, 5-4) are averaging 12 turnovers and ranked eighth or worse in the conference in giveaways per game each season from 2006-14. They're back to eighth after finishing sixth last season and committed 15 turnovers at Northwestern on Thursday.

Michigan State overcame those mistakes, though, by hitting 16 of 26 3s in a 76-45 victory as Denzel Valentine went 5 of 7 from long distance and finished with 19 points, six rebounds and seven assists.

The Spartans rank last in the Big Ten with a minus-2.7 average turnover differential, but it leads the conference with a plus-11.2 field-goal percentage differential. That's part of the reason coach Tom Izzo was able to live with Valentine's season high-tying six turnovers against the Wildcats.

''As I'm learning more and more, and I don't really say I like it, but you make a shot, it takes away all evils,'' Izzo said after his team shot 50 percent for the first time in five games. "And we made a lot of shots.''

The Spartans have gotten it done defensively, too, ranking second in the nation in field-goal percentage defense (36.7) and rebound differential (plus-11.9 per game). Freshman Deyonta Davis has been in the starting lineup for the last four and finished with eight points, a season high-tying 11 rebounds and a season-high six blocks against the Wildcats.

He's third in the Big Ten with an average of 2.05 blocks per game, which also ranks sixth in the country among freshmen.

''I'm starting to understand,'' Davis said. ''But I give credit to my teammates because they help me along with my coaches.''

The Spartans are fourth in the conference in field-goal percentage (47.8) and points per game (81) while leading the nation by assisting on 71.4 percent of their field goals. That offensive efficiency could present fits for Rutgers, which is allowing a Big Ten-high 77.5 points per game.

The Scarlet Knights (6-15, 0-8) were better Wednesday, falling 68-57 at Michigan after dropping their previous six by an average of 28.5 points and allowing at least 90 in each of the previous four.

Mike Williams scored 17 points and freshman Corey Sanders added 15 for Rutgers, which has dropped 22 straight Big Ten games since beating Wisconsin last January at home. It is winless in 13 conference road games since joining the league last season.

Sanders has been a bright spot, though, averaging a team-high 14.1 points and ranking third in the Big Ten with 1.75 steals per game.

''We can take a lot of positives out of our last couple of games,'' coach Eddie Jordan said. ''There has been a lot of growth from our young players. Every game and every film session, we get more and more positive clips.''

Bryn Forbes had 18 points to help Michigan State overcome a 2-for-13 shooting performance from Valentine in last season's 71-51 victory at Rutgers.

The Scarlet Knights have lost 26 straight road games to ranked opponents since winning at No. 13 Pittsburgh on Jan. 26, 2008.

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