The state of Michigan is home to two well-known college basketball programs. The Michigan Wolverines and Michigan State Spartans have established themselves as regular contenders in the Big Ten and compete for national titles with their best teams.
But sports bettors view the teams’ seasons drastically different, so far. No. 10 Michigan has proved to be one of the best teams in the country at covering the spread, while the No. 23 Spartans have struggled to a 1-3 start in Big Ten play. MSU currently ranks as one of the worst teams against the spread.
Just 13 teams that have played in at least three games have a worse cover percentage than MSU, which is 2-8 against the spread this season.
Michigan State is currently a one-point favorite for Tuesday’s 9 p.m. matchup against Rutgers. The Spartans opened as two-point favorites, and the total is currently at 151 after opening at 153.5.
Michigan State’s struggles
Michigan State (7-3, 1-3) won a conference game on Saturday. Granted, it was against the Big Ten’s worst team, Nebraska (84-77), but when you’re a team that struggled as much as MSU did in its first three conference games, you’ll take anything.
The biggest takeaway about MSU — besides blowing another cover — was the emergence of freshman A.J. Hoggard, who earned his first career start against the Cornhuskers. MSU has searched for a reliable starting point guard all season. Whether it was Foster Loyer to start the year or moving Rocket Watts from a wing to the team’s primary ballhandler, the Spartans have lacked flow and consistency from the point-guard position.
The best one can say about Hoggard was that he was a reliable distributor in his debut. He had five assists and only one turnover in 23 minutes and had four points in making two of his three shot attempts. It was decent and didn’t hurt the Spartans, which was what they needed. Too often MSU’s perimeter players have settled for wild running layups or terrible midrange jumpers with hands in their faces. With Hoggard, the Spartans had a clear facilitator looking to work within the offense.
“I thought A.J. played pretty good for his first start,” MSU coach Tom Izzo told reporters after the game.
There were times when State’s best players lived up to the preseason hype that projected MSU as a top 10 team. Aaron Henry had one of his best shooting performances, converting on 10 of 16 shots including 3 of 5 from 3-point range for 27 points.
MSU even appeared poised to cover the closing line of -7.5 with a 64-50 lead with just 11:34 remaining in the game. But Nebraska rallied and played the foul game in the final minute of the contest.
Then it was heartbreak for MSU backers.
Leading 82-77, Loyer went to the line for two shots with 15 seconds left. Loyer is an 82% free-throw shooter but missed one, giving MSU an 83-77 lead.
Still, the Spartans got a stop and another foul put Malik Hall at the line and an MSU cover was still possible. Hall converted the first, and then clanked the second off the back of the rim to the dismay of those holding MSU tickets. Another failed cover for the Spartans.
The No. 15 Scarlet Knights (7-2, 3-2) have beaten and played with the league’s elite talent already. Rutgers topped No. 13 Illinois 91-88 on Jan. 20 and held a double-digit second-half lead at Ohio State before losing 80-68.
Rutgers nearly pulled off another upset on Saturday, falling 77-75 to No. 5 Iowa. Those who have backed the Scarlet Knights have profited, with Rutgers holding a 7-2 record against the spread this season.
The KenPom rankings also see the Scarlet Knights as an elite team, ranking them No. 19 in efficiency rate in the country.
Ron Harper Jr., son of the former Chicago Bulls guard, leads the team with 22.1 points per contest.