|4:30 ET, Feb 1, 2020
Madison Square Garden, New York, New York
No. 25 Rutgers to face Michigan on the big stage
With seven conference wins, the Rutgers basketball team already has equaled its Big Ten victory total from last season.
And the surprising Scarlet Knights get an extra treat on Saturday as they continue their surprising surge toward the top of the conference standings. Ranked 25th in the nation, Rutgers will face Michigan at New York's Madison Square Garden.
"These guys will be excited to play at the Garden," coach Steve Pikiell said. "The Garden's a really special place, as everyone knows. It'll be a fun venue."
Pikiell is quite familiar with the building from his playing days at Connecticut. Most of his players never have set foot on the court.
"It's going to be a humbling experience to be playing on the same court that NBA players play on, so I'm excited and looking forward to it," forward Akwasi Yeboah told 247 Sports.
Rutgers (16-5, 7-3 Big Ten) has won 10 of its past 12 and four of its past five. In their last conquest, they downed Purdue 70-63 on Tuesday by building a 17-point second-half lead and holding off the Boilermakers' late rally.
"We had to play hard the whole game," Pikiell said. "Everyone chipped in, playing nine guys double-figure minutes. We needed everybody, every fan to help us. I thought we got back to Rutgers basketball, which is playing defense and being tough."
Pikiell's club has been grinding out victories with a balanced offensive attack. Their top six scorers are averaging between 8.0 and 12.0 points.
Michigan won the only meeting between the schools last season, 77-65.
The Wolverines (12-8, 3-6) snapped a four-game losing streak with a 79-68 victory at Nebraska on Tuesday. Guard Eli Brooks led the way with 20 points, nine rebounds and four assists as the Wolverines overcame the absences of point guard Zavier Simpson and forward Isaiah Livers.
Simpson was suspended the day before the game for violating team rules while Livers was sidelined by a hip injury.
Simpson had appeared in all 135 games over his four seasons with the program. He leads the nation in assists, averaging 8.3 per game.
"Anyone, one through 16, I will hold accountable," coach Juwan Howard said. "You break a team rule, you break a team rule, no matter who you are. No one is bigger or better than the team."
Michigan had not won a Big Ten road game until it pulled away from the Cornhuskers. Brandon Johns Jr. had 16 points and seven rebounds filling in for Livers.
"We needed that. A lot of people stepped up," freshman forward Franz Wagner told the Detroit News. "I think Brandon was incredible, the offensive rebounds. He dominated, especially in the second half. Maybe he didn't score the most points, but that's stuff to me that wins these type of games, where you have to scrap when we have two of our best players down."
While Saturday's game will be played at a neutral site, most of the crowd will be pulling for the Scarlet Knights. Getting a victory in a hostile environment on Tuesday gave the Wolverines a confidence boost.
"It was a huge win for us," Howard said. "We came (to Lincoln, Neb.) without two of our best players. It's good to get a road win."
--Field Level Media
Updated January 31, 2020