MSU Basketball vs. Minnesota Gophers game preview

After gutsy performances from seniors Keith Appling and Adreian Payne in a big home win over No. 3 Ohio State on Tuesday, the No. 5 Michigan State Spartans (14-1, 3-0 Big Ten) will welcome the Minnesota Gophers (13-3, 2-1) into the Breslin Center for another early Big Ten match up.

Tip-off is scheduled for 2:15 pm ET and will be televised on Big Ten Network.

The two teams met twice last year, splitting the season series at one a piece. The first, a 76-63 victory for the Gophers in Williams Arena behind 22 points from a then sophomore guard Andre Williams.

MSU guard Gary Harris trapped by Minnesota guards Austin Hollins (left) and Rodney Williams in the first of two match ups between the two schools last year.

Gary Harris trapped by Minnesota guards Austin Hollins (left) and Rodney Williams in the first of two match ups between the two schools last year. (Photo by Bruce Hemmelgarn/USA Today Sports)

However, the next time the two schools met, the teams certainly appeared to heading in opposite directions, as Michigan State took the second match up in East Lansing, 61-50. From there, Minnesota would finish conference play with a 3-7 record, a stretch that contributed to the eventual (although shocking it was) firing of former Gopher head coach Tubby Smith, since replaced by Richard Pitino.

The firing also led to the loss of  then Minnesota commit Alvin Ellis III, who after Smith was fired, decommited from Minnesota and was swooped up by Michigan State head basketball coach Tom Izzo a week later. Ellis is now a freshman guard for the Spartans averaging 1.9 points in 8.1 minutes per game.

Coming into this game on Saturday though, the big thing for the MSU basketball team, much like it has all year, will certainly be the state of injury and illness of the team.

***According to a report by Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press, it’s looking like Michigan State will once again be without the services of junior back up point guard Travis Trice, who sat last game and didn’t practice Thursday due to a strange illness.

And as for Adreian Payne, who was a game time decision against Ohio State due to a sprained ankle, he didn’t seem to be affected by it much at all on Tuesday after scoring 18 points in 32 minutes. And although he is said to be questionable for Saturday’s game…well, just take a look at this:

***Arrived at the Breslin Center to find out that, according to Izzo, Payne will not dress for Saturday’s game against Minnesota and Trice will dress but will see limited minutes.***

As for the guys we know will be out there on the floor Saturday though, the match up to watch will almost certainly be that of the guards. The Gophers get a huge bulk of their scoring load done by their guards and are led by two very good rebounding ones who happen to have very similar names (no relation). The first being Andre Hollins (15.8 ppg, 4.0 rbg, 3.1 apg), and the second one being Austin Hollins (12.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg).

The Spartans will counter with a very dynamic back court of their own in Appling (15.9 ppg, 4.7 apg) and sophomore guard Gary Harris (17.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg). And with Trice likely out of the lineup for the Spartans on Saturday, it’s likely sophomore guard Denzel Valentine and freshman Alvin Ellis see a significant increase in the amount of minutes and responsibility on the floor.

As for the front court, if Payne (16.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg) would be available for the Spartans, he and junior Branden Dawson (10.7 ppg, 8.6 rpg) would have a distinct advantage on the inside over Minnesota big men Oto Osenieks and Joey King. However, with Payne out,  they could run into some problems against junior center Elliott Eliason, who has proven to be both a talented rebounder and shot blocker (6.5 ppg, 8.5 rbg, 2.6 bpg).