The Michigan State Basketball team will finish up their season series with the Minnesota Golden Gophers Wednesday night at the Breslin Center. The Spartans enter the game after dropping their first Big Ten game at the Palestra vs Penn State which had their overall four-game winning streak snapped. That four- game streak was the longest of the season for MSU. Though losing to the Nittany Lions, MSU still sits atop of the Big Ten standings with Nebraska, Purdue, and Minnesota.
The Golden Gophers come into to Wednesday night’s game on a three game winning streak of their own, not losing since the first time these two met up to open up the Big Ten portion of the schedule. The Gophers also find themselves in the AP Top 25 poll sitting at #24 overall.
The First Matchup
Just two weeks ago the Spartans and Golden Gophers met in Minneapolis to open up the Big Ten season. The game saw a strong effort from the Gophers in the first half leading at the break by 13 points. The second half was a different story as Michigan State found life and Minnesota did not have an answer for freshman Nick Ward in the post. Senior guard Alvin Ellis also saw increased minutes in the game becoming a huge factor for Michigan State who forced overtime and left “The Barn” with their first Big Ten victory of the season. Ward, Ellis, and Tum Tum Nairn provided most of the scoring for MSU putting up 22, 20, and 13 respectively.
Looking at Minnesota
Minnesota is getting hot at the right time looking to push themselves well into the NCAA postseason conversation. Since their home loss to the Spartans, the Gophers have won three straight games, the first coming on the road at then #15 ranked Purdue Boilermakes. The Gophers then went into Evanston and took down an improved Northwestern team and finally a home win against a reeling Ohio State Buckeyes team. During their strong week of play freshman guard Amir Coffey was awarded with the Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors for averaging 18 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists during their last two games.
The Gophers have also turned up the intensity on the defensive end of the floor allowing opponents to connect on less than 40% of their field goal attempts, which leads the Big Ten and is top 20 in the nation. Forward Reggie Lynch has continued his strong defensive effort while leading the Big Ten in blocks per game with just over 3.
Keys to the game
In the first meeting, Michigan State got off to a very slow start only scoring 26 points in the first half. This was due to their struggles defensively and turnovers. Michigan State has continued to have slow starts in three of their four Big Ten games and that could be a difference the second time around. The Spartans cannot wait until the second half to wake up.
In the first meet, Minnesota had no answer for Nick Ward. Without Miles Bridges on the floor, Ward was the first scoring option and dominated anyone the Gophers threw at him. Now with Bridges back, both of the freshman have had some trouble gelling together while both being on the floor. If both Ward and Bridges have high-powered games, their talent alone may be too much for the Gophers to stop.
The up and down play from guards Tum Tum Nairn and Cassius Winston must be concerning for MSU head coach Tom Izzo. Winston got off to a very hot start being a distributor and scorer on the floor for MSU. In his last 2 games Winston has only scored 7 points combined while also committing 4 turnovers along with 10 combined assists. Nairn on the other hand has finally turned into a scoring guard after waiting through his the first two years of his career at MSU. In his last two games Nairn has scored a combined 15 points while doing a great job at driving to the basket. The defensive effort from his guards is what has frustrated Izzo. Winston has figured it out on the offensive end but has yet to put it all together defensively. Good guard play could be the difference in this game
MSU took another tournament resume hit to Penn State last Saturday. The committee will look at the game as a neutral site game rather as a road loss because of it taking place at the Palestra. At this point it is simple for MSU. Win the games you are supposed to win and you will be dancing. The Spartans need to defend home court and with students and the Izzone returning it should be a fun one at the Breslin on Wednesday night
Michigan State-79, Minnesota-72