Big Ten Co-Player of the Week Keith Appling and his #12/8 Michigan State Spartans welcome the #18/18 Minnesota Golden Gophers to the Breslin Center. The Gophers bested Michigan State in Minneapolis on New Year's Eve, but they have not won in East Lansing in more than 15 years. Game time is 6pm CT and the battle can be seen on the Big Ten Network.
Ready to Dance: Tom Izzo's team is perfect at home this year and lost only once at the Breslin Center last season (Ohio State, 72-70).
Game Preview: #18/18 Minnesota Golden Gophers (17-5, 5-4) at #12/8 Michigan State Spartans (18-4, 7-2)
Minnesota beat Michigan State 76-63 in the Big Ten opener for both teams. Since then the Spartans have gone 7-1 with a loss at Indiana being their only blemish.
The Gophers are winners of their last two, but do not have a road win over a Michigan State team in more than fifteen years. A win at Breslin Center would bolster Minnesota’s tournament resume as the Spartans will likely finish the season as a top-25 RPI team. Without a win Wednesday, Tubby Smith’s team would project to finish with a 1-6 record against top-25 RPI competition.
Who Will Play?
The first game between these teams was much closer than the final score indicates. A look at the win probability chart highlights momentum changes during the game and the fact that the Gopher starters controlled play while they were on the floor.
Roster utilization was a key to Minnesota’s season coming into the year and continues to be. On Monday’s teleconference coach Smith was asked how he would get more confidence with some of his bench players and he replied that “I’m just going to have to play them.”
The Spartans have personnel concerns of their own. Guards Gary Harris and Travis Trice were both taken out of their last game due to injury. Izzo’s freshman star Harris experienced back spasms against Illinois and is day-to-day. He’ll likely be on the floor Wednesday and has already shown the ability to play through injury throughout this season (shoulder).
Trice suffered a nasty concussion and broken nose earlier in the year and took another hit to the head in the Illinois game. Izzo’s gloomy outlook yesterday was that Trice could be out for a while, but there are not yet any reports from medical staff that another concussion was suffered.
The Spartans have little bench strength and missing either of these players would sting. Freshman Denzel Valentine could again see extended minutes against the Gophers (5p, 6r, 5a, 3to in 22 minutes at Minnesota).
Can Gophers Replicate Shooting Performance?
Minnesota’s 2-point field goal shooting (60.0%) against the Spartans remains the Gophers’ best performance through nine conference games. Nine steals and 14 offensive rebounds were major factors in the high shooting percentage.
Michigan State was able to get the ball to Derrick Nix for 15 field goal attempts, but he had a number of shots roll off the rim and finished just 5/15 from the floor. Nix had zero trips to the free throw line, but if he’s fed the ball again for 15 tries he’ll likely have more success both drawing fouls and making baskets.
Izzo Challenges Team’s Rebounding
Tom Izzo said this week that his team is “one of the worst rebounding teams I've had.” The Spartans are actually a solid rebounding team, but Izzo is stressing the importance of winning battles on the glass, especially against an opponent like Minnesota.
In the first meeting between these two teams, Minnesota’s performance was fairly normal: they were strong on the offensive boards (46.7% OR%), but didn’t do well on the other side of the court (39.0% OR% for Michigan State).
The Spartans are normally solid on both sides of the floor, but they followed the Gophers’ suit in Minneapolis. For Michigan State, the game against Minnesota represents their conference-best offensive rebounding performance and conference-worst defensive rebounding performance.
In nine Big Ten games, Michigan State’s has allowed its opponents an offensive rebounding percentage of just 28.0% which is good for second-best in the conference.
Minnesota’s 43.8% OR% is the Big Ten’s best, but they have had two relatively poor performances of sub-26% OR%.
Limiting the Gophers’ second chances could earn the Spartans a victory.
Stat to Watch: Steals
Steals often mean high-percentage transition scoring opportunities and both teams are two of the nation’s better thieves. Ranked first and second in Big Ten steal percentage, respectively, Minnesota and Michigan State use their defense to help their offense.
Unfortunately for these teams, they also give up steals to their opponents at a high rate.
On New Year’s Eve, the Spartans stole the ball 10 times (6 by Keith Appling alone) while Minnesota had 9 steals of their own.
If Gary Harris can give his team good minutes, the Spartans have the edge thanks to home court advantage. These two teams are fairly even, but the intangibles that Michigan State has makes winning a difficult task for Minnesota. My pick: Spartans 68, Gophers 63 in 64 possessions.
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Tag(s): Gopher Basketball