Date: Wednesday, February, 16, 2005 – Breslin Center, East Lansing, MI (14,759)
Time: 7 p.m. (ESPN Plus Local)
GAME NOTES: After a 12-3 start, Minnesota (16-8, 6-5 Big Ten) has lost 5 of their last 9 games and looked very poor against Indiana last Saturday in a 71-56 loss. The Golden Gophers NCAA Tourney hopes now hang by a thread and they must have an impressive showing against the Spartans to keep any hope of a NCAA birth alive.
Michigan State (17-4, 8-2 Big Ten) continued their rebound from their Feb. 1st loss to #1 Illinois by winning their third-straight contest last Saturday, 64-49, versus their in-state rival Michigan on the road in Crisler Arena. The Spartans have now won 14 of their last 16 games and look to continue to pad their win column against the slumping Gophers.
Brown had his best game in nearly a month versus Michigan last Saturday (14 points, 3 steals, 3 rebounds, 2 assists). The sophomore is shooting 44.6 percent (80-of-179) from the field on the season and was a terror on the fast-break versus the Wolverines. Shannon is at his best in transition, so look for Michigan State to go to Brown early and often Wednesday night before the home crowd.
Brown will have his hands full defensively with the explosive Grier. Vincent is the Gophers' best player (17.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg). He has scored a combined 85 points over the last three games and, like Brown, is at his best when allowed to attack the basket. Expect the Spartans to defend Grier Wednesday with the three-pronged attack of Brown, Alan Anderson and Kelvin Torbert.
Center: Michigan State's Paul Davis (6'11" 255) versus Minnesota's Jeff Hagan (7'0" 270)
Paul Davis will again have to shoulder the load for Michigan State in the post. He has been steady if not spectacular all season (12.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg) and will again be the focus point of the oppositions' post defense. Davis hasn't had a 20 point game since Jan. 16 at Wisconsin, so he's due for a breakout performance.
Hagan is a load (11.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.4 bpg), and at 270 pounds, the smaller Davis will have a tough time controlling him straight-up. Expect the Spartans to clamp down with some double teams if Hagan gets rolling inside. Drew Naymick and Delco Rowley should see some more action Wednesday night due to Hagan and the rest of the sizeable Minnesota frontcourt.
Robinson is Minnesota's best 3-point shooter, hitting on 46-of-113 (.407) through their first 23 games. While the freshman duo of Coleman and Tollackson have been impressive, but streaky inside. Coleman is Minnesota's third leading scorer (8.9 ppg), while Tollackson has averaged 3.4 ppg and 2.3 rpg in just 13.4 minutes of action (23 games). The Gophers will need production from all three of these guys if they hope to keep pace with Michigan State's depth and scoring punch.
KEYS TO VICTORY:
MINNESOTA: Grier must continue to carry the load offensively for Minnesota, if he can't then things could get ugly fast for the visitors. After Grier, the Gophers best chance for victory is to control the paint. Hagan (.578), Tollackson (.468) and Coleman (.443) are all efficient scorers who will find the bucket if given the chance. If Michigan State fails to gain the edge inside, they could be in for a tough night against the bigger Gophers.
Minnesota has been a second-half team on the scoreboard, netting 870 points after halftime this season. If Grier can continue his torrent scoring pace and the Gophers can control the smaller Spartans down low, they will likely keep the game close enough to spring a possible upset.
MICHIGAN STATE: The game plan is simple, shut down Grier and rebound. If Michigan State can control the glass and prevent Minnesota from getting second chance shots, they can get their transition game flowing and run Minnesota right out of the gym. If they let Grier fill it up and break down their defense, it will open things up for Hagan and the other Gopher big men to establish position on the block, which will result in easy put backs and extra trips to the free throw line.
PREDICTION: The Spartans will slow Grier, forcing Hagan, Coleman, Robinson and others to step up and fill the scoring void. With all of the other Minnesota players averaging less than 9 points-per-game behind Grier and Hagan, it isn't likely to happen against a stingy Spartan defense.
FINAL: Michigan State 75, Minnesota 65