Insider Breakdown: MSU vs Minnesota

SpartansInsider.com analyst and former State News editor Ryan Wallace breaks down Saturday's contest pitting Michigan State against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Check out this comprehensive analysis, including in-depth position battles and more!

The MSU men’s basketball team will end its weeklong Big Ten road tour with a finale in Minneapolis at "The Barn."

The Spartans (9-6 overall, 1-2 conference) will take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-5, 0-2) on Saturday afternoon at Williams Arena (aka "The Barn"), where the Gophers are 7-1 at home.

That doesn’t bode well for a Spartan team, who will be playing their third road game in a week and are coming off two disappointing road losses to Iowa and Purdue. To make matter worse, the Spartans are only 2-5 away from East Lansing.

MSU and Minnesota were both highly recognized before the start of the season, and both teams have not played up to their full potential.

Their records are almost identical, both squads have had big wins (MSU has wins over Kentucky and Virginia, Minnesota has wins over Georgia and Georgia Tech) and both teams have struggled with turnovers.

Saturday’s matchup maybe billed as a slop-fest, but let’s looks more in-depth at what the two teams bring to this Big Ten Showdown.

Guards
MSU: The Spartans starting guards have played well at times, but have not been able to lead the team throughout an entire game. MSU’s lack of a "true" point guard has hurt them. Sophomore Chris Hill is the Spartan’s biggest scoring threat, averaging 14.9 points per game, but he has not been able to find his shot. In Tuesday’s loss to Purdue he attempted only five shots. Hill has also been careless with ball, logging the most turnovers on the team with a little more than three per game. Kelvin Torbert has been solid at the other guard position. Torbert is averaging 9.0 ppg and has only turned the ball over 17 times. His jump shot continues to get better each time out, as does his confidence.

Minnesota: The Golden Gophers have had several different starting lineups this season, but the majority of their starting lineup consists of three guards. Maurice Hargrow is the top scoring guard averaging 13.7 ppg. Hargrow also averages close to 5 rebounds per game. He is quick and likes to score by driving the lane. Kevin Burleson runs the offense when he’s on the court. Burleson came into the role last year and has continued that role this season. The 6-foot-3 guard averages 5 assists per game, but turns the ball over almost three times a game. Ben Johnson, a transfer from Northwestern, fills out the threesome. Johnson is the best free throw shooter on the team, hitting 82 percent of his free shots. He is also capable of running the show.

Edge: Minnesota. The Golden Gophers trio has an advantage over the streaky Spartan duo. If Hargrow can penetrate the Spartan defense, it could be a long day for MSU. Chris Hill will need to shoot the ball well, and he’s had success at Minnesota. Last year, he stepped in an injured Marcus Taylor, to lead the Spartans with 25 points. Hill will have to play at that level once again for MSU to stop the losing skid.

Forward/Center
MSU: Alan Anderson has the potential to be the Spartans next great leader, but his play has been up and down. Anderson, a Minneapolis native, led the team with 18 points against Ohio State, but since then he has struggled. His free throw shooting and ability to finish the play have diminished in the last couple of games. The 6-foot-6 forward is still adjusting to the point position, but his athleticism should never be questioned. Al Anagonye has seemed to revert back to his days of foul trouble. Against Purdue, the 6-foot-8 forward picked up three quick fouls and was never a factor. His physicality will prove vital against Minnesota. MSU has flip-flopped Adam Ballinger and Paul Davis for the fifth spot in the Spartans starting lineup. Ballinger continues to slump and Davis is struggling with the hand injury. There’s no doubt that Davis deserves to get the nod, but he’s young and is still adapting to the game. I expect him to get the start and challenge the Gophers inside.

Minnesota: Minnesota’s strength has to be their guard play. Rick Rickert is back after a sensational freshman year. The 6-10 forward leads the team in scoring with 14.2 ppg and rebounding at 6.2 rpg. But the most surprising statistic is his three-point shooting, Rickert is shooting 41 percent from behind the arc. Jerry Holman fills out the starting lineup for the Gophers. Holman is described as a forward/center, but there’s no doubt he’s a presence in the post. Holman averages 10 ppg, racks up 5.8 rpg and more than 2 blocks per game. That’s solid!

Edge: Minnesota. Rickert is tough and he’s going to score his average and then some. MSU has struggled defending forwards that can shot. Glenn Worley lit them up for 29, and if Rickert springs open he’ll do the same. Anderson is going to be juiced for his homecoming I expect him to play very well, but MSU does not have an inside presence. Holman is good enough to hold his on with Big Al and Davis.

Bench
MSU: Freshman Maurice Ager has stepped up his play in the Big Ten. Ager has scored in double digits in all three games and should do the same in Minnesota. He’s fearless and hopefully that’ll spread to the rest of the bench. Fellow freshman Erazem Lorbek has struggled in the college game, but he’ll bounce back. Tim Bograkos will be hustling as always, but the key reserve may be Adam Wolfe. Wolfe played 13 minutes against Purdue and contributed 6 points. If he’s able to play 14 or 15 minutes and shoot the ball from the outside, he’ll be a threat.

Minnesota: Minnesota bench is not very deep. Michael Bauer sees about 23 minutes of play per game, the most by any Gopher off the bench. The 6-foot-8 forward averages 11.6 ppg and 4.5 rpg. Forward Steve Esselink, center Jeff Hagen and forward Stan Gaines see about 12 minutes a game with little contribution. Guard Aaron Robinson plays about 10 minutes at the point guard slot behind Burleson. Esselink may be the Gophers key reserve if can knock down the three ball.

Edge: MSU. The Spartans have more depth and are a little more physical. If Ager continues his steady play and if Lorbek and Wolfe can give them some offense, it could push the Spartans toward a victory.

Intangibles
MSU has not played its brand of defense yet in the Big Ten. They’re still mopping up in the rebounding category, but they have been guilty of giving up too many uncontested shots and not getting back on defense. Minnesota should keep the rebounding battle close, but the key will be on the Spartans ability to guard the three-point shot. Minnesota connects on more than seven a game and MSU gives up six. Both teams average 16 turnovers a game. Free throw shooting will be vital. MSU is shooting 73.8 percent, whereas Minnesota shoots 72 percent. If the Spartans get to the line and take advantage it’ll give them a definite boost.

Coaching
MSU: Tom Izzo said that he’s not going to change his system and he doesn’t have to. The Spartans right now are not hustling and not taking care of the ball. The good news is that these things can be fixed. No one’s more frustrated then Izzo right now and he understands it’s a long season and things can turn around in an instant.

Minnesota: Coach Dan Monson is in his 4th year at Minnesota. He has taken over a program that was mired in NCAA violations and turned them into a competitive Big Ten team. Monson’s teams has struggled at times this year, but have played the likes of Texas Tech and Oregon and that gives them some toughness. They’re not going to back down against the Spartans at home.

Edge: MSU. Izzo and Company will make their guys focus on Minnesota. They can’t change the outcomes of the last two games, so they’ll go after the Golden Gophers and try to right this talented ship.

Interesting Facts
This is the 75th year the Gophers have played in Williams Arena, one of the few that still has a raised floor.

Dan Monson was an assistant at MSU under Jud Heathcote from 1976-78. He was also a graduate of Idaho University, the same university John L. Smith, new Spartan football coach, called home from 1989-1994.

Last year these two teams split, each winning at home.

Outcome
MSU 73 Minnesota 66. The Spartans will do anything to stop from losing three straight Big Ten games. Chris Hill and Alan Anderson should provide enough firepower to get past the Gophers.


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