Spartans and Gophers prepare for rematch

Since their last meeting over a month ago, the Michigan State Spartans and Minnesota Golden Gophers have gone in different directions. MSU (14-11 overall, 6-6 Big Ten) has gone .500 in the last eight games to fall out of contention for the Big Ten championship, while Minnesota has won seven of their last eight.

Since their last meeting over a month ago, the Michigan State Spartans and Minnesota Golden Gophers have gone in different directions.

MSU (14-11 overall, 6-6 Big Ten) has gone .500 in the last eight games to fall out of contention for the Big Ten championship.

Minnesota (16-7, 8-4) has won seven of their last eight and is within one game of Big Ten leader Michigan with four games remaining.

The two teams will meet again on Wednesday at the Breslin Center for what will be a critical game for both schools.

MSU needs to finish the season strong in order to earn a berth in the NCAA tournament and the Gophers still have dreams of capturing a Big Ten title.

The Gophers are led by a pair of big men who can stroke it from long range. Michael Bauer, 6-foot-8, is averaging 12.3 points per game and is second in the conference in three-point shooting at 39.2 percent.

Rick Rickert, 6-foot-11, is Minnesota’s leading scorer at 15.9 ppg and is tops in the conference in three-point shooting at 39.6 percent. Rickert is also the Gophers leading rebounder at 6.3 rebounds per game.

In the first meeting the duo proved to be too much for the Spartans combining to score 42 points to lead Minnesota to a 77-69 win at Williams Arena. Bauer sank five three-pointers in that game.

MSU head coach Tom Izzo called the duo two of the outstanding players in the league, but has said that the surrounding players have stepped up to aid in Minnesota’s success.

Izzo said guards Maurice Hargrow and Kevin Burleson have really upped their play and are providing the leadership the team was lacking in the first half of the season. Hargrow is the team’s second leading scorer at 13.9 ppg, while Burleson is third in the conference in assists, averaging 4.67 assists per game.

Izzo said it’s hard to look back on the last time the two teams met, because it was early in the season and a lot of changes have occurred.

"We’re a different team and I know they’re definitely a different team," Izzo said. "We’re going to look more at the last five games and try to adjust accordingly. They did play a little different, now they are playing half-zone, half-man and pressing a little bit more and I think they’re guards are playing a lot better."

Izzo said the game is crucial, but says his team has to focus in on one game at a time and playing three straight at home should be beneficial. MSU is 11-2 at the Breslin Center and has not lost a Big Ten game there this season.

"All I’m going to worry about is Minnesota," he said. "I think they’re an important team right now. They’re playing as well as anybody that’s left on our schedule. The good news is we get a chance to redeem ourselves for the last two games."

The Spartans are coming off a tough week, which saw them have their worst performance of the season, a 30-point blowout at Illinois, and a devastating one-point loss to Syracuse on Sunday.

In that game sophomore guard Chris Hill set a Big Ten record by knocking down 10 three-pointers and scored 34 points to lead the Spartans.

Izzo said on Monday that he intends to play sophomore guard Alan Anderson at the point for the majority of time the rest of the season. In Sunday’s loss Anderson tied his career-high with six assists.

He said he hopes this will allow Hill to continue to get the open looks and generate more shots for one of the best shooters in the conference.

Hill is still the only Spartan to average double-figures, 14.6 ppg, and getting him more shots will give MSU an offensive boost.

Game time is set for 7 p.m. on Wednesday.


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