The Gophers play Michigan State for the third time this year and the last time they faced each other, it was Minnesota’s worst performance of the year (although the second half on Sunday in Madison was up there was far as worst performances of the year go).
What were the two worst parts of the Gopher Big Ten season? I would say the 65-47 beatdown in East Lansing on January 11th and the second half of last week’s loss to Wisconsin. Fresh off the Madison loss Minnesota gets to deal with the Spartans once again.
Michigan State crushed Penn State 78-51 today to earn the right to play Minnesota tomorrow in Washington DC. The Spartans are 19-13 on the season after another big game from their freshmen. Miles Bridges had 15 points and nine rebounds, Nick Ward scored 15 points with eight boards, and Joshua Langford had 13 points with five boards.
Minnesota opened the Big Ten year with a 75-74 overtime loss to the Spartans in a game that was much closer than the 18 point defeat a couple weeks later. What was the major difference between the two games? Jordan Murphy had 21 boards with a dozen points. In the second game he was irrelevant with three scores and four boards.
Jordan is now an all Big Ten third team member joining Nate Mason (first team all Big Ten), Richard Pitino (Big Ten Coach of the Year), Amir Coffey (All Freshmen Team), and Reggie Lynch (The Defensive Player of the year) as honored Big Ten players.
Minnesota is once again in the spotlight with expectations. They had been for most of the year a team that was playing with something to prove. The last time they had been put in the spotlight as a top 25 squad they started a five game losing streak. Now with Big Ten honors, a trip to the NCAA Tournament nearly guaranteed, and a four spot in the league, will Minnesota still play with that edge?
Michigan State was up 39-17 at the half the last time Minnesota faced the Spartans. MSU won the rebounding battle 42-29 and they held the Gophers to 33.3 percent shooting (19 of 57). Minnesota also made only 3 of 16 threes.
Nate Mason missed nine of his first eleven shots, Eric Curry missed seven of nine shots, and the rest of the starters (Murphy, Lynch, Coffey, and Akeem Springs) combined to shoot 5 of 22 from the floor for a measly 15 points between the four of them.
In the December contest Nick Ward put up 22 points and 10 rebounds dominating the middle while Reggie Lynch played only 11 minutes before fouling out. The Spartans also got 20 points from Alvin Ellis and 13 from Lourawls Nairn in that first game.
PG. Lourawls Nairn vs Nate Mason. Remember when Narin was the PG the Gophers looked at and then went to Mason after Tum Tum chose MSU? Now Mason is coming off an All Big Ten season while Nairn is coming off a scoreless game. Edge: MN
SG. Alvin Ellis III vs Akeem Springs. Both are seniors, both are struggling to finish right now in the last few games. Both are physical veteran defenders and team leaders in their own way. Springs has been dealing with a back issues that is obviously still playing a role. Edge: Push.
SF. Joshua Langford vs Amir Coffey. A pair of talented freshmen that are starting and having an impact on teams that will be dancing. Coffey is taller, longer, and the better passer and scorer. Langford is stronger and a more physical player who also scores. Edge: MN
PF. Miles Bridges vs Jordan Murphy. Bridges was close to being an All Big Ten player, he dominated the last games these teams played, and Bridges was freshman of the year. As good as Jordan has been, Bridges will soon be an NBA first round pick and he’s led his team to wins in this match-up. Edge: MSU.
C. Nick Ward vs Reggie Lynch. This has been a very, very one-sided match-up. Ward crushed Lynch in game one and was solid in game two. Lynch has done next to nothing against MSU so far but foul. Edge: MSU.
Bench Guard. Cassius Winston vs Dupree McBrayer. Winston has had a nice first year but McBrayer is a second year player averaging double figures. If Dupree plays like he has been playing the Gophs have a big edge, if he plays on his own with wild attempts like he did vs the Badgers then this match-up will be even. Edge: MN.
Bench Forward. Kenny Goins vs Eric Curry. Kenny is a compact and strong worker off the bench who defends and boards. Curry is longer and more athletic and gives equal effort. Both teams have a nice worker in this spot. Edge: Push.
Bench Wing. Matt McQuaid vs Michael Hurt. McQuaid and Hurt are both trustworthy players on both ends but McQuaid is older and has been shooting well where as Hurt isn’t even looking to attempt. Edge: MSU
Other. Kyle Ahrens/Matt Van Dyk vs Bakary Konate. The difference in the rosters, MSU has more worker wings and forwards, Minnesota has two centers. Michigan State really doesn’t even have a center after what injuries have done to them.
Michigan State hammered Penn State and recently hammered Minnesota in the last meeting not to mention they’ve beaten Minnesota twice. The Gophers are coming off an ugly half against Wisconsin in their latest game.
Minnesota will need Reggie Lynch to be on the court for the first time in three games against the Spartans and they will need the Jordan Murphy that earned All Big Ten. If the Gophs get solid games from both Murphy and Lynch they will win. That said, Ward and Bridges had their way with Minnesota.
My gut tells me that Minnesota is in a new position that they aren’t used to and they are coming off a terrible half against the Badgers. Unless Richard Pitino finds a way to motivate this team in a big way I feel like the Spartans go 3-0.
Michigan State 78 Minnesota 72.