The Gophers' pressure defense could pay dividends on Wednesday against Michigan State. The numbers say Minnesota stands a much better chance to beat the Spartans if they can force 15 or more turnovers.
Toughness is an every-night asset for Michigan State
. When the Spartans pair it with intelligence, they are very difficult to beat.
Turnovers have become the most reliable indicator of success for Michigan State. Through 20 games, the Spartans were 12-0 when committing fewer than 15 turnovers, and 5-3 with 15 or more giveaways.
And in all three of those losses, the majority of the turnovers were of the unforced, unnecessary variety. The "ridiculous kind," as Tom Izzo
likes to say. In the shocker of the season, a Jan. 21 home loss to Northwestern
, the Spartans couldn't stop throwing the ball away, stepping out of bounds, etc.
Quite simply, when this team focuses, it is a force. The Spartans have all the requisite grit, leading the nation in rebounding and getting better and nastier each week on the defensive end.
After the Northwestern game, MSU hit the road for a pair of convincing wins over Ohio State
. The Spartans guarded, dominated the glass, ramped up a fast break that was overwhelming at times — and still turned it over just 25 times in the two games.
"Valuing possessions," senior center Goran Suton
said. "When we do that, we're a much better team."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't know about you, but I felt that all I saw was a green blur going past us at a high speed. We told the guys about it and we showed it on the tapes, but you can't completely understand that kind of speed until you encounter it and play it on the court." — Iowa coach Todd Lickliter
, after a 71-56 loss to Michigan State
Durrell Summers is on a tear. He exploded in two MSU road victories with 47 points, after getting a total of 41 in his previous seven outings. The sophomore guard hit 19 of 31 shots, 9 of 16 from 3-point range, in his two-game outburst. He has shot well all season, but he's doing more attacking with the dribble as well.
Goran Suton wanted to lead the Big Ten in rebounding as a senior, and he's on his way. He's ripping down 10.0 rebounds in league games, and 8.2 overall. That figure would lead the league, but Suton has not yet played in 75 percent of MSU's games. When the Spartans get to No. 24 (his 18th), he'll register on the official stat sheet.
Along with turnovers, the 70-point mark is a key number for MSU. Of the Spartans' first 20 games, they were 13-0 when scoring 70 or more, 4-3 when not. Also, they were 15-0 when allowing fewer than 70, and just 2-3 when yielding 70 or more.
Don't be surprised if freshman forward Draymond Green plays a key role at times in the final two months of the season. There aren't a lot of minutes available for the guy who is basically the Spartans' 11th man. But he has kept himself in the rotation with his array of skills and physical presence. At 6-6, 235, Green is still a bit heavier than desired. But he has the best hands on the team, guard-like passing ability, a soft touch and a senior's understanding of the game. In nine minutes against Iowa, Green made a mark with a pair of inside baskets — one after ripping down an offensive rebound. When MSU needs some bulk around the basket, Green gets the call. He has the look of a future standout and a near-future asset.
It isn't mononucleosis and it isn't season threatening. But junior forward Raymar Morgan's viral infection is becoming a real problem. It has made him a half player for several games, and the concern is that, whenever Morgan finally sheds it, his conditioning, timing and skills will be ailing.
Junior G Isaiah Dahlman got a minute of action late in the win at Iowa — in a game that might have seen him play about 30 for the other team. Dahlman picked Michigan State over Iowa, and at this point it appears Dahlman will have a tough time breaking into the playing rotation in East Lansing. Yet he's talented enough and versatile enough at 6-6 to start for a lot of teams, including those Hawkeyes. Dahlman, though, says he loves Michigan State and has no thoughts of transferring. He gives the regulars headaches each day with the scout team.
Senior G Travis Walton is making a bid for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. His basketball suffocation of Iowa's Jake Kelly is the latest in a string of missions accomplished. Walton has also locked down, to varying degrees, Texas guard A.J. Abrams, Kansas guard Sherron Collins, Illinois point guard Demetri McCamey and Ohio State shooter Jon Diebler.
IN FOCUS: The first time Michigan State played Minnesota, the Golden Gophers got very little out of their freshman big men, and the Spartans had their way inside in a 70-58 win in Minneapolis. Ralph Sampson III had zero points and zero rebounds, while Colton Iverson had four and seven. But those two are coming on — combining for 16 and 13 in Thursday's 59-36 rout of Illinois — and this Minnesota team could have a much different look Wednesday night at Breslin Center. If the Gophers can keep those two on the floor and producing in such a hostile environment, they might be able to improve on the 49-27 whipping they took on the glass the first time around. MSU may need to go bigger, perhaps using Goran Suton and Marquise Gray together, to offset the Gophers' emerging youngsters.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual starters - PG Kalin Lucas, SG Travis Walton, SF Raymar Morgan, PF Delvon Roe, C Goran Suton. Key subs - SG Durrell Summers, SG Chris Allen, PF Marquise Gray, PG Korie Lucious, PF Draymond Green, C Idong Ibok
MSU 78, Ohio State 67
MSU 71, Iowa 56
Penn State 72, MSU 68
Vs. Minnesota, Wednesday, Feb. 4
Vs. Indiana, Saturday, Feb. 7
At Michigan, Tuesday, Feb. 10
At Purdue, Tuesday, Feb. 17