Michigan State at GOPHERS
Three things to watch:
BIG VS. SMALL – The last time the Gophers played a team with as much size as Michigan State, they lost to Purdue by 34 points, which was the largest margin of defeat in Williams Arena history. The Boilermakers won the rebounding battle 46-29. During the seven-game losing streak, Minnesota has been outrebounded six times. The Spartans, who start 6-11, 242-pound freshman Jaren Jackson Jr., 6-8, 245-pound sophomore Nick Ward and 6-7, 225-pound sophomore Miles Bridges, rank first in the Big Ten and third nationally in rebounding margin (plus-10.1 per game). The Gophers beat the Spartans in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals last season. But Bridges and Ward (combined for 35 points and 17 rebounds) had a close battle with Minnesota’s Jordan Murphy and Reggie Lynch (26 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks) in the paint. This time around, Michigan State has added Jackson, who will likely win Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. Meanwhile, the Gophers have a 1-10 record without Lynch, who has been suspended for the last month. The rank 13th in the conference in rebounding margin (minus-3.6). Murphy leads the Big Ten in rebounding per game (10.9 in league games), but he’s playing center at 6-7. And his supporting cast in the frontcourt has struggled to produce consistently. Starting forwards Michael Hurt and Davonte Fitzgerald combined for just three points on 1-for-8 shooting from the field. Hurt did have five rebounds in 36 minutes, but the Gophers struggled as a team to defend the paint (Indiana shot 64.9 percent from inside the arc in Friday’s 80-56 win in Bloomington).
SUPER MILES – Bridges scored a game-high 20 points, including the last-second three-pointer in a 68-65 win against No. 3 Purdue on Saturday. Watching some of Bridges’ dunks during his career reminds many people of the college-version of Vince Carter. This high-flying forward can dunk with the best rim rattlers in Big Ten history, but Bridges is showing off even more of his perimeter game this season. After deciding to wait on the NBA for another year, the Flint, Mich. native arrived with an improved jump shot and offensive game. He’s shooting 41.6 percent (32-for-77) from beyond the arc in Big Ten play. He’s made 2.3 threes per game in conference games, which leads all forwards. Bridges having a more all-around game makes him even tougher to contain. He’s averaging 18.4 points in league play, but Bridges scored 20 or more points six times in the last eight games. Jackson’s currently projected as the No. 5 best prospect in the 2018 NBA Draft, according to ESPN.com. Bridges isn’t far behind at No. 10, which is the second highest rated Big Ten player. All the way down to No. 26 is Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop, who is the frontrunner for Big Ten player of the year.
TURNOVER MARGIN – In Richard Pitino’s first couple seasons, the Gophers were one of the top teams in the country in steals and turnovers forced. A lot of their success offensively came from forcing mistakes by the opposition and getting transition baskets. That hasn’t been the case in recent years, especially with the lack of depth and injuries this season. Minnesota ranks only seventh in the Big Ten in steals (5.3) and ninth in turnover margin (opponent’s average just 10.6 turnovers per game). If the Gophers want to have a chance to compete at all Tuesday night, they need to pressure Michigan State into coughing up the ball early and often. The Spartans are 13th in the Big Ten in turnover margin, mostly because they commit 13.7 turnovers per game. That’s third highest in the Big Ten behind Illinois’ 14.5 and Maryland’s 14.1.
Time: 8 p.m. CT, Tuesday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Michigan State by 10. Series: Michigan State leads 68-60. Last meeting Gophers won 63-58 in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals on March 10, 2017. TV: ESPN2 Online/Live video: WatchESPN Radio: 100.3 FM and 1130 AM
MINNESOTA (14-13, 3-11)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Nate Mason 6-2 Sr. 16.5
G – Isaiah Washington 6-1 Fr. 8.0
F – Michael Hurt 6-7 So. 3.0
F – Davonte Fitzgerald 6-8 Jr. 3.6
F – Jordan Murphy 6-7 Jr. 17.4
Reserves– Jamir Harris, G, 6-2, Fr., 4.0 ppg; Bakary Konate, C, 6-11, Sr., 1.7 ppg; Gaston Diedhiou, F/C, 6-10, Sr., 2.1 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 107-88 (6th season)
Notable: The Gophers are shooting 40.7 percent (271-for-666) from the field, 34.5 percent from three-point range (77-for-223) and 43.8 percent (180-for-404) on two-point field goals in the 11 games without suspended center Reggie Lynch. Junior guard Dupree McBrayer (9.5 ppg) scored just 13 points combined on 4-for-19 shooting from the field and 2-for-10 from the three-point line in his last three games. McBrayer will miss his fifth game and second straight with a lower left leg injury. He last played in the first half in last week’s loss against Nebraska at home. Sophomore guard Amir Coffey (14.0 ppg) is out for his 10th game this season and fifth straight Tuesday with a right shoulder injury. This will be the second time both Coffey and McBrayer are out of the starting lineup since Dec. 23 against Florida Atlantic. Before Friday’s loss at Indiana, the Gophers played every Big Ten game the last two seasons with at least McBrayer or Coffey on the court. Pitino is down three original starters and four of his top six players, including Lynch and sophomore post Eric Curry (missed season with knee injury).
NO. 2 MICHIGAN STATE (24-3, 12-2)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Cassius Winston 6-0 So. 12.1
G – Joshua Langford 6-5 So. 12.7
F – Miles Bridges 6-7 So. 17.8
F – Nick Ward 6-8 So. 13.1
F – Jaren Jackson Jr. 6-11 Fr. 11.0
Key reserves– Tum Tum Nairn Jr., G, 5-10, Sr., 2.1 ppg; Matt McQuaid, G, 6-4, Jr., 6.6 ppg; Gavin Schilling, F, 6-9, Sr., 3.4 ppg; Kenny Goins, F, 6-6, Jr., 2.1 ppg; Xavier Tilman, F, 6-8, Fr., 2.4 ppg; Ben Carter, F, 6-9, Sr., 0.7 ppg.
Coach: Tom Izzo 568-223 (23rd season)
Notable: The Spartans have won eight straight games since falling to Michigan 82-72 at home on Jan. 13. After a 68-65 win on Saturday against Purdue in East Lansing, Izzo’s team is tied with the Boilermakers in second place in the Big Ten standings behind Ohio State. The Spartans are ranked No. 1 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll entering Tuesday’s game. The last time the Gophers faced the top-ranked team in the country was in a 69-61 loss on Jan. 2, 2016 against No. 1 Michigan State at Williams Arena.
Fuller’s prediction (21-6 picks record): Michigan State 88, Gophers 68. The Gophers haven’t beaten a team ranked No. 1 in the country since a court-storming after upsetting Indiana 77-73 at the Barn on Feb. 27, 2013. Trevor Mbakwe led the way in that game by dominating All-American Cody Zeller with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Zeller was held to just nine points on 2-for-9 shooting. Minnesota dominated the boards 44-30 that night. Like Mbakwe, Murphy is capable of being a beast in the post. It wouldn’t surprise me if he has a monster game, at least rebounding. He had a career-best 21 rebounds in a loss against Michigan State on Dec. 27, 2016. But the Gophers had a team surrounding Mbakwe that would win an NCAA tournament game back in 2012-13. Murphy isn’t so fortunate after injuries and a suspension took away most of his supporting cast. Nate Mason is the only original starter left healthy and available. Imagine how special it would be for Mason to end his career with an upset against a top-ranked team at home. Sounds awesome, right? Even if Mason and Murphy have 30-plus points each, the reality is the Gophers still don’t have enough talent to rebound and defend Tuesday night to keep it close for long. KenPom.com has Minnesota finishing 15-16 overall and 4-14 in the Big Ten. That means just one win in the last four regular season games, most likely Iowa on Feb. 21.