Gophers at a glance: With only one game in the past 20 days, it seems like the basketball season has been put on hold. But it starts back up with a fury Monday as Michigan State comes to town for the start of the Big Ten schedule. The No. 11 Gophers are on a great roll, having won their past eight games. In their most recent one, Dec. 22 against Lafayette, they inserted Trevor Mbakwe back into the starting lineup at center. The Gophers have shown great balance, with four players averaging double digits in scoring and with Mbakwe (8.8 points per game) threatening to be the fifth. The defense has proven to be the team's biggest asset, but consistent shooting and turnovers remain the areas that need work. The Gophers will play Michigan State in their first or second conference game for the fourth time in Tubby Smith's six seasons as coach.
Michigan State at a glance: The Spartans perhaps haven't looked as strong as expected early on -- losing games to Connecticut and Miami (Fla.) and struggling to find a leader to replace Draymond Green -- but there is still plenty to threaten the Gophers. Michigan State is ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage defense, and that could be a critical factor against a Gophers team that doesn't always shoot well. The battle-tested Spartans have a lot of balance in their starting five, and point guard Keith Appling has been stellar, both with his offensive production (14.9 ppg) and in getting his teammates involved. Freshman Gary Harris has also impressed and with Appling bolts down a terrific backcourt.