Minnesota faces biggest test of the year at Michigan State

  • Blog Post by:
  • January 11, 2014 - 11:00 AM

Read my story on DeAndre Mathieu's challenges against MSU point guard Keith Appling here.

Check out this week's national notebook, on Kansas' early struggles, plus other notes from around college basketball and the latest Big Ten power poll.

Today's game at Michigan State tips at 1:15 and will be broadcast on BTN and 1500-a.m.

There is a reason Gophers coach Richard Pitino doesn't look ahead on the Big Ten schedule, or want his players to -- it's terrifying.

When asked about the next four games the Gophers have on deck, forward Oto Osenieks said he was only aware of the schedule through today's game at Michigan State, and Thursday's home matchup against Ohio State.

Did he want to know the other to?

"I'd prefer not to," Osenieks said. 

Hey, that's the way the Gophers are going to need to approach the rest of this season if they want to keep from getting overwhelmed. As it is, they've had plenty to occupy them the last two days after a slender victory at Penn State preceded the very quick turnaround before today's game at Michigan State. And, psst, this contest just so happens to be Minnesota's greatest test of the year -- playing against the country's No. 5 team in a true road environment. 

Five things to look for today at Breslin Center:

1. The atmosphere at Breslin: It will be loud, it will be electric, it will be nothing like Penn State. And how will the Gophers deal with that? They've only played in one true road game all season -- at Richmond -- and Michigan State and its infamous "Izzone" is quite a different animal indeed. Yesterday, coach Richard Pitino pointed out that the Gophers have got to be like North Carolina, a team that seemed wholly unfazed by the raucous environment earlier this year -- and coincidentally, the only team that has beaten the Spartans. The Tarheels are a very good team, though. Does Pitino's scrappy bunch have the poise?

2. Minnesota's interior: There is a chance the Gophers could receive another frontcourt gift today, much like the one they had (and failed to take advantage of) against Michigan in the opener with Mitch McGary out. Now, Adreian Payne is questionable, according to multiple local outlets, and that would be a big loss for the Spartans. Regardless of whether the MSU big man plays, Elliott Eliason must continue his efficiency in the post defensively, and make plays on offense. The Gophers frontcourt has been a big spark in the last few games and has allowed for the backcourt to go through some head-scratching inconsistency. But Eliason, along with Mo Walker, will have their work cut out for them today.

3. Execution: Yesterday, Pitino said the team wanted to go out and "try to play as perfect a game as possible." Certainly, every coach looks to that goal in every game -- but on Saturday it might be necessary if the Gophers want a chance at upsetting Sparty. Minnesota must do all the little things well, handle the ball better than they have in the conference slate so far, get to the line, make their free throws and gang rebound. They will need to be sharp in just about every facet to compete with Michigan State.

4. Appling vs. Mathieu: The Gophers point guard had a huge second half at Penn State, following perhaps his worst half of the year. When Mathieu is clicking, the team usually is too -- not many people saw this coming, but through the early season, he has emerged as a definite leader of the team. Now, the Gophers need to be able to rely on him against the plethora of extremely talented floor generals they will face in this league. Appling, always a high-scoring guard, has been on a tear this year, and will test Mathieu's defensive ability, especially if the Gophers press. Can the 5-9 Mathieu hang?

5. Austin Hollins: The senior has always played very smart, and been extremely reliable defensively. Now, Hollins needs to find a new offensive consistency in his final year as a Gopher. The lanky guard scored 18 points and added nine rebounds against Purdue, but has averaged just three points and 3.5 rebounds in the other two league games. That won't do -- Hollins is one of Minnesota's dynamic scoring options, and when he's playing well, it lifts the team. His return to dominance will be greatly needed at Breslin today.

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