Michigan State hosts Minnesota in Breslin Center tonight at 6 p.m. ET. Watch on Big Ten Network or listen live on 1500-a.m.
Five things to watch as the Gophers try to notch one final road game and a chance at an NIT berth:
Spartan rebounding and physicality. Michigan State is averaging a Big Ten-best 11.7 offensive rebounds per game, grab 35.1 percent of their misses -- third in the league -- and average 12.4 second-chance points in conference play. If Minnesota, second-to-last in league in defensive rebounding doesn't battle inside and hit the defensive boards better than usual tonight, it could be the difference maker. "Probably the best in the league when it comes to that," forward Joey King said of the Spartans ability to fight off opponents on the glass and make opponents uncomfortable on defense. "Always slapping down on drives. Just really physical."
A return to Hollinsanity? If we've learned one thing through the course of this season, it's that the Gophers aren't going to win many games when senior guard Andre Hollins disappears offensively. Exhibit A: when the Gophers started 0-5 and Hollins averaged just 9.2 points per game. Exhibit B: when Hollins averaged just over 21 points for the next eight games and Minnesota went 5-3. Exhibit C: Hollins has shot just 26.3 percent from the field in the last two, both losses, scoring a total of 14 points. Coach Richard Pitino doesn't like to put the scoring impetus on Hollins, but at this point it's obvious. The Gophers need their scoring leader to have a chance. In conference play, Minnesota is 1-6 when he makes four field goals or fewer.
Hot off the pine. On Feb. 10, senior guard Travis Trice was replaced in the lineup by Lourawls Nairn Jr. (see below) and has subsequently watched his minutes dwindle from 34.4 through the first ten Big Ten games to 27.8 in the last four. But in the same span, Trice has actually found a new efficiency, even while coming in cold and getting less time, averaging 16.3, nearly three points more than he was in the first ten (Tip of the cap to Kyle Austin of MLive for the stat).
Tum, tum, tum, tum TUM! Remember that tiny, speedy guard with the fantastic nickname and theme song and big reputation who put Minnesota in his top three schools only to wind up at Big Ten foe Michigan State? Well, Lourawls (Tum Tum) Nairn hasn't had nearly the season that ultimate Gophers signee Nate Mason has, but in the last four games, he's worked his way into the starting five and is starting to show some hints of the talent -- especially on long boards and in distributing -- that made him a four-star recruit. This is Minnesota's first live glimpse of him in action since he turned the Gophers down. One game after going scoreless vs. Illinois, will he impress?
Guarding Dawson. At 6-foot-6, Branden Dawson is one of the most versatile power forwards in the league, leading the Big Ten in rebounding (both offensive and defensive) despite his size and blocking 1.5 shots a game while also landing in the top-15 in steals (1.3 per game) and shooting 54.7 percent of his shots (fourth in the conference). If Minnesota wants a chance at stopping the senior wing who has compiled 51 and 31 rebounds in the last three games, it's going to be a job for more than Gophers forward Joey King.