Izzo connection

How far does the connection between Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and Gophers coach Ben Johnson go back? Johnson remembers when Izzo and his staff actually recruited him in high school as a DeLaSalle standout in the late 1990s.

Izzo eventually coached against Johnson the player in the Big Ten at both Northwestern and Minnesota in the early 2000s. And Izzo also faced the Gophers with Johnson on Richard Pitino's staff for five seasons, but their relationship grew once the 40-year-old Minneapolis native joined the Big Ten head-coaching fraternity in late March.

"He hit me up right away with a text and call," Johnson said. "He couldn't be more excited for me. He's a guy I have ton of respect for. I've known him through the recruiting process a couple times."

At Big Ten Media Day in Indianapolis, Johnson picked Izzo's brain about different things on program building.

"From alumni to what he does off the floor to their brand," Johnson said. "To whom he is and what he means to that university for all coaches if you're not trying to pick apart how he did it than you're at fault."

Everything might have been peachy at media day, but the Gophers and Spartans are obviously not going to help each other on the recruiting trail. Izzo beat out Johnson for the state of Minnesota's No. 1 senior Tre Holloman from Cretin-Derham Hall. Of course, the Gophers were already playing catchup with Holloman since their new staff was only hired in the spring.

Bench limited

The Gophers managed to stay unbeaten playing their first game this season without senior guard and sixth-man Sean Sutherlin (knee) in Sunday's 81-76 win at Mississippi State.

But that doesn't minimize Sutherlin's importance to this squad. The Gophers primarily play a seven-man rotation but only had the starters log double digit minutes Sunday. They now rank last among all 358 Division I team in bench minutes percentage (13.8), per

Starters Payton Willis, Luke Loewe, E.J. Stephens, Jamison Battle, and Eric Curry are all among the Big Ten leaders in minutes played this season.

Sutherlin and Charlie Daniels, among the six seniors in the rotation, average a combined 30.6 minutes this season off the bench. They're the only two reserves playing more than 3.6 minutes per game.

Freshman Abdoulaye Thiam and sophomore walk-on Will Ramberg saw limited minutes against Mississippi State, but it was needed to give the starters a bit of rest.

How much will fatigue effect the Gophers, though, once they're logging heavy minutes in Big Ten play? It helps that Sutherlin will be back in the lineup Wednesday against the Spartans.

Bigger Big Ten

The Gophers will have a tough time holding their own this season against a loaded Big Ten in the post, including Purdue's 7-4 Zach Eddy and 6-10 Trevion Williams, Illinois' 7-foot, 290-pound Kofi Cockburn, Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis, and Ohio State's E.J. Liddell.

The main Big Ten schedule doesn't start until January, but the Gophers have already been outscored 230-188 in points in the paint through seven games. They'll face Michigan State's 7-footer Marcus Bingham and Michigan's 7-1 Hunter Dickinson on Wednesday and Saturday, respectively.

The Spartans are getting career numbers so far this year out of Bingham in his senior season. He's averaging 10.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.2 blocks (third in the Big Ten), 1.2 steals and 22.0 minutes in nine games.

Instead of calling it quits on an injury-plagued career, Gophers co-captain Eric Curry is back and playing the best basketball since his freshman year. The 6-9 senior is averaging career-highs in points (7.6), rebounds (6.3), assists (1.6), blocks (1.3), and minutes (28.5).

But Curry needs help battling against Big Ten frontcourts, especially on the boards.

The Gophers rank second to last in the country entering Wednesday at 357th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (15.4), per Daniels, a Stephen F. Austin transfer, has been helpful defensively with two blocks against Mississippi State, but he combined for only five rebounds in the last four games off the bench.

With former 7-foot standout Liam Robbins now at Vanderbilt, the only player taller than 6-9 on the Gophers' roster is the 6-11 freshman Treyton Thompson, but he has only played five minutes combined in two games. Is it time to give Thompson some minutes to give Minnesota's opponents a different look inside?

Free throw factor

The Gophers are second to last in the Big Ten and 244th nationally in free throws made per game (10.9) this season. Only Penn State (10.0) gets fewer points from foul shots in the conference. But that hasn't come back to bite them yet.

It helped that several of Minnesota's opponents have averaged even fewer free throws made: Princeton (9.6), Jacksonville (8.8), UMKC (7.8).

So what happens when Minnesota faces an opponent that is better at drawing fouls? Last week, the Gophers barely escaped 54-53 after going 3-for-5 from the foul line, the fewest free throws in a game since the 2014-15 season.

On Sunday, the Gophers matched the Bulldogs at the charity stripe as they both shot 11-for-13, but all of Minnesota's free throws came in the second half.


Time: 8 p.m. CT, Wednesday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Michigan State 6.5-point favorite. Series: Michigan State owns the series advantage 867-780, including Minnesota's 81-56 win at the Barn last season. TV: Big Ten Network. Online/Live video: BTN-Plus. Radio: 100.3 KFAN



Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Payton Willis 6-4 195 Sr. 17.4

G – E.J. Stephens 6-3 190 Sr. 11.1

G – Luke Loewe 6-4 190 Sr. 6.9

F – Jamison Battle 6-7 225 So. 17.9

F – Eric Curry 6-9 245 Sr. 6.3

Key reserves– Sean Sutherlin, G/F, 6-5, Sr., 9.2 ppg; Charlie Daniels, C/F, 6-9, Sr., 1.6 ppg.

Coach: Ben Johnson 7-0 (1st season)

Notable: The Gophers shot a program-low 28.4% from three last season, but they've made a significant jump to 36.2% this season through seven games. They're even better at three-point defense holding opponents to 23.1% shooting, which ranks first in Division I … Sutherlin led the Gophers with 19 points on 7-for-7 shooting from the field and seven rebounds in the Nov. 19 win against Purdue Fort Wayne. The New Brighton, Minn., native scored the most points (44) combined in consecutive games off the bench since former Gophers guard Isaiah Washington during the 2017-18 season … Junior forwards Parker Fox (Northern State transfer) and Isaiah Ihnen are sidelined indefinitely after offseason knee surgery. Fox, who tore his ACL and MCL in late March, could possibly make a full recovery by January.

Michigan State Spartans (7-2)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Tyson Walker 6-0 Jr. 5.8

G – Max Christie 6-6 Fr. 8.9

F – Gabe Brown 6-8 Sr. 12.9

F – Joey Hauser 6-9 Jr. 5.6

F – Marcus Bingham Jr. 7-0 Sr. 10.6

Reserves – Jaden Akins, G, 6-4, Fr., 5.7 ppg; A.J. Hoggard, G, 6-4, So., 6.4 ppg; Malik Hall, F, 6-8, Jr., 9.1 ppg; Julius Marble II, F, 6-8, So., 6.4 ppg; Maddy Sissoko, C, 6-8, So., 1.1 ppg.

Coach: Tom Izzo 650-256 (27th season)

Notable: The Spartans haven't lost to an unranked opponent this season, falling to No. 3 Kansas and No. 6 Baylor in neutral-site games. Michigan State's first defeat in the series at Williams Arena in eight years happened 81-56 on Dec. 28 last season. The Spartans have lost only three times against the Gophers at the Barn since 2004. Izzo's team has gotten back to play the Spartan way this season ranking No. 3 in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, per … Max Christie was named co-Big Ten freshman of the week Monday after averaging 12 points in two games for the Spartans last week, including a team-high 14 points, three rebounds, three assists, and two blocks in Saturday's win against Toledo.

Fuller's score prediction (Picks record 6-1): Michigan State 75, Gophers 69.