GOPHERS MEN'S HOOPS AT NO. 10 MICHIGAN STATE
6 p.m. tipoff. TV: BTN. Radio: 100.3 FM.
FULLER'S FOUR THINGS TO WATCH:
There were several years when Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was jealous of the Gophers for having the two best rebounders in the Big Ten with Jordan Murphy and Daniel Oturu taking turns leading the league in boards for three straight seasons from 2017-20.
Things have been different crashing the glass the last two seasons. The Gophers were the worst team in the Big Ten in rebounding margin (minus-3.6) last season – and they're pretty close to the same spot in Ben Johnson's first year.
The Gophers are 13th in the Big Ten in rebounding margin (minus-5.5) and last in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (16.7), per Kenpom.
Johnson's philosophy is to give up crashing the offensive boards to hustle back for transition defense, so that can skew the offensive rebounding numbers (league-worst 5.8 per game).
In Big Ten play, the rebounding margin between the Gophers and their first four opponents has been rather significant at a second to conference-worst minus-13.0. Only Iowa is struggling more at minus-15.5.
In Michigan State's 75-67 win against the Gophers on Dec. 8 at Williams Arena, the Spartans won the rebounding battle 44-29.
Point guard matchup
The jump from mid-major basketball to the Big Ten is pretty significant, so Michigan State point guard Tyson Walker needed time to transition into a major role for the Spartans.
The Northeastern transfer took his lumps early in the season, especially with turnovers. Walker's best scoring performance so far came in his first Big Ten game with a season-high 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting in the Dec. 8 win against the Gophers.
Walker committed four of Michigan State's 13 turnovers that allowed Minnesota to nearly erase a 19-point second-half deficit, but he more than held his own in the showdown of point guards.
Gophers senior captain Payton Willis had five assists and zero turnovers on the night, but his nine points on 3-for-13 shooting made it tough to keep up with Michigan State offensively in the first meeting.
Willis averaged just nine points on 6-for-24 shooting (25 percent) in losses to Michigan State and Illinois, but he had 12 of his 18 points in the second half of Sunday's 73-60 loss at Indiana.
After four straight double figure scoring games, Walker had a two-game slump with just four points combined on 1-for-10 shooting, but the Spartans survived. Walker eventually bounced back with 10 points, five assists, and two steals in last week's win against Nebraska.
Willis vs. Walker will be one of the more intriguing battles to watch in Wednesday's rematch in East Lansing.
Three and D
Last season, the Gophers shot a program-low 28.4% from three last season, but they've made a jump to 34.1% this season through 13 games. They're better at three-point defense holding opponents to 26.9% shooting, ranking 12th in Division I and first in the Big Ten.
In the Dec. 11 upset in Ann Arbor, the Gophers held the Wolverines to 3-for-18 shooting from beyond the arc. But their next three Big Ten opponents, Michigan State, Illinois, and Indiana shot 42.4% (25-for-59).
On the opposite end, the Gophers shot just 14-for-63 (22%) from beyond the arc in their three losses, which won't help them get back on the winning end in conference play.
Indiana made only 6.4 threes per game entering Sunday, but the Hoosiers drilled seven of their nine three-pointers in the first half to take control. The Spartans followed a similar path in their previous meeting at Minnesota. They hit six of their 10 threes in the first half to take a 13-point halftime advantage.
Free throw factor
The Gophers weren't helping themselves much in Big Ten play when it came to the foul line. Johnson's team ranks second to last in conference games shooting just 66% on free throws, but there was an improvement going 9-for-12 on Sunday.
Big Ten play is a small sample size to judge too heavily so far, but the Gophers were outshot at the charity stripe in their first loss of the season. Michigan State went 15-for-19, while the Gophers were just 7-for-9.
It helped that some of the U's nonconference opponents don't average many free throws made, including Princeton (8.6), Jacksonville (9.6), UMKC (9.9).
But the Big Ten is a physical league where the teams that are able to rely less on jump shots and draw the most fouls at the basket often find themselves with an advantage.
Time: 6 p.m. CT, Wednesday. Where: Breslin Center. Line: Michigan State 11.5-point favorite. Series: Michigan State leads the series 66-58 after the 75-67 win on Dec. 8, 2021, in Minneapolis. TV: BTN. Online/Live video: BTN-plus. Radio: 100.3 KFAN
MINNESOTA GOPHERS (10-3, 1-3 in conference)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Payton Willis 6-4 195 Sr. 15.8
G – E.J. Stephens 6-3 190 Sr. 10.8
G – Luke Loewe 6-4 190 Sr. 7.0
F – Jamison Battle 6-7 225 So. 18.2
F – Eric Curry 6-9 245 Sr. 7.9
Key reserves– Sean Sutherlin, G/F, 6-5, Sr., 7.7 ppg; Charlie Daniels, C/F, 6-9, Sr., 1.7 ppg.
Coach: Ben Johnson 10-3 (1st season)
Notable: Senior Eric Curry, who has five double figure scoring games this season, scored a career-high 18 points on 9-for-14 shooting in the Dec. 8 loss against Michigan State. Curry, who had three major injuries, has been playing the best basketball of his career, also having his first double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds on Dec. 22 against Wisconsin-Green Bay. … 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, has been warming up before games. But it still appears that both Fox and Ihnen will sit out this season.
Michigan State Spartans (13-2, 4-0)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Tyson Walker 6-0 Jr. 6.7
G – Max Christie 6-6 Fr. 10.4
F – Gabe Brown 6-8 Sr. 14.5
F – Joey Hauser 6-9 Jr. 6.9
F – Marcus Bingham Jr. 7-0 Sr. 10.5
Reserves – Malik Hall, F, 6-8, Jr., 9.9 ppg; Julius Marble II, F, 6-8, So., 5.7 ppg; Jaden Akins, G, 6-4, Fr., 4.4 ppg; A.J. Hoggard, G, 6-4, So., 6.7 ppg.
Coach: Tom Izzo 656-256 (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. Max Christie was named co-Big Ten freshman of the week Monday for the fourth time this season after scoring 21 points against Nebraska. Michigan State's attempt to extend its eight-game winning streak was paused Saturday when Michigan couldn't play due to COVID-19 issues. Izzo hasn't lost at the Breslin Center to the Gophers since a 96-90 overtime defeat in Richard Pitino's second season in 2014-15.
Fuller's score prediction (Picks record: 9-4): Michigan State 75, Gophers 65.