8 p.m. at No. 8 Michigan State • ESPN2, 1130-AM, 103.5-FM

Spartans ended U dreams last year

Preview: Gophers coach Richard Pitino and his returning players remember all too well the disappointment over having their dream of an NCAA tournament Sweet 16 berth crushed by a 70-50 loss last March to Michigan State in Des Moines. The Gophers were without All-Big Ten forward Jordan Murphy, who was sidelined because of a back injury. The Gophers (8-6, 2-2 in the Big Ten) lost Murphy to graduation, but they’ll try to be more competitive Thursday against the eighth-ranked Spartans (12-3, 4-0) in East Lansing. Tom Izzo’s squad again looks like the front-runner to win the Big Ten, especially after an 87-69 win against archrival No. 12 Michigan.

Players to watch: The last time the Gophers faced a top-five foe, they got a career-best 35 points from sophomore point guard Marcus Carr in a 84-71 upset against then-No. 3 Ohio State at home Dec. 15. Carr is averaging 20 points in his past three games, including a 27-point effort in an 83-78 double-overtime loss at Purdue last week. What an intriguing battle it will be for Carr against Michigan State’s senior All-America Cassius Winston. Winston is averaging nearly 24 points in his past four games, highlighted by 32 vs. Michigan.

Numbers: Carr leads the Big Ten with 36.9 minutes per game this season, which included playing all 40 minutes vs. Northwestern and 48 of 50 minutes against Purdue in the past two games.