Preview: The Gophers (12-1) are looking to win their first Big Ten opener at home since beating Penn State in 2009-10. Coach Richard Pitino is 0-3 in Big Ten openers, but his team started on the road the past two years. The Gophers last beat the Spartans at Williams Arena in 2012. But Michigan State (8-5) is vulnerable, with its worst record before Big Ten play during Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo’s tenure. Injuries have been costly for Izzo, who has played without F-C Gavin Schilling (knee) all season and hasn’t had freshman star and leading scorer Miles Bridges (ankle) since a Nov. 29 loss at Duke.
Players to watch: Gophers G Dupree McBrayer is averaging 15.5 points and shooting 56 percent from the floor in his past five games, including a career-best 21 points vs. Long Island-Brooklyn and 19 vs. Arkansas State. Michigan State C Nick Ward, who had a career-high 25 points and nine rebounds last week against Oakland, won freshman of the week honors Monday. The 6-8 Ward leads all conference freshmen with 13.2 points per game.
Numbers: The past two seasons, the Gophers had to wait for their first Big Ten victory, starting 0-5 in 2014-15 and 0-13 in 2015-16.