Minnesota (6-7; 0-1) vs. No. 1 Michigan State (13-1; 0-1) at Williams Arena
Saturday, Jan. 1 at 2 p.m. CT
The spread: Minnesota +9.5
Pregame reading: The Gophers’ frontcourt has been a concern all season, and will be in the spotlight again vs. the Spartans.
This year’s first Saturday college basketball insider: Michigan State isn’t the same without Denzel Valentine (expected to be out again following knee surgery). Plus a fresh Big Ten power poll, your weekend matchup and some thoughts from around college basketball, all here.
Taking a look at Minnesota and Michigan State, here.
Three storylines to watch as the Gophers hope for a big upset:
Murphy has got to be in it to win it. Minnesota suddenly looked like it had a chance to win its Big Ten opener at Ohio State after plowing back from 15 down to briefly take the lead in the second half. The Gophers hung with the Buckeyes for minutes after that – and then freshman forward Jordan Murphy, aka the heart and soul of the 2015-16 Minnesota Gophers, had to sit with four fouls and the game changed. Ohio State went on a 20-3 run and cruised to the victory easily. If the Gophers are going to stay competitive in any games this year, Murphy has got to stay out of foul trouble. And if he picks up four, sits and the game starts to get away, it might make sense to put him back in. Sure, Richard Pitino sent him out with over six to play, but what was the point? By that time, the Gophers were down by 16 and it didn’t matter if they lost Murphy – they were cooked.
Some shooting help? One of the major struggles of this year’s team is there are no real shooters. Forward Joey King lit it up early in the non-conference and led the team by a big margin, which should have been taken as a dire warning since he isn’t able to take advantages of the mismatches that get him open in the league slate as much. Someone else should have been there, bombing away with him, but nope. Carlos Morris or Nate Mason might be the team’s next best shooters, but both are better driving to the hoop. Charles Buggs can shoot, but he’s streaky, and he’s expected to do other things. Kevin Dorsey isn’t a shooter, Murphy isn’t, the big men certainly aren’t, and Dupree McBrayer likes to think he is but he’s 2-for-24 from the arc. What can be done? It’s just not something that’s on this roster. However, one of the more natural shooters – Ahmad Gilbert – hasn’t been playing much. That’s because Pitino keeps saying he needs to catch up with the speed of the game, and he hasn’t been great at the little things early on. But he demonstrated that pretty arc of his one a pair of huge three-pointers at the end of the first half against Ohio State, connections that helped close the gap to three at halftime and key Minnesota’s initial comeback. If he can do enough to stay on the court, the Gophers could really use that production.
Stranger things have happened. Right now, the Gophers aren’t exactly looking capable of upsetting the nation’s No. 1 team, not even after Michigan State looked exposed at Iowa, not even when the Spartans are without their best player, not even on their home floor. But the Gophers have those few things going for them, and Minnesota of the recent past has certainly had the penchant to pull out a game that seems highly unlikely. Exhibit A: The Gophers’ 96-90 overtime win over Michigan State in East Lansing last February. Minnesota then, too, caught Michigan State – which went on to make the Final Four – at a time when it wasn’t playing its best basketball. But it was the Gophers’ single win in a 1-5 stretch. So you’re saying there’s a chance…
The number: 3 – Points from Bryn Forbes in a loss to Iowa on Tuesday with Anthony Clemmons locking him down, one game after throwing up 32 against Oakland in Michigan State’s final non-conference game. Which version of the 6-3 senior will we see today?
The prediction: Michigan State 80, Minnesota 69