Michigan State vs. Gophers
THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
NO BRIDGES– Michigan State freshman star and leading scorer Miles Bridges is out for his sixth straight game Tuesday with an ankle injury. The 6-foot-7, 230-pound former McDonald’s All-American averaged a team-best 16.6 points and 8.8 rebounds through the first eight games. Bridges hasn’t played since the Nov. 29 loss at Duke. The Spartans have started sophomore Kyle Ahrens (3.6 points per game) and senior Matt Van Dyk (1.6 ppg) in his place.
BATTLE ON BOARDS– A typical Tom Izzo team is tough to keep off the glass. Michigan State was seriously undersized this year even with Bridges. But the Spartans still rank sixth in the Big Ten in rebounding margin at plus-four. The Gophers are taller and longer, but they are 11th in the conference in rebounding margin at plus-2.8. After a 20-rebound edge against Northern Illinois, Minnesota has been outrebounded the past two games against smaller teams in wins vs. LIU-Brooklyn (38-32) and Arkansas State (34-27).
LYNCH AND COFFEY– The Gophers’ top newcomers Amir Coffey and Reggie Lynch were at the forefront of the 12-1 start through nonconference play. But both have missed games with injuries and haven’t played as well heading into the Big Ten season. Coffey is averaging just eight points on 33 percent shooting (14-for-42) in his last six games, which includes only one game in double figures. Lynch still leads the Big Ten with 3.3 blocks per game, but he saw his streak of 28 straight games with a block end last week against Arkansas State. The 6-foot-10 junior center has just eight points and four rebounds combined in the two games since his 18-point, 11-rebound effort against Northern Illinois on Dec. 11.
Time: 8 p.m. CT, Tuesday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Gophers by 5. Series: Michigan State leads 56-58; Minnesota lost last meeting 69-61 at home Jan 2, 2016. TV: ESPN2. Online/Live video: BTN2go. Radio: 1500ESPN.
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G-Nate Mason 6-2 Jr. 13.2
G-Dupree McBrayer 6-5 So. 12.6
G-Amir Coffey 6-8 Fr. 11.9
F-Jordan Murphy 6-7 So. 10.5
C-Reggie Lynch 6-10 Jr. 8.5
Key reserves – Eric Curry, F/C, 6-9, Fr., 6.7 ppg; Akeem Springs, G, 6-4, Sr., 9.3 ppg; Bakary Konate, C, 6-11, Jr., 2.3 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Fr., 1.4 ppg
Coach: Richard Pitino 81-66 (5th season)
Notable: The Gophers received eight points in the latest Associated Press top 25 poll on Monday, but that’s still not close enough to being ranked for the first time since 2012-13. They will likely need to go 14-1 after wins against Michigan State and Purdue to open Big Ten play. Minnesota hasn’t beaten the Spartans at home since 2012.
MICHIGAN STATE (8-5)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G-Cassius Winston 6-0 Fr. 7.5
G-Joshua Langford 6-5 Fr. 6.0
G-Matt McQuaid 6-4 So. 6.8
G-Matt Van Dyk 6-5 RS-Sr. 1.6
F-Nick Ward 6-8 Fr. 13.2
Key reserves– Kyle Ahrens, G/F, 6-5, So., 3.6 ppg; Alvin Ellis III, G, 6-4, Sr., 4.0 ppg; Tum Tum Nairn, G, 5-10, Jr., 3.3 ppg; Eron Harris, G, 6-3, RS-Sr., 13.4 ppg; Kenny Goins, F, 6-6, RS-So., 3.3 ppg
Coach: Tom Izzo 533-210 (22nd season)
Notable: The Spartans start three freshmen, including 6-8, 250-pound center Nick Ward, who was named Big Ten freshman of the week Monday. Ward scored a career-high 25 points last week in a win against Oakland. The former five-star recruit leads all Big Ten freshmen with 13.2 points and 6.4 rebounds. The Ohio native is a poor man’s Zach Randolph, according to Izzo.
Fuller’s prediction (13-0 record): Gophers 70, Michigan State 66. The Gophers are used to being the underdog against Michigan State, but the line was five points in their favor this week. The Spartans lost to Northeastern, but their other four losses were against Arizona, Kentucky, Baylor and Duke. Pretty sure most teams in the country would go winless during that stretch. Minnesota can’t afford to give Izzo’s team any confidence, especially down the stretch. It's time for Coffey and Lynch to show again why the Gophers are so much different than a year ago.