Gophers at Michigan State, 6 p.m. on BTN
THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
 
WARD VS. MINN. FRONTCOURT–.Michigan State center Nick Ward put the team on his back in the second half in a 75-74 overtime win at Minnesota on Dec. 27. Ward had 13 of his 22 points after halftime, taking advantage of Gophers center Reggie Lynch in foul trouble. Lynch fouled out with just three points and three rebounds in 11 minutes. Coming off the bench, Bakary Konate and Eric Curry took turns trying to defend the 6-foot-8, 260-pound freshman in the paint, but they couldn’t stop him. Ward nearly fouled out both of them as well. Curry could be limited with a bruised heel injury, so Lynch and starting power forward Jordan Murphy need to stay out of foul trouble.
 
BRIDGES BACK– Miles Bridges was the most impressive freshman in the Big Ten in the first eight games of the season, leading conference rookies with 16.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. But the 6-7 former McDonald’s All-American missed seven games with an ankle injury, including the first meeting with the Gophers. Bridges hasn’t been the same since his return. He’s averaged just 5.0 points on 5-for-13 shooting from the field and 6.0 rebounds against Rutgers and Penn State. There was a glimpse of Bridges’ explosiveness with an alley-oop highlight dunk against Rutgers. Ward, Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford have been the freshmen stepping up for the Spartans in Bridges' absence. But will Tom Izzo unleash Bridges against Minnesota?
 
FAST START– In both road wins against Purdue and Northwestern, the Gophers jumped out with the lead after two of their hottest shooting starts of the season. They hit their first eight shots against the Boilermakers and shot 51.6 percent in the first half. They hit their first seven shots against the Wildcats and shot 55.2 percent in the first half. Both opponents came from behind to take a seven-point lead in the second half, but the deficit was close enough for Minnesota to overcome. Minnesota blew a 15-point first-half lead in the home loss to Michigan State. But the Gophers have been a stronger finishing team since then. A big early lead Wednesday could go set them up for another impressive road win.
 
GAME INFO
Time: 6 p.m. CT, Wednesday. Where: Breslin Center. Line: Michigan State by 4. Series: Michigan State leads 67-59; Minnesota lost last meeting 75-74 in overtime Dec. 27 in Minneapolis. TV: BTN. Online/Live video:BTN2Go Radio: 1500ESPN.
 
PROJECTED STARTERS
MINNESOTA (15-2)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G-Nate Mason 6-2 Jr. 14.4
G-Dupree McBrayer 6-5 So. 12.1
G-Amir Coffey 6-8 Fr. 12.8
F-Jordan Murphy 6-7 So. 10.6
C-Reggie Lynch 6-10 Jr. 8.6
 
Key reserves – Eric Curry, F/C, 6-9, Fr., 5.9 ppg; Akeem Springs, G, 6-4, Sr., 9.1 ppg; Bakary Konate, C, 6-11, Jr., 2.2 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Fr., 1.2 ppg
 
Coach: Richard Pitino 84-67 (5th season)  
 
Notable: The Gophers only went 4-23 on the road in the Big Ten in Richard Pitino’s first three seasons, but they are 2-0 so far this year. The program finished with three Big Ten road wins in a season four times under Tubby Smith in 2011-12, 2009-10, 2008-09 and 2007-08. The last time Minnesota won four conference road games in a season was under Dan Monson in 2004-05. That was the only season Monson’s team won more than two Big Ten road games during his tenure with the Gophers.   
 
MICHIGAN STATE (11-6, 3-1)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G-Cassius Winston 6-0 Fr. 7.2
G-Joshua Langford 6-5 Fr. 5.8 
G-Eron Harris 6-3 RS-Sr. 12.6
F-Miles Bridges 6-7 Fr. 14.3
F-Nick Ward 6-8 Fr. 13.8
 
Key reserves–Kyle Ahrens, G/F, 6-5, So., 3.2 ppg; Alvin Ellis III, G, 6-4, Sr., 5.8 ppg; Tum Tum Nairn Jr., G, 5-10, Jr., 4.4 ppg; Matt McQuaid, G, 6-4, So., 6.3 ppg; Kenny Goins, F, 6-6, RS-So., 3.3 ppg; Matt Van Dyk, F, 6-5, RS-Sr., 2.0 ppg.
 
Coach: Tom Izzo 535-211 (22nd season)  
 
Notable: It wasn’t that long ago that many college basketball observers counted Michigan State out for the Big Ten title race and making the NCAA tournament for the 20th straight season under Izzo. The Spartans 9-6 nonconference record was the worst in Izzo’s career. Bridges was out with injury. Even Northeastern upset Michigan State in East Lansing. But the Spartans got their act together after beating Minnesota in the Big Ten opener to start 3-0. They entered Wednesday tied for first place in the conference with Nebraska, Minnesota and Purdue at 3-1.
 
Fuller’s prediction (15-2 picks record)Michigan State 75, Gophers 67. The Gophers might have one of their most talented teams in the last decade, but they’ve had a tough time winning at the Breslin Center for much longer. Pitino’s victory in East Lansing in 2015 snapped a 15-game losing streak at Michigan State dating back to Minnesota’s 1996-97 Final Four season. Gophers freshman Amir Coffey and Bridges both played in the Jordan Brand Classic last year. It will be fun to see the two young stars try to lead their teams to victory. Minnesota might be in control for stretches in Wednesday’s game, but the Spartans will be too tough with Bridges and Ward together in the end. This won’t be a bad loss for the Gophers, who can bounce back Saturday at Penn State.
 

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