The DEETS. Michigan State hosts Minnesota at the Breslin Center at 6 p.m. tonight. Watch on Big Ten Network or listen live on 1500-a.m.
The READING. With three games remaining, it's the Gophers' youth that coach Richard Pitino is turning to for bigger and bigger roles.
**Freshman Nate Mason is expected to start again at point guard. It would be his fifth start of the year.
**The Gophers have had trouble finding a win in East Lansing no matter what the opposing team that takes the court looks like. Minnesota hasn't won at Breslin Center since the 1996-97 season, when the Gophers topped the Spartans 81-74. Minnesota also hasn't had Michigan State at home since Dec. 31, 2012, a win.
**Michigan State has won four straight games, and six of its last seven. Over the four-game winning streak, MSU is allowing just 55.0 points, as opponents are shooting just .371, including .257 from 3-point range. In addition, MSU is shooting .497 from the field, .397 from 3-point range, and .737 from the foul line. The Spartans (.634) and bottom-dweller Rutgers are the only Big Ten teams that have a worse free-throw percentages than Minnesota (.660) but Michigan State is coming off its best performance of the year from the charity stripe -- 17-for-20 or .850 at Illinois.
**Senior guard Andre Hollins is now fourth on Minnesota's all-time career scoring list after passing Kevin McHale and Sam Jacobson last week. But after averaging over 21 points in eight consecutive games, Hollins hasn't been the same in the last two, shooting just 5-for-19 from the field (26.3 percent).
**Asked the difference between last year's season -- his first at Minnesota -- and this year, Pitino offered up the following:
"Any time you go into a first year, you kind of get a free pass with everyone and it's just kind of the honeymoon stages. Then -- to me, with what we did last year -- we lost three starters. Elliott was really the only guy who played a lot besides Austin [Hollins] and Andre [Hollins] and Mo [Walker] had to change his life, physically, but he had never really played. Mav [Anahmisi} had hardly played, [Charles] Buggs had hardly played, Oto [Osenieks] had hardly played.
"To do what we did in that first year -- I didn't really have a whole lot of expectations, so to do that, I was excited about it. And having a lot of guys back, I knew we had to improve because expectations would be higher. And I understood that and I knew they'd have to play with the weight of the world on their shoulders a little bit. But I'll be honest, just looking at it, it's not that it hasn't really gone the way I wanted it to go -- obviously we want to win every game -- but guys are competing and it's just continuing to build more than anything."
Pitino has made it clear that he wants the conversation to remain about the present, but considering the circumstances, some fans might feel better in looking to the future, when the Gophers have their best-ranked class in years coming in.
One of the holdover silver linings, of course, is guard Nate Mason, who has quietly had a strong year even as he's gone through normal first-year ups and downs. Pitino called Mason an "old soul on the court" on Wednesday and said that he sees signs the guard could begin to morph into one of the team's leaders next year and beyond.
"He communicates," Pitino said. "He makes big plays. If you want to be a leader, you have got to make big plays. Guys have got to look at you and say 'This guy is ready to go to war and he's not afraid of anything.' Nate has shown that, so that's immediately going to give him credibility ... we're going to be young next year. That's a good thing. We've got to get young and grow with these young guys and get them some good experience."