#8 Golden Gophers vs. #1 Michigan State Spartans
11:00 am (CDT) at Conseco Field House (Indianapolis, Indiana)
Radio: WCCO 830 AM
Liveblog: Yes. If you are stuck at work you’ll want to be here.
Thank goodness this is a relatively weak year on the Bubble. If the Gophers needed to win today against the highly favored Michigan State Spartans, then the Gophers would be off to the NIT again. Their win yesterday by no means guarantees that the Gophers will play in the NCAA tournament, but their chances now are around 90%. A win today, in addition to making Minnesota a lock to go to the Big Dance, could give them a favorable seed (no #1 seed in the second round), a favorable location (Kansas City instead of Boise) or both.
As difficult as it is to defeat Michigan State, the Gophers only need to concentrate on a few areas to make this game competitive. Unfortunately, these were also focus areas in the two previous meetings between these two teams, and they were still blow outs. Maybe after two thrashings, the Gophers will understand their importance.
1. Win the turnover battle. The Gophers committed only nine turnovers yesterday, a strikingly low number for a team whose turnover totals often drift towards the twenties. Michigan State is by far the best team in the Big Ten, but they don’t exactly take care of the ball, especially when they lose interest in the game. They rank #215 in the country in turnover frequency, so there will be free possessions for the Gophers, but they can’t give them right back if they want a chance today.
2. Get back on defense. Michigan State loves to run, whether it is off dead balls, missed shots, or steals. The Gophers will need to get back and be conscious of all players on the court. Northwestern was able to get behind the Gopher defense far too often yesterday, and if Kevin Coble can do it, so can every one on the Michigan State roster.
3. Avoid rebounding embarrassment. The Gophers are actually a decent rebounding, but have been absolutely destroyed on the boards time and time again by the Spartans, especially on the offensive end. Not even Minnesota’s great defense can be a factor if the Spartans have twenty extra shots today. The Gophers don’t have to win the rebounding battle, but they must be competitive.
The best chance for the Gophers to win today will be if Michigan State is disinterested and looking ahead to the NCAA tournament. Even if that happens, the Gophers will need to play their best game of the season and hope the Blake Hoffarber has another miracle shot left. Luckily, the outcome of this game at this point doesn’t look like it will determine much. However, if crazy things start to happen in other conference tournament’s, a win today is Minnesota’s best chance to go dancing. Crazy things have happened before. In 1998 a struggling Gopher team beat the top-seeded Michigan State Spartans in the Big Ten Tournament. Never say never.