Golden Gophers vs. Michigan State Spartans
5:30 pm (CST) at Breslin Center (East Lansing, Michigan)
Radio: WCCO 830 AM
TV: Big Ten Network
Could this be the year that Spartan speed doesn’t kill the Gophers? Michigan State’s speed during the Tubby Smith Era has been the deciding factor in Minnesota’s five straight losses against the Spartans. The speed advantage was especially pronounced off of missed baskets, as Michigan State used rebounds like most teams use outlet passes. The Gophers tried to slow down Michigan State with their full court press, but MSU ran right through it.
Michigan State’s domination of the Gophers might continue this year, but it probably won’t be because of speed. In breaking and frankly quite shocking news, the Gophers of all teams are averaging the most possessions per game in Big Ten conference games, a full four possessions more than those speed demons from East Lansing. When non-conference games are taken into account, the Gophers still enjoy a 3.8 possession advantage. Last season the Spartans had a two possession per game advantage over the Gophers.
This season, the Gophers have begun to press on nearly every possession and the Spartans seem content to let their opponents dictate the pace. Minnesota forced Iowa, notorious for their walk it up, intentional shot clock violation style of play, into an 80 possession game. Michigan State’s win over the Hawkeyes was a 63 possession game. In a baffling turn of events, Michigan State may want to slow the game down tomorrow night.
The pace of the game may also not matter. The Gophers can’t find a way to beat the Spartans. Despite what has felt sheer domination the last few years by MSU since Tubby Smith arrived, there has really been only one blow out. That one blowout was a doozy though, with the Spartans winning at East Lansing by 29, and it could have been worse. The Spartans led 42-16 at the half.
Even though both teams were ranked before last year’s game in Michigan State, the unranked Gophers appear to be better suited to pull off the upset this year. Their style of play should allow them to keep up with the Spartans, at least enough to not be too embarrassed. The Spartans have been shooting well from inside the three point line at 55% (Gophers 51%) but outside they are decidedly average making less than 36% (Gophers 38.7%) of their three pointers and only attempt one fourth of their shots from behind the three point line. Minnesota’s still suspect perimeter defense doesn’t look like it will be heavily tested. Most concerning for the Spartans is their inability to take care of the ball. Despite having multiple point guards including Kalin Lucas, they commit turnovers on 21.3% of their possessions, and they haven’t faced a defense yet that can compare to Minnesota’s swarming and trapping.
Defensively the Spartans may also be a bit suspect. They give up .9 points per possession, mostly from their inability to cause turnovers. Their opponents make two pointers 44.1% of the time and make 33.1% of their three pointers. The Spartans continue to rebound well on both ends of the court ranking #7 in offensive rebounds and #34 in preventing offensive rebounds.
Before you get your hopes up too high (or your pessimism too low) remember that the Spartans are still incredibly talented. They have five players averaging in double figures led by Kalin Lucas, the reigning Big Ten player of the year, who is averaging 16 points per game, the most of his career. Draymond Green is averaging 11 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists in a little over 23 minutes per contest. Chris Allen averages 10 points per game and scored in double figures in all three game against the Gophers last year. Raymar Morgan continues to be a dangerous player averaging 10 point and five rebounds per game, and he didn’t even play in the disaster in East Lansing. The list could go on and on. The Gophers like to consider themselves a deep team. The Spartans are just as deep and more talented.
Keys for the Gophers
- Big game from a big guy. The Gophers will need at least 10 points and 10 rebounds from the center position. Ralph Sampson should be healthy and will have significant size advantage over Draymond Green and Delvon Roe. He’s needed to provide some points. Colton Iverson will need to continue his tenacious rebounding and make at least a couple of the lay-ups that he seems to miss every game.
- Big game from a big shooter. Lawrence Westbrook or Blake Hoffarber will need to score at least 20 points, and whomever doesn’t score 20 points needs to at least show up. Neither impacted the Purdue game and the Gophers didn’t have enough fire power to keep up with the Boilermakers.
- Get off to a good start. Minnesota shot 4-17 in the first half last season at the Breslin Center, the crowd went crazy, the Gophers panicked, the crowd went crazier, etc. It was bad. It is essential that the Gophers are within 5 points at half time.
Keys for the Spartans
- Kalin Lucas needs to dribble through the press. He should be fast enough to do so, and if he does there will be plenty of easy Spartan baskets.
- Take care of the ball. The season-long mantra for the Spartans continues. In their losses against Texas and Florida they committed 22 turnovers in each game.
- Play like the favored team. Purdue dismissed the Gophers relatively easily once they turned up the intensity. Michigan State can’t let the Gophers think they have a chance, because if they think they have a chance, they do have a chance.
And now your Barn Blurbs (which if all goes well will be tacked on to game previews and reviews).