After an expected but still depressing loss to Wisconsin, Minnesota continues its road trip by traveling to East Lansing to take on Michigan State. The Spartans have had a weird year, but unsurprisingly for an Izzo coached team are playing much better as we near March. Michigan State is second in the Big Ten with a 10-4 record (19-8) on the year and is playing for a higher seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Gophers are 10th in the Big Ten with a 5-10 record and hoping to move into a better position for the conference tournament.
Opponent: Michigan State Spartans
Where: Breslin Center
When: 6pm CST Thursday
1. Avoid Careless Mistakes
Michigan State comes into this game with the top ranked defense in conference play. Interestingly though, they are not particularly adept at forcing turnovers, doing so on just 16.3% of their defensive possessions. Minnesota to quote Herb Brooks is definitely not talented enough to win on talent alone, and the Gophers are certainly going to have a tough time getting an upset if they do everything right. Consequently, it is incumbent on the team to avoid making careless mistakes. Against Wisconsin, Minnesota was whistled for multiple off the ball offensive fouls, be it for illegal screens or Sam Dekker running into Joey King's arm and flopping. The latter will not happen on Thursday, but the former has been an issue all season.
2. Get Hot from Deep
The Spartans are the best team in conference in defending the three point line. Michigan State is long on defense, and the Spartans do an excellent job contesting shots. Of course, that's true for inside as well. The Spartans are not only tough to score on, they are very hard to get offensive rebounds against. Once again, Tom Izzo brings a tough, physical team that avoids giving up easy shots.
So how do you beat that kind of team? Just like at Wisconsin, underdogs should pursue high variance strategies. For the Gophers that means pushing the ball and finding and making open threes. Since these will be difficult to come by, let's expand that definition to threes generally. The Gophers have improved from deep, but most of that improvement has been due to Andre Hollins returning to his historical averages. Another player (or three) will have to step up to force the Spartans to extend their defense and allow driving lanes for slashers like Morris and Mathieu.
3. Force Turnovers
Michigan State is a good offensive basketball team. Statistically, they rank in the top 3rd of the conference in eFG%, 3pt%, and 2Pt%. The Spartans main weakness on offense is a tendency to turn the ball over. Michigan State turns the ball over on over 18% of their possessions during conference play. Coincidentally, the only aspect of defense that the Gophers have been exceptional at this year has been forcing turnovers. Upsets occur when the underdog can limit the number of scoring possessions by the favorite. Normally, this is why bad college teams try to slow down the pace. Minnesota likes to play faster than average, so it will be essential that the Gophers can get steals throughout the game.
- Michigan State by 9. The Spartans have too much firepower and too much to play for to drop this game.
Bakary Konate and Gaston Diedhiou see at least 2 minutes of action together.
- Richard Pitino loses his tie at halftime.