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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Michigan State

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Gophers looking to avoid third loss this season to Sparty

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Michigan State vs Penn State Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Here we are, folks. This is what a double bye feels like. You get to watch other teams go through the motions, struggle, succeed, fail ... whatever. All from the comfort of your couch. How nice is that? I can get used to this.

Unfortunately, the Gophers drew what has been their true kryptonite this year in Michigan State, who got by Penn State easily on Wednesday and now plays their second game in two days. In a game that was never close, the Spartans got good production from their freshmen phenoms Miles Bridges and Nick Ward and also some solid play from Tum Tum Nairn. For a team that has been up and down all season, Sparty sure looked smooth against the Nittany Lions.

The Gophers are all too familiar with Michigan State this season, who dealt them two early losses, including their worst loss of the year, and kicked off the midseason five-game losing streak. Minnesota almost snuck by the Bridges-less Spartans at home in the first conference game of the year, but let the opportunity slip away in overtime.

Remember when the Gophers were ranked in the Top 25? Those were the days. before Sparty knocked out of the polls, never to return. But, hey, that was also two months ago. Minnesota is a different team, and you know what they say about beating a team three times in a season. It’s hard.

Essentials:

Who are the Gophers playing?

Michigan State Spartans (19-13, 10-8)

What time are they playing?

Approx. 1:30 p.m. CT (whenever the Purdue/Michigan game is done)

Where are they playing?

Somewhere in Washington D.C.

Can I watch the game on TV?

Yes, ESPN.

Can I listen to the game on the radio?

Yes. ESPN 1500.

Tell me more about the opponent.

Miles Bridges is amazing and was named the B1G Freshman of the Year. He hasn’t scored fewer than 14 points since Jan. 7 and is pulling down eight rebounds per game. He’s good, and probably headed to the NBA. Can he be stopped? That’s up to Reggie Lynch and Jordan Murphy. Bridges got the best of both in the last game, where Lynch played 17 minutes total and fouled out, while Murphy scored a measly four points. It wasn’t good.

Nick Ward is also playing good ball again, though he’s still having trouble staying on the court for more than 20 minutes consistently. He has three efforts of 20 points or more in his last five games and is averaging almost 10 rebounds in that span.

The Spartans are deep in the sense that they play a lot of guys, so you never know who is going to put up a nice game. That said, Michigan State only scores 72 points per game, which put them near the bottom of the conference.

They definitely match up well with Minnesota, which is part of the reason they’ve been so successful against them. Big guys who can do damage inside are killer for the Gophers.

But keep in mind that Michigan State hasn’t been great away from Breslin Center. They were just 2-7 on the road this year and 2-3 in neutral site games. They can be beaten away from home.

Keys to the Game

We know the drill by now, and it’s no different against Sparty. Reggie Lynch has GOT to stay in the game. He hasn’t fouled out for [checks notes] five games? Is that right? [shuffles papers] Wow.

Well, in that span he’s been a human block party and has been a game changer. With the big guys Ward and Bridges doing damage inside we’ll need all the help we can get. Lynch got into foul trouble early in the last game in East Lansing and we saw what happened there. Not pretty.

Oh, and how about some success from the field? The Gophers went into a shell in the second half Wisconsin and almost literally couldn’t score. Ditto in their second game against the Spartans. They shoot extremely poorly, to the tune of 33% and only 3-16 from deep. Ish. Akeem Springs (if he’s not injured) needs to reemerge in a big way. He’s a big reason the team is where it’s at this season and been extremely streaky lately. He was held scoreless for the first time all season against Wisconsin. Not a good time of the year to disappear.

Predictions

KenPom is basically saying this is a tossup, but is giving a slight edge to Minnesota, 69-68. I still feel like Michigan State has our number, and is already warmed up for Big Ten Tournament play. I’m taking Sparty by 4. Tom Izzo in March is just bad news for everyone.