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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Michigan State

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After a surprise first round victory, Gophers look for revenge against Michigan State in round two

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Bradley vs Michigan State Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The Gophers came into Thursday’s game as five-point underdogs and without much to lose in their first round matchup against the Louisville Cardinals. And after a barrage of three pointers and gutty performances from the entire starting lineup, they moved on to the second round for the first time since defeating UCLA in 2013, upending the Cardinals to the tune of 86-76.

It was one of the most complete games Minnesota had played all season, and they received high-end performances from their entire starting lineup, each of whom scored 13 or more points in the victory. For a team that just one month ago had lost to Rutgers and whose postseason hopes were murky at best, heading into the weekend with another game to play tastes pretty sweet.

Now the Gophers must turn their attention to a familiar foe, the Michigan State Spartans. Ordinarily two teams from the same conference don’t play each other within the first two rounds (this was actually a rule until 2006), so it’s a bit odd they’ll face each other this early. Nevertheless, the Gophers have another shot at a Spartan team that dusted them by 24 points in their once conference meeting in East Lansing in January.

Essentials:

Who are the Gophers playing?

Michigan State Spartans (29-6)

What time are they playing?

Saturday, March 23 @ 6:45-ish p.m. CT

Where are they playing?

Wells Fargo Arena (Des Moines, IA)

Can I watch the game on TV?

Yes, CBS

Can I listen to the game on the radio?

Yes, KFAN 100.3-FM

Tell me more about the opponent.

The Spartans are absolutely on fire. They’ve won 11 of their last 12 games en route to both a regular season and conference tournament championship. They’re the cream of the Big Ten crop. Not that it’s news to many Gopher fans.

The Spartans are an experienced, senior-laden team led by a coach who knows how to succeed in March, and they will be an extremely tough out. Cassius Winston is one of the best players in the conference, and was a unanimous choice for First Team All-Big Ten.

Nick Ward, Matt McQuiad and Kenny Goins won postseason honors as well, though Ward has been playing sparingly since the Big Ten Tournament began, registering games of 14, 11, 8 and 10 minutes, and appears to be in Izzo’s dog house.

Further, the Spartan bench shrunk a bit recently when junior forward Kyle Ahrens was lost for the season with an ankle injury, joining Joshua Langford on the injured list. Ahrens was a key bench player for Michigan State, clocking nearly 19 minutes per game.


Predictions

It’s the Spartans. It’s Izzo in March. The Gophers are definitely climbing uphill in this one against one of the nation’s top teams. Their only shot comes if they can shut down Cassius Winston and minimize the impact of McQuaid and Goins. It’s a lot to ask, and Minnesota will definitely be asked to play perhaps its best game of the season if they hope to advance.

Will the Gophers beat Michigan State? Probably not. But they played inspired basketball against Louisville, so I like them to at least keep it close.