Okay, reset time. The Gophers are 8-5 on the season and 2-2 in the Big Ten, with a nice home victory over Ohio State. The Big Ten itself is a glut of pretty good to very good teams who can beat each other on any given night, with the exception of Michigan State.
And that’s where the “new” season begins. Against Michigan State. The Gophers didn’t do themselves a ton of favors in the non-conference season, which means they need to do some work this year in conference play. But there’s one problem: there’s nowhere to hide.
Thursday begins a key three-game stretch that takes them to East Lansing before coming home to face Michigan and Penn State. A win over any or multiple teams would be huge this early in the season, and it’s almost mandatory that the Gophers take one of the home games if they want to stay on track.
The Spartans, formerly #1 in the country, have been up and down, and are hardly invincible, though they are currently 4-0 in conference play. The Gophers are playing with house money on the road, which may allow them to let loose as they aim for an upset.
Michigan State Spartans (
Date and Time:
Thursday, Jan. 9 @ 8 p.m. CT
Breslin Center (East Lansing, MI)
Tell me more about the opponent.
The Spartans are KenPom’s #3 team and even opened the season as the top team in the AP Top 25 rankings. Since then they’ve suffered losses to Kentucky, Virginia Tech and Duke, but have rebounded and are on a 7-game winning streak.
Michigan State has the top scoring offense in the conference, led by Cassius Winston who is absolutely tearing it up. Winston is third in the conference in scoring and fourth in assists. He’s coming off a 32-point, 9-assist game in the win over Michigan and collecting POTY votes.
Xavier Tillman is the other offensive weapon, averaging 14 points, almost 10 rebounds and nearly two blocks per game. Between those two the Gophers will have their hands full, but they also have Daniel Oturur, Marcus Carr and Gabe Kalscheur, who can help lock things down.
The Spartans rank well as a team in several metrics, and are near the top of the conference in scoring margin, field goal defense, three-point defense, rebounding margin, blocked shots, assists, and assist-to-turnover ratio. They are a veteran, well-coached team that doesn’t make a ton of mistakes.
You can’t predict a Gophers win on the road against one of the best teams in the nation can you? I won’t do that here, but I do think Minnesota matches up well with the Spartans. Oturu is a double-double lock, and if he can stay out of foul trouble, Marcus Carr takes care of the ball, and Gabe locks down Winston then the Gophers have a decent shot. These are not unreasonable requests. Plus the Minnesota is playing with nothing to lose.
I think the Gophers hang tough but drop a close one by four.