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Gophers look for third straight as Michigan State comes to town

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Spartans are 0-2 in the Big Ten

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Minnesota David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

After getting shellacked by Illinois in impressive fashion, Richard Pitino’s Gophers have now rattled off two unexpected quad 1 wins over Saint Louis and Iowa, with the latter coming against the nation’s #4 ranked squad in a thriller. If you saw these two wins coming I admire your optimism.

Minnesota looked abysmal on offense in the Illinois game, so how did they rattle off these two wins over really good teams? For one, they have started to actually make shots. They shot a putrid 27.5% against the Illini but rebounded to shoot 48% and 44%, respectively, in their latest games. That will score a ton more points. Also? They are passing at a much higher clip, culminating in 245 passes in the Iowa game, compared to just 180 against Illinois.

They are still missing a ton of wide open shots, and Gabe Kalscheur is a broken shooter, but with a solid defense, Marcus Carr and better shooting, anything is possible. Their surprise winning streak will be put to the test on Monday when they face the Michigan State Spartans, a team that has routinely given them fits. Izzo has Pitino’s number and has won the last seven meetings. In fact, the last time the Gophers kept it close was an OT loss in 2017 and they last won in 2015.

Essentials:

Opponent:

Michigan State Spartans (6-2, 0-2)

Date and Time:

Monday, Dec 28 @ 7 p.m. CT

Location:

Williams Arena

TV:

BTN

Radio:

KFAN 100.3-FM

Tell me more about the opponent.

The Spartans are 0-2 in the conference, having suffered early losses to Wisconsin and the upstart Northwestern Wildcats. However, Sparty still notched nonconference wins over Duke and Notre Dame, so it’s not like this is some underpowered Tom Izzo team.

The Spartans once again have a very efficient offense, but unlike past years they are at the bottom of the conference in turnover margin. Imagine that: a Tom Izzo-coached team that is losing the turnover margin by more than 3 per game. The Gophers, conversely, are fourth in the Big Ten in turnover margin — a true head scratcher.

The Spartans defense has also been poor, allowing the second most points per game in the Big Ten. The only team allowing more points? That’s right, the Minnesota Golden Gophers, meaning we’ve got two teams who both score and give up a ton of points.

Michigan State also isn’t getting to the free throw line a ton, and the Gophers, who lead the conference and have more than doubled MSU’s attempts at the line, has utilized it to the fullest.

Marquette transfer Joey Hauser leads the way for Sparty, averaging 14 ppg and 8.6 rpg. He can stretch the floor too, and is shooting 44% from three-point range this year. Junior forward Aaron Henry (and Izzo’s favorite punching bag) joins Hauser down low and is stuffing the stat sheet with 12 ppg, 5.5 rpg and 4.6 apg.

Rocket Watts may actually be the X-factor for MSU. The sophomore guard was piling on the points early in the year but has been held to just 19 total points across the last three games. If he comes up short again against Minnesota it could be trouble for the Spartans.

Predictions

Are the Spartans vulnerable? It’s hard to say. They dropped a winnable one against Northwestern, and losing to Wisconsin is nothing to be ashamed of. Still, they have beaten Duke this year and Izzo has had Pitino’s number since Obama was president.

Minnesota has the talent to beat anyone on any given night, as evidenced by their victory over Iowa, though it took a magical night from Brandon Johnson to get it done. If Both Gach and Gabe Kalscheur can come to play then Minnesota has a real shot to get the job done at home.

KenPom is taking the Gophers by 2, but I’m still not convinced they can score consistently enough to take down the Spartans and break the losing streak. MSU by 5.