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Michigan State at Minnesota Preview, or GOPHER THE GOLD, or WORST PUN EVER.

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When Michigan State last played Minnesota it was a time of great mirth, as Tom Izzo earned his 400th win in a 68-52 victory. Since then the Golden Gophers have went 2-4; they won at home against Nebraska and in overtime against Illinois, but lost to Ohio State and Wisconsin at home (although the Wisconsin loss was in overtime) and Iowa and Northwestern on the road. Currently at 5-9 in the conference, Minnesota needs to win its last four regular season games to have any shot of a NCAA tournament berth, so one can expect a desperate and energized team, much like Purdue was in the first half on Sunday.

After the jump, a look at a few aspects of the game we call "basketball" MSU will have to watch tonight.

Three points of contention for tonight:

  • Keep Rodney Williams grounded. When Trevor Mbakwe went out for the season with an ACL injury, Rodney Williams responded by applying his athleticism. The 6'7", 200 lb. forward is Minnesota's most efficient scorer, making more than 60% of his twos. This effectiveness outside can be combated in two ways. Way the first and most preferable -- keep him outside. Williams has only made a third of his 33 threes this season. The second -- foul. Williams is a 54.9% free throw shooter, and with MSU's depth, they can afford to foul a few times if Williams blows by his defender. Speaking of defender, I'd expect Branden Dawson to draw this assignment; he has the athleticism, the only thing I'm worried about is his awareness.
  • If at first you get blocked, try, try again. The four factors (eFG%, TO%, Off. Reb. %, FT Rate) for Minnesota's defense is decidedly average. None of the factors are ranked above 100th in the NCAA, but none are ranked below 200th either. One of the few aspects of defense the Golden Gophers do excel in is shot blocking, as Minnesota blocks roughly one of seven shots (14.8%) opponents attempt, which ranks 13th in the NCAA. Some MSU shots are going to be denied unless Derrick Nix shoots baby hooks all day. However, as I said earlier, Minnesota's offensive rebounding percentage is average, as they allow opponents to collect slightly under one in three (32.7%) of their missed shots. So even if offense becomes a bit frustrating around the paint for MSU, they should be able to collect enough of their rejections to compensate.
  • Weather the home field advantage. Minnesota has lost four Big Ten games at home, but only two have been by ten points or more: Ohio State and Purdue. Granted this makes them 2-4 at home during Big Ten play, but their loss against Wisconsin almost shouldn't have been. Wisconsin couldn't score in the final 7 minutes, and the game went to overtime. I know this sounds generic, but the point doesn't become any less true; The Barn can get rowdy, but given what MSU has faced this year, they should be able to keep their heads.
This is a game that's going to be won in the front courts. Although Gopher guards Julian Welch and Andre Hollins are both 40%+ 3-point shooters, their turnover rates (both 25%+) will mitigate some of that advantage. Rodney Williams is what keeps the Minnesota offense consistent, and if he can be nullified, MSU should be on its way to a win. If not, it's going to get unbearably close. I still see a Spartan victory though.