It’s been a long four-day wait but Michigan State finally has the chance to wash off the stench of their 72-63 loss to Penn State. Thanks to those awesome Big Ten scheduling quirks, they’ll play host to a team they faced just before the turn of the calendar, the Golden Gophers of Minnesota.
Last time these teams squared off Tum Tum Nairn, Alvin Ellis and Nick Ward engineered a miraculous second half comeback and MSU was able to escape The Barn with a win. This time some guy named Miles Bridges will be playing but, as we saw this weekend, there are still some growing pains to work through.
Can the Spartans complete the season sweep or will Minnesota get their revenge?
(Go ahead, pretend you don’t see the mustache)
- Record: 15-2 (3-1 B1G / 12-1 Home)
- Best Win: @ #15 Purdue (RPI: 30), 91-82 (OT)
- Worst Loss: Michigan State (RPI: 36), 74-75 (OT)
Since Last Time
- 1/8 — vs Ohio State, W 78-68
- 1/5 — @ Northwestern, W 70-66
- 1/1 — @ #15 Purdue, W 91-82 (OT)
2017 has been a good year for the University of Minnesota. You may have heard, but they hired PJ Fleck to be their new Head Football Coach! He’s the excitable young guy with the boat fetish, but enough internet ink will be spent on Fleck’s behalf in the coming months, so let’s keep it on hoops, shall we?
Richard Pitino has a good thing going. After losing that heartbreaker at home to ours truly, the Gophers have reeled off three wins, including impressive road victories over Purdue and Northwestern, and a tidy home W over Ohio State. At 15-2, his team is one win away from doubling last year’s win total and, at 3-1 in conference, find themselves tied atop the Big Ten standings. Like I said, things are good.
They’ve continued to impose their will on the glass, much like they did against Michigan State, and rank 23rd in the nation in rebounds per game (40.47). You may recall Jordan Murphy going full beast mode on (mostly) Ellis, grabbing 21 boards but things get a little scarier when you consider that 6’11” Bakary Konate and 6’10” Jordan Lynch both got into early foul trouble and played only a combined 27 minutes in the last match up.
It’s not a stretch to think the team that walks into the Breslin tonight will look much different from the one MSU faced just two weeks ago.
Gophers to Know(phers)
Since last time these two met, Amir Coffey has gone fairly ham.
After a pretty quiet eight point, three assist night against Purdue, the freshman dropped 17 and 19 points against Northwestern and Ohio State, respectively, earning him Big Ten Freshman of the Week. Apparently, a Michigan State player cannot win every week. Coffey is, more or less, a 6’8” point guard, a tough matchup for any team but especially the vertically-challenged Spartans.
When he decides to drive he’s tough to stop but, despite his 17 points, MSU actually did a good job containing him in their first game. Defenders forced Coffey into long jumpers and he finished only 5-of-15 from the field. Tom Izzo would surely be thrilled to see him post similar efficiency numbers again.
Another guy to watch is actual point guard Nate Mason. The 6’2” junior has made only four of his last twenty shots, but is capable of carrying his team offensively. Need proof? Look no further than his 31 point, 11 assist, 6 rebound line from the Gophers OT win at Purdue. He’s streaky but can be a killer when he’s on.
Slowing the Coffey-Mason duo down was critical to Michigan State’s first victory — the two combined to go only 10-for-29 from the field — and will be again if they want to win tonight.
How Does MSU Match Up
The return of Miles Bridges figured to have its kinks, but he has struggled more than anticipated since returning from his seven-game absence. In two games, the star freshman has scored only 10 total points on 38% shooting from the field and missed all four of his three-point attempts. His defense hasn’t been much better, as he has been caught out of position and late on rotations more than a few times, so far.
The most glaring issue has been the struggle to incorporate himself into the flow of the offense. On multiple occasions against Penn State, he forced drives and jumpers instead of dumping the ball into the post or simply making the extra pass. In his defense, the offense has become Ward-centric and looks nothing like it did before his injury, but his ill-timed aggression and subsequent frustration handicapped MSU offensively.
Getting Miles comfortable has to be priority 1A for Izzo tonight. As you saw a few weeks ago, Minnesota has a ton of length across the board and Bridges, in particular, will be called upon to defend guys like Coffey and Murphy. Don’t be surprised to see a couple early sets run his way to get him engaged mentally.
It may have been rough sledding so far but, even when he’s out of sync, Miles can still do this...
Pardon me while I change my pants.
These two teams enter this game on different wavelengths.
Minnesota is red hot; the Spartans are coming off of one of their worst performances of the season. The Gophers have settled into a groove with their rotations; MSU is trying to create room for the biggest piece of its puzzle. Finally, the Gophers have revenge on their minds and MSU is just looking to catch its breath after yet another trip to a hostile environment.
It all adds up to a poorly timed rematch for Tom Izzo’s team.
Despite the presence of Bridges, Minnesota is able to exploit their size inside with Lynch and Konate playing significantly more than the 27 minutes they combined for in the first meeting.