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NCAA Tournament: Minnesota Breakdown

A familiar Big Ten foe awaits the Spartans in the second round on Saturday.

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The Spartans advanced with a closer than expected win over Bradley yesterday. Now the Spartans will face off with a familiar foe, the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Wait, what? Yes, somehow MSU will face a Big Ten opponent in the round of thirty-two. It will be their 24th game of the season against a Big Ten opponent.

The good news? The Spartans are 19-4 in the first 23 Big Ten games. They also spanked Minnesota in their only meeting this year, a 79-55 win at the Breslin Center on February 9th. We will come back to this game in a minute, but first let’s get the general numbers.

Team Stats

Minnesota is 44th in the Kenpom rankings. They are pretty even offensively and defensively, ranking 42nd in AdjO and 49th in AdjD.

Looking at the four factors on offense we see a big weakness in the area of shooting. Minnesota is 267th in the country in eFG percentage. They are above average in both turnover percentage and offensive rebounding. They are 15th in the country in getting to the free throw line. However, they only shoot 67.9% from the charity stripe once they get there.

The shooting numbers are what you would expect with a poor eFG%, just 32.5% from three and 48.6% from two, both ranked in the mid-200’s nationally. They also tend to get their shots blocked at a higher than average rate, almost 11% of the time.

Now because the tournament is weird and unpredictable, of course the Gophers shot 40.7% from three in their first round win over Louisville and made 11 three-pointers, their second highest single game total this season.

Defensively, Minnesota is slightly above average in eFG%, and slightly below averaging in rebounding. They do a good job keeping teams off the free throw line, but do not force a lot of turnovers. They are 324th in defensive steal rate.

In their win over Louisville, the two teams were even in rebounds and turnovers, and had only two points differential on the free throw line. Louisville had more assists, but Minnesota made two more threes and shot better from two.

Key Players

Amir Coffey is the guy for the Gophers. He’s the one that has carried them in the games they have had success recently. He leads the team with 16.3 points and 3.2 assists per game. He had 18 points, six rebounds, and two assists against Louisville while connecting on three three-pointers. He has been forced into the point guard role despite being 6-8 and 210 pounds.

Jordan Murphy is the other key to Minnesota. The 6-6 senior averages a double-double with 14.9 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. He had 18 points and six rebounds against Louisville in the first round but was dealing with some back spasms throughout the game.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Minnesota vs Louisville Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

In the previous meeting, the Spartans completely shut down both Coffey and Murphy. The two players COMBINED for nine points, six rebounds, seven assists, and five turnovers. They made only three field goals between the two of them.

The player who led the Gophers in scoring that day, also led them in scoring on Thursday, and that is Gabe Kalscheur. The freshman drained five of his 11 three-point attempts against the Cardinals and poured in a game high 24 points. He had 17 points against the Spartans, making three of his four three-pointers but only one of six shots inside the arc.

Much like MSU, the Gophers aren’t going deep into the bench. All five starters played at least 31 minutes against Louisville and the top bench player logged only nine minutes. They played eight players total with the three bench guys totaling 18 minutes combined.

Previous Meeting

We talked a little about how Minnesota performed in the previous meeting, but let’s look at that game a little more.

Michigan State won the game by shutting down the Gophers two big players and dominating them inside. Minnesota shot just 13-for-35 (37.1%) inside the arc for the game.

Meanwhile, MSU shot 55.6% on two-pointers, going 25-for-45. Nick Ward was a dominant force for Michigan State after coming off a poor three game stretch. Ward finished the game with 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting. He also pulled down nine boards and had a block.

MSU out-rebounded the Gophers 37-29 for the game and 11-10 on the offensive glass.

This was an interesting game for MSU because Cassius Winston sat out a long stretch to end the first half with foul trouble. Likewise, Kenny Goins missed most of the game after hurting his elbow early in the game. Goins played just seven minutes, and Winston just 24 minutes.

Thomas Kithier had a nice run in the game, playing 18 minutes and scoring 8 points.

MSU attempted only 15 threes in the game, their third lowest total of the season. They made six of them, with Matt McQuaid accounting for four of those.

This game is also remembered for Conner George putting a Minnesota player in the spin cycle in garbage time.


Minnesota is not a bad team, they have some quality wins this year including Purdue twice. They are also not that good of a team. They went 9-11 in Big Ten play, and probably aren’t in the tournament without beating Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals.

This is actually a pretty good matchup for MSU. Minnesota has no true point guard, isn’t a great shooting team, and has an undersized power forward. The recipe for beating them was played to perfection by MSU back in early February by taking away Coffey and Murphy.

As long as you keep Kalscheur from going completely nuclear like Louisville did, you should be in pretty good shape if you take those other two players away.

Coffey will likely draw Matt McQuaid’s defense again, which we all know what that tends to do to a player. Meanwhile, Murphy struggled with MSU’s size in the first matchup, and that isn’t likely to change now. When going up against strong bigs, he tends to have a tough time, especially offensively.

I also think that this is a chance for MSU to get Nick Ward going. I know I said that last game, but defensively that was not a great matchup for him, especially when things were close so deep into the game. This time around, I do think Ward can thrive, like he did in the previous meeting.

I was at that game and I was shocked that Minnesota refused to throw a double-team at him and just allow Ward to eat inside. My guess is that will be different this time around when Ward is in the game, but if not, this could be the game he gets on track.

On a one day turnaround I give Tom Izzo the advantage over almost anyone. This is a little different because the teams are familiar with each other already, but because MSU won so easily early in the year I feel it falls on Richard Pitino to have to come up with something different this time around, and I am not sure he’s capable of doing so.

This will be no easy task with a fatigued Spartan squad, but I think this is a much more favorable matchup than Louisville for the Spartans. I have a hard time believing the Spartans are going to let a middle of the road Big Ten team block them from the Sweet Sixteen for a fourth straight season.