#728 Michigan State University Spartansvs.#727 University of Minnesota Golden Gophers
Written by Matt Severance
No. 24 Minnesota Golden Gophers at Michigan State Spartans
When/Where: Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET, Breslin Center, East Lansing
Spread: Spartans -2.5
Minnesota and Michigan State will already finish off their season series — barring a matchup in the Big Ten Tournament — when the newly-ranked Gophers make a trip to East Lansing on Wednesday night, a place they usually don’t play very well. Check out the game on the Big Ten Network.
No. 24 Minnesota (15-2, 3-1 Big Ten) joined the Associated Press Top 25 this week for the first time since February 2013 during Tubby Smith’s final season. Pretty impressive for a team that was 8-23 last year, but Coach Richard Pitino downplayed any significance: “Rankings mean absolutely, 1,000 percent nothing to me,” he said. More important, Pitino said, is the RPI, which takes into account a team’s opponents, and plays a large role in whether teams make the NCAA tournament as at-large bids. Minnesota is currently No. 7 nationally in the RPI.
The Gophers enter on a three-game winning streak and beat visiting Ohio State 78-68 on Sunday behind 19 points from Amir Coffey. The Gophers, who entered the game with the best field-goal percentage defense in the Big Ten, held the Buckeyes without a basket for an 8:03 stretch early in the first half on their way to a 26-8 lead. Coffey was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week on Monday for the second time this season. Coffey is the Gophers’ second-leading scorer, averaging 12.8 points per game, while ranking second in steals (20) and third in assists (47). In Minnesota’s four Big Ten games, Coffey is averaging 15.2 points on 51.2 percent field goal shooting. Meanwhile, the Gophers have won back-to-back conference road games for the first time since the 2011-12 season.
Michigan State (11-6, 3-1 Big Ten) visited Penn State in Philadelphia on Saturday and I recommended taking the Nittany Lions in that one. They won 72-63 to end the Spartans’ four-game winning streak. The Spartans led just once, 27 seconds into the game, and trailed by as many as 14 in the first half. There were defensive deficiencies that repeatedly led to easy layups and dunks. The Spartans were outrebounded 38-28 for the game and committed 17 turnovers that led to 16 Penn State points, including 11 points on eight first-half giveaways. Tom Izzo was not pleased afterward. “I’m just so tired of trying to explain why I don’t see the big light at the end of the tunnel,” Izzo said. “I see us getting better – the minutes I say that, we take that for granted.”
MSU forward Kenny Goins sprained his ankle in the game. The sophomore got hurt in the first half, was forced back to the bench when he couldn’t play well on it and finished with two points and no rebounds in just six minutes. It’s not clear if he will play here. As usual, MSU is a good defensive team. The Spartans have held Big Ten opponents to a .405 field-goal percentage, good for the second-best mark in conference play. Every opponent has been held under 47 percent shooting, with Baylor’s .469 mark being the highest by a Spartan opponent this season. Under Izzo, the Spartans are 299-42 (.877) at home, including a 151-30 (.834) conference record.
Michigan State leads the all-time series with Minnesota, 67-59, including a 41-20 advantage in games played in East Lansing. The Spartans have won 16 of the last 19. Three of the last four contests have gone into overtime, including the last two at Breslin Center. On Dec. 27 at Minnesota, the Spartans rallied from a 13-point halftime deficit for a 75-74 OT win. Alvin Ellis III had a career-high 20 for MSU including two clutch free throws in the OT. The Gophers are 1-4 ATS in their past five at MSU.
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Matt has been a sports journalist for nearly two decades. He is a former sports editor/writer at two newspapers and a magazine. Went full-time freelance sports writer in 2008 -- not by choice then but became a life-changing decision in the best possible way. Consider myself expert on all major US sports. If you are looking for Curling or Badminton expertise, etc., I'm not your guy.