Let the Big Ten season start. And I don't know who to thank, but thank you for letting us start on the road against the odds on favorite to win the league. This will probably be the worst match up for the gophers the rest of the season.
Before we get into MSU's preview lets take a quick look at the gophers chances the rest of the season. Whether you think they have a chance or not the goal every year has to be to make the NCAA Tournament. Finishing the non-conference portion of your schedule 10-2 still gives them a chance, but their margin for error is slim.
I think they need at least 10 conference wins and at least 1 conference tourney win (probably 2). 12 more wins would give them 22 and it would be hard to keep them out. 9 wins I guess is possible but they would certainly need 2 tourney wins and have at least a win or two in regular season play over MSU, Wis and/or Ind.
The problem is I just don't see us getting 10 wins. Over the last 33 games they have shown they just don't play well on the road.
Here is how the road breaks down...
- 2 wins that you can almost count on (Mich and NW)
- 3 more that are winable but if we don't play well they will surely be losses (Pur, PSU, Ill)
- 4 losses (MSU, Wis, OSU, Ind).
- Have to win - NW, Mich, Iowa, Ill, PSU (probably win 4 of these 5)
- The rest - Wis, OSU, Ind, MSU (hope for 1)
All of this to say I see probably 9 wins and bubble burst on Selection Sunday.
Let's get to Michigan State...
PG - McKenzie vs. Travis Walton - advantage Gophers, but barely. Every preview I write I beg for Nolen to start at PG. Insert Nolen and I give the ad to Michigan State, a freshman PG starting his first B10 road game against arguably the best in the conference isn't favorable for Minnesota. But I'd rather have that and then let McKenzie play SG to start the game. For the gophers the key is turnovers on both ends. We need to turn over whoever is handling the ball for the Spartans and we have to keep our turnovers down.
SG - Westbrook vs. Neitzel - Westbrook played well in the early part of the non-conference schedule but he just doesn't do much for me. But this one doesn't matter much as Neitzel is an All-American and advantage clearly goes to MSU. Drew hasn't had a monster season thus far but his team is winning even when he doesn't carry the scoring load. As the season goes along this will probably be beneficial to the Spartans.
SF - Abu-Shamala vs. Raymar Morgan - another battle dominated by MSU. Raymar has emerged from being a very good player to one of the best in the Big Ten and arguably the best on his own team. Morgan has been great as of late (but hopefully not in 08?) and this is a bad matchup for the Gophers. If Tubby is ever going to start Johnson at SF this would be the game to do it. Damian stands a chance of defending Morgan whereas Shamala will be scored upon inside, outside and whatever other side Raymar wants to score in.
PF - Coleman vs. Marquise Gray - Coleman has finally found his groove in Tubby's system and is playing better than at any point in his career. The key in this matchup is Coleman boxing out. Gray doesn't put up great numbers but he is 2nd on the team and 106th in the nation at getting offensive rebounds. If Coleman can keep him off the boards that will help the gophers a lot.
C - Tollackson vs. Goran Sutton - while Coleman has played better as of late, Tollackson has played poorly. This is a bad matchup for him. Athletic posts are his cryptonite and while Sutton is not athletic he is just more talented. I don't see Tollackson scoring or stopping Sutton from scoring. If he can help us win it will be on the boards. Sutton averages 8+ reb per game so keeping him under his average would be a a good thing.
BENCH - Michigan State has a deep bench with a few players who would start on most other B10 teams. Backup PG Kalin Lucas is averaging 8.8 pts per game and 4.4 assists. The freshman had 18 pts, 8 reb and 8 asts vs. #5 Texas right before Christmas. So he is to be feared for sure. Durrell Summers and Drew Naymick are also very good and will pose problems for the Gophers.
KEYS - I don't always do keys to the game but for tomorrow's game there are a few things the Gophers HAVE to do if they want a chance...
1. Rebounding - is going to be HUGE on both ends. Michigan State leads the nation in offensive rebounding. They get an extra possession on over 45% of their missed shots. That is incredible. We have to limit their possessions and boxing out (which isn't exactly our strength) will be key. On the other end they are kind of like us, they don't fare too well getting defensive rebounds, and we get back nearly 40% of our misses. So we need to hit the offensive glass hard and keep the ball in our hands.
2. Shoot well from behind the arc - We just plain have to shoot well. The Spartans are good defensively and we just don't shoot well on the road. I don't mean we should be hoisting up three's just to try and stay in the game, but we may need to hit 8-10 from behind the arc to have a chance.
3. Force Turnovers - I know this list is pretty basic but it is so true. Our offense thrives on getting transition baskets from turnovers. When we don't force turnovers we struggle. MSU is solid in the backcourt and I don't expect a lot of turnovers but we have to speed them up and get 4 easy baskets from turnovers.
I think the UNLV loss was good for the gophers and maybe they'll come out ready to play. While they easily could get blown out, I think they will play tough tomorrow. I don't think they'l win and I don't think it will be within 4 but I also don't think it will be a blowout.
Minnesota - 63
Michigan State - 71
Here is Isaiah Dahlman in action. The big kid from Braham (MN) is basically the 10th man for Michigan State and sees very little playing time (4.3 min per game). If I were a betting man, my money is on him transferring to Wofford to play with his younger brother who is getting 21 min per game as a freshman.