East Lansing, MI (Sports Network) - A pair of teams hoping to find themselves
at the top of the Big Ten heap come this time next month get together on
Wednesday night, as No. 18 Minnesota comes calling on No. 12 Michigan State.
Minnesota opened the season a spectacular 15-1, but a four-game losing streak
from Jan. 12-26 brought the team back to Earth. Since then however, the Golden
Gophers have gotten back on track with a pair of wins over Nebraska and Iowa
to improve to 17-5 overall and 5-4 in conference. UM is 3-3 in true road
games, with each setback coming the last three times coach Tubby Smith's squad
has played on enemy hardwood.
Michigan State comes in sporting an 18-4 record, which includes a 7-2 mark in
conference play. The Spartans, who are just a game out first place in the Big
Ten standings, have logged three winning streaks of at least five games this
season, and the team has won all 13 of its home games, and 30 of the last 31
played at Breslin Center overall. MSU recently took out visiting Illinois in
an 80-75 final last Thursday, giving it wins in seven of its last eight games.
Michigan State owns a 63-58 advantage in the all-time series with Minnesota,
and the Spartans have won 12 of the last 14, 17 of the last 20 and 22 of the
last 27 meetings. MSU has won 13 straight over UM at Breslin Center.
All that said, the Golden Gophers earned a 76-63 win in Minneapolis on New
Year's Eve this season in the Big Ten opener for both teams. Andre Hollins
scored 22 points to lead four Gophers in double figures, while Keith Appling
had 15 for the Spartans in defeat. Minnesota shot a sizzling 56.6 percent from
the field in the win, while Michigan State was just 44.4 percent efficient.
Producing at the offensive end of the court hasn't been an issue for Minnesota
this season, the team averaging a healthy 73.2 ppg which ranks it third in the
Big Ten. Andre Hollins (14.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.7 apg) leads the team in scoring,
and help comes from Rodney Williams (12.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 32 blocks), Austin
Hollins (11.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.0 spg), Joe Coleman (10.0 ppg) and Trevor Mbakwe
(9.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 39 blocks). Defensively, the Gophers permit 61.4 ppg, which
ranks in the middle of the Big Ten pack, and they lead the league in blocked
shots (6.2 bpg) and steals (9.0 spg), while ranking second in rebounding
margin (+9.1). Austin Hollins nailed the go-ahead 3-pointer with just over 11
seconds remaining in regulation, as Minnesota slipped past visiting Iowa over
the weekend, 62-59. The Gophers shot 44.9 percent from the floor compared to
36.2 percent for the Hawkeyes, and the home team swatted away seven shots, two
each credited to Mbakwe and Williams. Andre Hollins finished with 15 points
and eight assists in the victory.
Michigan State's strength is its ability to shut down the opposition, doing so
for just 59.4 ppg -- one of four teams in the Big Ten currently yielding less
than 60 ppg. The team also fights for loose balls with the best of them (+7.4
rebounding margin), while ranking just behind Minnesota in steals (8.4 per
tilt). When they have the ball, the Spartans put up 69.7 ppg in hitting 46.8
percent of their field goal attempts, which includes a 34.9 percent effort
from beyond the arc. They do however, tend to get careless from time to time,
coughing it up an average of 14.3 times per outing. Appling is one of three
double-digit scorers for coach Tom Izzo's club, netting 14.0 ppg, and his 4.2
apg also pace the team. Gary Harris (12.8 ppg), Branden Dawson (10.6 ppg, 6.8
rpg), Adreian Payne (9.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 22 blocks) and Derrick Nix (9.0 ppg,
6.5 rpg, 26 blocks) round out a highly-productive starting five. Appling
bounced back from a poor performance in MSU's loss to Indiana on Jan. 27 by
logging 24 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in helping the Spartans
overcome a 10-point halftime deficit and push past Illinois last Thursday.
Overall, Michigan State shot a scorching 59.5 percent from the floor, while
the Illini turned in a 45.0 percent effort. The Spartans, who also put three
others in double figures, claimed a 24-12 edge in points from the foul line,
as well as a 33-24 differential on the glass.
The Sports Network