Preview: MSU takes on Minnesota in quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Already defeating the Minnesota Golden Gophers twice this season, MSU men's basketball will have to make it a third time if they want to continue in the Big Ten Tournament.
They are 1-0 after a win against Penn State and will play one of the hottest teams in college basketball. The Golden Gophers were winners of their last eight before their season finale against Wisconsin.
Due to their location, Minnesota will travel the second-farthest out of every Big Ten team to the Verizon Center in Washington D.C.
Beating a team three times in a single season is considered near impossible however, MSU men's basketball head coach Tom Izzo is not in rare territory.
“We beat Wisconsin four times to win a national championship," Izzo said. "The thing is, we have to beat Minnesota one time, and they have been playing good. They’re the hottest team in the league. I think Richard (Pitino) has done an unbelievable job with this team. We’ll have our work cut out for us, but what a great opportunity to play in this thing and I’m happy we’re still playing."
Defense helped the Spartans bowl over the Nittany Lions in round two, but Minnesota has the best field goal defense in the Big Ten setting up what could be a defensive battle.
On average, Minnesota blocks seven shots per game, best in the Big Ten as well.
At the helm is head coach Richard Pitino, son of Louisville head coach Rick Pitino. The great finish for the Golden Gophers earned them a 4-seed in the Big Ten Tournament and helped Pitino win Coach of the Year in the Big Ten.
Just like Penn State, four players for Minnesota average in double-figure scoring, while Akeem Springs is just under with 9.6 points per game.
Guards Nate Mason and Dupree McBrayer have been especially hot lately. McBrayer is averaging 14.2 points in his last 5 games, Mason with 17.6 points in that same time span.
Junior guard Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn Jr. and freshman guard Joshua Langford will most likely start on defense against Mason and McBrayer.
"I think the biggest thing for us is to make sure we don't get nonchalant about it because we beat them twice already," Langford said. "We have to come in with the same focus we had in today's game, make sure we follow the scouting report. Minnesota is a good team. We have to make sure we play like we did tonight, play as a team."
Freshman forward Nick Ward and redshirt sophomore Kenny Goins will switch guarding forward Jordan Murphy, who has 11 double-doubles this season.
Against the Nittany Lions, MSU played a team which had played an overtime game the day before. With the question of fatigue looming, MSU has a quick turnaround to play a team that will experience their first game in the Big Ten Tournament.
“I don’t think we will have as much fatigue, but we definitely have to bring the energy tomorrow and hopefully our legs have enough left in the tank and I think we do.”
The last time these two teams played, freshman forward Miles Bridges scored 16 points to lead the Spartans past the Golden Gophers, 65-47.
“We’re not satisfied," Bridges said. "They’re one of the hottest teams. They have two great guards and they can explode at any minute so we want to have the same defensive mentality and rebounding mentality.”
With Bridges' success last time, Nairn and freshman guard Cassius Winston were able to have an off game. They only combined for four points last time. When MSU played Minnesota at the Barn in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, senior guard Alvin Ellis was the hero, pushing MSU over the hill in overtime.
“This is March and this is why they call it madness," Langford said.