Tom Izzo has developed many friends in the coaching business. After 18 years with the MSU men’s basketball program, it’s bound to happen.
It’s developed into an odd paradox for Izzo, who doesn’t particularly enjoy going against friends but also won’t concede the victory to them either.
Izzo welcomes another longtime friend to Breslin Center on Wednesday, as the No. 12 Spartans (18-4 overall, 7-2 Big Ten) host a season rematch with No. 18 Minnesota (17-5, 5-4) and head coach Tubby Smith (7 p.m., Big Ten Network).
“I don’t like playing against him, but I like playing his teams cause I think they’re tougher than nails,” Izzo said. “When he was at Kentucky we had some wars there, we’ve had some great games since he’s been at Minnesota. He was a great addition to our league cause he’s a guy (who) does it the right way.”
It’s the second meeting of the season between the two Big Ten contenders, with the Golden Gophers getting the better of MSU, 76-63, on New Year’s Eve. However, the last time Minnesota visited East Lansing, the Spartans took a decisive 68-52 win, earning Izzo his 400th career victory. In the last contest, the Golden Gophers shot nearly 60 percent from the floor and pulled away down the stretch on the strength of the sharpshooting guard Andre Hollins.
Hollins leads the Golden Gophers in scoring with 14.2 points per contest, which is good for ninth-best in the Big Ten.
The Golden Gophers also are among the best rebounding teams in the conference, ranking second in overall rebound margin. Much of that is a credit to forward Trevor Mbakwe, who led the conference in rebounding a season ago with 10.5 per game.
However, sophomore guard/forward Branden Dawson said the Spartans still should have the advantage, as the biggest difference since the last matchup is an improvement in MSU’s team’s chemistry.
“Beginning of the year, we were kind of young and we were kind of getting our chemistry together,” Dawson said. “We didn’t make free throws in the clutch and we looked back at the film and we had some letdowns and miscommunication on defense and missed free throws. What we learned from that game is … we’re just gonna play it out.”
The Spartans face a potential hurdle tonight, as guards freshman Gary Harris and sophomore Travis Trice have been battling injuries this week.
Both players were injured in last week’s 80-75 win against Illinois. Trice suffered a blow to the head in the first half that kept him out for the rest of the game and Harris left in the second half because of back spasms.
According to MSU new media director Matt Larson, Harris is likely to play in tonight’s game, but Trice remains doubtful.
As it pertains to the lineup against the Golden Gophers, junior center Adreian Payne said the team has options such as freshman guard Denzel Valentine, which will keep the chemistry of the roster as normal as possible.
“They were still (at practice) but Travis is out, he don’t know [sic] how long he’ll be out,” Payne said Monday.
“Gary, it’s the same thing. He was doing some drills with us but as far as that, it’s not really a big difference. They contribute to the team, it’s just a matter of them coming back.”
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