PREVIEW: MSU men's basketball aims to bounce back against Minnesota
Who: Minnesota (16-7, 6-6 in Big Ten) at Michigan State (18-5, 9-3)
When: 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 9
Where: Breslin Center
Radio: Spartan Sports Network; 94.9 WMMQ-FM (Lansing)
As Michigan State looks to end a season-longest three-game losing streak, Spartans coach Tom Izzo believes the key is returning to what he believes in most.
Defense. Rebounding. Transition.
After losing in upset fashion on the road at Illinois (8-15, 4-8) on Tuesday, MSU has fallen from top of the Big Ten to third, tied with Wisconsin and one game back of first-place Michigan.
Despite a drop in MSU's offense in recent games — averaging 70.7 in the last three games compared to the team's season average of 82.0 — Izzo feels by dedicating extra resources to rebounding, scoring will be sure to follow.
"It’s not our shooting that I’m worried about," Izzo said. "We got to get back to playing with a defensive intensity, a cut-out and rebounding intensity, and a running intensity. … The only people stopping us on that part of our game is us."
The Spartans will get a chance to bounce back Saturday by welcoming Minnesota to East Lansing, a team on its own two-game skid.
The Golden Gophers, seventh in the conference after dropping back-to-back games to the Badgers and Purdue, are 1-5 in road games, but rank fourth in rebounding offense.
"They rebound the ball extremely well and right now that’s what we’re struggling with," point guard Cassius Winston said. "It’ll be a good game for us to get back on track and get back to do what we do as a team."
Winston remains the team's leading scorer at 18.9 points a game. At 7.4 assists, he also leads the conference in total assists and per-game average.
Minnesota features four starters averaging double figures, led by point guard Amir Coffey and forward Jordan Murphy, who average 15.8 and 14.9 apiece. Murphy also leads the conference with 12.1 boards a game.
Though MSU leads the conference in rebounding, the Spartans have been out-rebounded in three of the last four, which Izzo says has an adverse affect on the team's transition scoring. Izzo said he's once again reiterated the importance of forwards like Nick Ward, Kenny Goins and Xavier Tillman to grab boards and has seen noticeable improvement in this week's practice.
"Practice is tough because when we look good making our cuts or we’re defending rebounding really well," said Tillman, who earned his first career start in Tuesday's loss. "We just have to make sure it translates into the game."
Casey Harrison: MSU 74, Minnesota 67
Chase Michaelson: MSU 77, Minnesota 71