Who: No. 10 Minnesota (23-13) vs. No. 2 Michigan State (29-6)
When: Saturday, March 23.
Where: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, Iowa.
Radio: 94.9 WMMQ-FM (Lansing) or SpartanSportsNetwork.com
Line: MSU -10
DES MOINES, Iowa — Despite a 24-point win against Minnesota earlier this season, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo isn't looking forward to the rematch on Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Spartans beat the Golden Gophers at the Breslin Center, 79-55, on Feb. 9, but Izzo said at a news conference from the Wells Fargo Center on Friday both teams were playing much differently. The Spartans, co-Big Ten regular season champions and conference tournament winners, still had wing Kyle Ahrens, who suffered a Grade 3 ankle sprain against Michigan last Sunday, and a fully healthy Nick Ward pre-fracture in his left hand.
It was before Minnesota defeated co-Big Ten champion Purdue twice, and before guard Amir Coffey put together seven straight games of at least 14 points leading into Saturday.
"It was a long time ago and the prep feels brand new," Izzo said.
The Spartans survived No. 15 Bradley in the first round on Thursday and pulled away late for a 76-65 win. Minnesota made 14 3-pointers, led by by guard Gabe Kalscheur, who scored 24 points and connected on 5-of-11 shots from deep.
But even though Izzo thinks Minnesota is playing its "best basketball", Gophers coach Richard Pitino said Friday he knows his team has its largest test yet.
"I would rather play somebody else and not them," Pitino said. "I guess from a prep standpoint it's easier, but just because we know who they are, obviously we know they're very, very good."
Saturday will mark the 24th conference game for both teams and the earliest rematch between two Big Ten opponents in the tourney. Because MSU and Minnesota have played earlier, gameplanning can be more in-depth than in a nonconference game.
"I would say on the Louisville prep we focused a little more on personnel and player tendencies because we've never played them before," Coffey said — Minnesota's leading scorer at 16.3 points per game. "With the prep like Michigan State, you can focus on what they're doing in their schemes because we already know all the players and what they like to do already."
Izzo said he plans to use Ward more than he has as of late for the matchup advantage against Minnesota forward Jordan Murphy, who Pitino said was dealing with back spasms since the second half against the Cardinals.
As for Ward, he played 10 minutes and scored eight points and five rebounds against Bradley. Ward has played in four games since returning from injury, averaging 10.75 minutes and 5.5 points.
The hardest thing for Ward has been catching passes inside the post. But the 6 foot, 8 inch junior said he's feeling healthier every day.
"My condition has come along," Ward said. "I've made great strides. Last week wasn't the best. This week I'm starting to feel normal. As far as catching the ball, it is a bit of a challenge. Catching hard entry passes was my thing for a while, but since it's on my left hand it has made it challenging."
Casey Harrison: MSU 74, Minnesota 68
Chase Michaelson: MSU 70, Minnesota 62