Know Thy Enemy is a weekly Q&A where the perspective changes from the eyes of The State News to the eyes of the student newspaper of Michigan State basketball's opponent.
Riding on a high after downing in-state rival Michigan 87-69 Sunday night, No. 8 Michigan State men's basketball will look to continue both their 7-game win streak and undefeated conference record when hosting Minnesota on Thursday (9:00 p.m, ESPN2).
The Gophers are 8-6 on their season and hold an even 2-2 record in the Big Ten. Minnesota has named themselves as a team that puts up a good fight, proven by their double-overtime loss against Purdue and more notably, their win against No. 11 Ohio State at home.
This week The State News spoke with The Minnesota Daily's sports reporter Nick Jungheim to get an insiders perspective on what exactly the Gophers will bring to the Breslin on Thursday evening.
Q: The Gophers are even in conference play, but haven't gone down easy, proven by their double overtime fight against Purdue. What are the Gophers good at that help them stay competitive until the very end? How will they stay competitive against Michigan State?
A: Even though the Gophers' record isn't great right now, they have improved in a couple areas compared to last year's team that lost to Michigan State in the NCAA tournament. The change that has helped them stay competitive the most is increased production on 3-point shooting. Minnesota has gone from being dead last in the Big Ten a year ago to leading the conference in threes attempted this season and shooting one of the better percentages in the league as well. To hang with Michigan State, the Gophers will have to find good looks on the perimeter and sophomore Daniel Oturu will need to continue his production down low. After a solid freshman year, Oturu has emerged as one of the best big men in the conference and is averaging 19.1 points and 12.4 rebounds per game this season.
Q: Guard Marcus Carr has been a go-to for the Gophers this season, especially after grasping a career high 35 points against in-conference opponent Ohio State. What does Carr contribute to the Gopher roster? How do see him playing against No. 8 Michigan State?
A: Marcus Carr provides the Gophers with the pure point guard the team was sorely missing last season. He's good at creating open looks for teammates as well as driving to the hoop and making tough, contested layups. He's also a guy who other players look to for leadership and coach (Richard) Pitino likes to praise Carr's composure. The one thing he's struggled with is consistency. When he's on, like against Ohio State, this Minnesota team looks like a tournament-caliber squad, but when he struggles, so does everybody else. He's played much better of late than early in non-conference play but Michigan State's talented back court presents a tremendous challenge for him.
Q: Who on the Gophers' roster does the team need to show up Thursday night against MSU? Who do the Gophers rely on?
A: Aside from Carr, the Gophers will need some of their depth guys to step up against the Spartans. In the loss to Purdue, Carr, Oturu and sophomore Gabe Kalscheur accounted for 69 of the Gophers' 78 points. Only relying on those three guys is not going to be enough against Michigan State. The Gophers can count on guys like Oturu to play well night in and night out, but most of the roster has been largely inconsistent. Senior Alihan Demir, who had 11 points and nine rebounds in Minnesota's last game against Northwestern, is somebody I look at as needing to have a productive game if the Gophers are going to pull off an upset in East Lansing.
Q: The Gophers' offense has struggled in some games this season, especially early on. How have they improved their offensive productivity? Has it improved enough to compete with a Top Ten team?
A: Once again, consistency has been the key. In some of the early non-conference losses, the Gophers struggled to score from the outside. Recently, guys like Kalscheur have found their touch and that has made a big difference. Opponents have to respect Minnesota's shooters instead of just keying in on Oturu down low. Free throws are another area where Minnesota has made strides since the beginning of the season. In non-conference play, the Gophers struggled to get to the line and, when they did, they shot a poor percentage. Over the past four or five games, they have improved dramatically from the foul line. Still, Minnesota's offense is far from elite and a low scoring game is the Gophers' best chance to win.
Q: What is your score prediction and why?
A: Minnesota has not played well away from home this season, which is something they have struggled with in recent years as well. The team's shooting tends to suffer in road contests and I think that will be the case in this game. Even though Minnesota played Purdue close in a hostile environment, the Izzone is an entirely different beast and the Spartans have been playing very well lately. I think Michigan State should win comfortably.
Score Prediction: Michigan State 76 Minnesota 63
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