One is a fluke. Two is a trend. Three could sound serious alarm bells.
When the Big Ten schedule started two weeks ago, Michigan State was a Top 5 teams and appeared ready to take on the best conference in college basketball. Suddenly, however, the Spartans have dropped their first two in league play to Northwestern and No.9. Wisconsin thanks to some decidedly shaky defensive performances.
And that’s why Michigan State’s (6-2, 0-2 Big Ten) trip to Minneapolis on Monday night (8 p.m. ET, BTN) to face Minnesota feels so huge. The Gophers (8-1 overall, 1-1 Big Ten) are coming off a 102-95 overtime win over No. 4 Iowa on Christmas Day and are playing with a world of confidence.
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The series history
The Spartans lead the overall series 70-58, winning the last five consecutively by an average of 21.6 points per game. Michigan State has been ranked in the Top 15 in each one of those games while the Golden Gophers have been unranked. That may change after the latest Associated Press rankings come out on Monday.
Since 2010-11, the Spartans are 14-3 in the series.
Things to watch for
The biggest problem for Michigan State in the 85-76 loss to Wisconsin on Christmas Day was turnovers. Michigan State had 14 of them on Friday- allowing the Badgers to score 24 points. The 14.1 turnovers per game through the first eight games is up from the previous three years. There’s also the need for more scoring depth. Joey Hauser had 27 against Wisconsin on Friday, but Aaron Henry was the only other Spartan in double figures with 12. When you add all of that together, you have a messy picture against good opponents. While late December is hardly panic time, one of the challenges of the Big Ten this year is the lack of an ability to take a breath. Three of the next five games- at Minnesota, Rutgers on Jan. 5 and at Iowa Jan. 14 figure to be against Top 25 teams for Michigan State before a potentially brutal stretch at the end of January.
Richard Pitino’s Gophers had their biggest win of the year on Friday when Marcus Carr had 30 points and eight assists in the win over Iowa. The junior guard is averaging 25.6 points and 6.5 assists per game. Liam Robbins is also good from the center spot, averaging 12.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks a contest. (The last two are team highs.) The Gophers are not as good from the outside and only shoot 42.8 percent from the floor compared to 47.0 for Michigan State. However, they will press the scoreboard with five straight games above 85 points.
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