Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Gophers vs. Michigan State Preview


Aside from the fact that game is at 11am on a Wednesday, everything about this game excites me. The first ranked Gopher team in a very long time, undefeated, about to begin Big Ten play against Big Ten Giant and #10 team in the country Michigan State. This will go a long, long way towards telling fans what this year's Gopher squad is all about. Was the Louisville game a fluke? Did they catch an overrated Cardinals team at the wrong time? It's possible. The Gophers played a hell of a game, but it's tough to tell just what this Louisville team is all about. The players on the roster and the coach say they should be a giant, as does the blowout win against UAB Saturday, like the team that was ranked #9 when the Gophers played them. But that loss to Western Kentucky still lingers and shows the Cards can put up an unexplained stinker. I'm inclined to believe Louisville is a very good team, and the Gophers have come together quicker than anyone could have anticipated and belong on that level - Wednesday will tell us more.

The Spartans have a similar, yet more forgivable, blemish on their record with their loss at home to Maryland (although Maryland ranks 37th at KenPom, WKU 147th). I'm not paying much attention to their blowout loss to North Carolina, because how can you possibly evaluate anyone playing that juggernaut? That said, those two losses and no real big wins would have left me thinking Sparty was ripe for the picking, but a couple of weekends ago, the same day the Gophers beat Louisville, the Spartans grabbed a really nice victory, beating #5 Texas on the road 67-63.

The teams rank similarly, with the Spartans #42 and the Gophers #49, and are similar in a lot of ways. In terms of offensive efficiency, the Gophers rank 27th, the Spartans 28th. In defensive efficiency, the Gophers are 84th, the Spartans 69th. Neither team turns the ball over much, although the Gophers rank 2nd in blocked shot percentage on defense and 12th in steal percentage, and the Spartan offense is mediocre on both counts. The biggest statistical edge I could find either way is the Spartans' offensive rebounding prowess going against the Gophers weakness in allowing offensive rebounds. The Gophers are 268th in offensive rebounding allowed percentage, while the Spartans are 35th in grabbing offensive rebounds. Although the silver lining here is that an undersized Texas team held the Spartans to just 9 offensive boards in their game, the Gophers have more size than the Longhorns to bang with MSU.

This seems like as good a place as any to look at the Spartan personnel, and just like last year the main guy the Gophers need to worry about is Raymar Morgan, taking another big step forward this year and averaging a career high 15.3 points per game, including a 29 point outburst against Oklahoma State. Texas was able to completely neutralize him using quick players, and held him to just 8 points (on 3-3 shooting) and managed to turn him over 6 times. I'm confident DJ will be able to handle him.

The next four leaders in minutes played for the Spartans are all guards, which again plays into the Gophers strengths. Al Nolen will have his hands full with lightning quick Kalin Lucas, second on the team in scoring with 11 points per game and averaging an incredible 6.5 assists to 1.0 turnovers ratio; although I think Lucas will have his hands full with Nolen too. Travis Walton starts in the backcourt with Lucas, and he can handle the point duties as well. Don't expect a lot of turnovers from the Spartans, but the guards need to at least keep them out of a good rhythm.

The other two big scoring guards are two sophomores, 6-3 Chris Allen (10.2 ppg) and 6-4 Durrell Summers (9.4). These are the kind of guys who worry me, because I'm not sure who guards them. Westbrook can handle one or the other, probably Allen, but I'm worried if Summers gets a chance to dismantle Hoffarber he won't be shy about it. Could be an excellent opportunity for Paul Carter to shine here.

One wild card is 6-10 senior center Goran Suton, who has always been kind of ho-hum but since returning from an injury a few weeks ago has been on fire, scoring 18 and 16 in his last two games while shooting 7-8 and 7-9 in the two games. Based on the job the Gophers did against a far superior Samardo Samuels, I'm not too worried about him, but it's someone to keep an eye on.

Last thing to watch is with super freshmen Delvon Roe hurt and likely to miss the game, his minutes will flow over to perpetual disappointment Marquise Gray. Since coming to MSU after being the 21st ranked player on the Rivals 150 for 2004, Gray hasn't even come close to living up to his potential, never averaging more than 7 points per game. The thing is, that potential is still there, and he is shooting 70% this year in his 14 minutes per game. Although it's not overly likely, I can see Gray getting overlooked with all the other scorers to worry about and ending up with Travis Busch on him all game or something.

Overall, these two teams match up pretty well together. I think the biggest key to the game comes down to Al Nolen vs. Kalin Lucas. Both can distribute (#2 and #3 in assists in the Big Ten), neither turns it over (1.0 per game for Lucas, 1.5 for Nolen), both can play defense (Nolen first in steals, Lucas 14th), and both pretty much key their team on both ends. After watching Nolen the last couple of weeks, how could I possibly not believe? Gophers 66, Spartans 60.

I also plan to do some kind of Big Ten preview before the game tomorrow. It may end up being nothing more than a list, but you should be grateful I give you anything. There are kids in Africa without the internet who don't get to read DWG at all.

8 comments:

Dawg said...

Does the 2nd chick from the left have a bun in the oven? The picture was subpar to begin with but if the best you can come up with is pregnant MSU co-eds then you are slipping my friend.

PS Whats with you picking the gophers to win outright? I'm pretty sure you just jynxed them big time. I will have to predict a 15 pt loss for Goldy due to W's jynx.

Snake said...

Plus I am sure two of those girls are about 12 years old. Jesus WWWWWW, a prego fetish is weird enough, but Pedophilia????

Anonymous said...

"There are kids in Africa without the internet who don't get to read DWG at all."

touché

tater said...

Suck it, Sparty!

WWWWWW said...

There's not a lot out there for Sparty chicks.

WWWWWW said...

I can't believe I picked the Gophers to win this game. I must have been drunk again at work. It's now just over an hour from gametime, and I'd like to change my prediction to Michigan State 74, Minnesota 64.

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