Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Preview: Gophers vs. Sparty

Last night, a floundering team who had NCAA at-large aspirations at one point had a gigantic home game against an opponent ranked in the top 10, the type of game that can take a so-so tournament resume, or even a weakish one, and suddenly vault the team towards the top of the bubble.  That team would be Seton Hall, who came out on fire and smoked Georgetown by 18, shooting a blistering 61% against a very good defensive Hoya team and showing that this is a team that gets it, and wants in.

Elsewhere, Colorado State, who was barely clinging to the bubble and whose only chance of getting in was grabbing some marquee wins as the season winds down, jumped up at home and took down one of the hottest teams in the entire NCAA by beating New Mexico behind inspired play by a back-up forced into heavy action due to injury, who responded with a double-double.  Virginia won at rival Virginia Tech to lock-up their bid.  Kansas State put up one of the best wins of any team this year by winning at Missouri to put them in great shape.  So it is possible for a team to respond positively in these situations, despite what us Gopher fans have seen year-after-year.

Of course, there are also teams who go the other way.  Northwestern lost what was pretty much a must-win home game (blowing the advantage gained after beating Minnesota, which I predicted on my twitter account), NC State couldn't handle UNC in a game they had to have, Xavier lost at UMass to end their at-large hopes, and Mississippi State came up just short of upsetting Kentucky in a game that would have put them into position for a bid.  So it can go either way.  So what about the Gophers against Michigan State tonight?

Sadly, I have a feeling they're going the wrong way.  Michigan State is an elite team both offensively and defensively.  They've won five straight, 7 of the last 8, and recently beat both Ohio State and Purdue on the road.  Draymond Green is an elite big 10 star, despite some argument in the comments section of one of my posts a few days ago, and when you watch him you'll see a guy who completely controls the game.  He's basically their point forward to start the offense, but gets involved in the paint once the ball starts moving.  He's had 8+ boards in 13 straight games and notched a double-double in four of the last five. Unlike a lot of players who become the main guy for their team, he's actually having a better shooting year than last year, including career highs in 3-point and free throw percentage.  He's a stud, and he's got plenty of help.

Keith Appling has settled into his combo guard role, scoring in double figures in 12 of the last 15 games (although it's worth noting he's 3-29 from 3-point land in the last 10 games).  Freshman Branden Dawson has gone from slow-starter to supremely confident inside scorer, hitting 10+ points in 6 of the last 8 and he demolished Purdue.  Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix are a terrific center combination, and Payne's defense is a difference maker now that he's figured out what the hell he's doing.  And, along with Green, they have three other shooters in Brandon Wood (36% from 3), Travis Trice (41%), and Austin Thornton (42% and also he looks just like Bogart, FYI) who should all have a field day.

Simply put, this team is too big, too disciplined, too strong, and too athletic.  They have enough talent to make the Final Four and, like usual with Izzo's teams, they're peaking at the right time and the Gophers are in their way.  In order to pull this off, the Gophers will have to play a near flawless game with something approaching the 60% shooting Seton Hall threw up last night, and looking at this roster I just don't see how this can possibly happen here.

Michigan State 74, Minnesota 57.

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