Well here we go. The next four games see the Gophers playing at Michigan State (#9 team per kenpom), home to Ohio State (#1), at Iowa (#13) and home to Wisconsin (#3). Things get easier after that, but if the Gophers can come out of this stretch with even one win it will be a success. Unfortunately, this first game in East Lansing is going to be the toughest game to get.
Sparty is 14-1, with their only loss against giant killler but get beat by crappy teams North Carolina. That was a home game, so it's not like Michigan State is invincible at the Breslin Center, but pretty much they are. This team is good at basically everything. They shoot over 40% from three, they shoot 52% from two, they don't turn the ball over much and they will turn you over. They rebound well, although their offensive rebounding is only so-so, but against the Gophers I'm guessing they'll do just fine. They share the basketball incredibly well (assists on 62% of their made baskets, 12th best in the country) and have four players averaging double figures in points per game. They like to attack the rim and get the ball into the post. Their only weakness is they don't get to the free throw line often and don't shoot well when they get there. Well, that and their overall depth.
Michigan State has four really incredible players in guards Keith Appling and Gary Harris, forward Branden Dawson, and center Adreian Payne. Then they have two pretty good players in swingman Denzel Valentine and guard Travis Trice. And that's it. Only one other player (forward Matt Costello) outside of those six plays more than nine minutes per game. Trice missed last game with an illness, so the Gophers best hope would be that whatever that illness was spreads like wildfire through the Spartan locker room and knocks out at least two of the four studs for the game. Or control the tempo and get Sparty running and hope they get tuckered. Or something.
Really though, when your press and half court defense have just been shredded by Purdue and Penn State and you're about to take a big step up in class of opponent things really aren't pretty. I have been trying to think of how the Gophers could win this game, and outside of the illness thing or insanely hot three point shooting I can't come up with anything. Even their fifth guy, Valentine, is perfect to go up against the Gophers because he's a great passer for a wing player and should be able to shred the Gophers' zone when he gets the ball at the free throw line. North Carolina beat Michigan State by holding them to a horrendous shooting night and attacking the paint on offense. They used their depth in the front court to bully the Spartans' thin front court on both ends of the court. Unfotunately, the Gophers can't copy that game plan, and I can't come up with a good one. Maybe they'll overlook the Gophers after their monster win over Ohio State. I don't know. I'm stumped. Fortunately, Richard Pitino is smarter than me (probs). I just don't know that it's possible.
Michigan State 84, Minnesota 67