Pregame: Gophers' Sweet 16 hopes likely fall on the frontcourt vs. Michigan St

 startribune.com  03/23/2019 22:27:53 

Gophers men’s basketball vs. Michigan State

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:

Post presence – The Gophers don’t often get dominated in the post like they did in the last meeting against Michigan State in a 79-55 loss Feb. 9 in East Lansing. Spartan center Nick Ward outscored Minnesota’s starting frontcourt himself 22-17, to go along with nine rebounds. Gophers All-Big Ten senior Jordan Murphy had just five points on 1-for-4 shooting and six rebounds in 30 minutes. You would think Murphy was in foul trouble, but he had zero fouls and the field goal attempts were the fewest in a Big Ten game since his sophomore season. Freshman center Daniel Oturu had 12 points and seven rebounds, but Ward gave him trouble early and often. Oturu was replaced by senior center Matz Stockman throughout the game due to foul trouble. Stockman, who had six points and four rebounds in 16 minutes last month vs. Michigan State, was not fully cleared in Saturday's morning shootaround and is expected to be sidelined for the third straight game with a concussion. Ward, who is averaging just five points in 11 minutes the last five games, has been limited since returning from a broken hand. Minnesota might see the Spartans play Ward more than in the their win Thursday against Bradley, but Xavier Tillman and Kenny Goins will likely get the bulk of minutes in the frontcourt. Stockman’s absence means freshman Jarvis Omersa and junior Michael Hurt will play backup roles behind Oturu and Murphy. Murphy was suffering from back spasms after getting banged up in Thursday's 86-76 win vs. 7-seed Louisville, but he felt much better in Saturday's shootaround after sitting out practice Friday. Murphy and Oturu combined for 31 points and 12 rebounds vs. the Cardinals.

Cassius and Coffey – Spartan guard Cassius Winston, who was the Big Ten player of the year, had 26 points on 8-for-16 shooting from the field and 8-for-8 from the foul line in Thursday’s win against Bradley. Winston struggled scoring in his last outing vs. Minnesota with 11 points on 5-for-12 shooting, but he also had nine assists and zero turnovers. Gophers junior guard Amir Coffey is averaging 21.7 points in his last six games, but he only had four points and four turnovers in a loss at Michigan State last month. Coffey never got his rhythm going after being spending most of the first half on the bench with foul trouble. In Thursday’s win against Louisville, Coffey scored 13 of his 18 points in the first half. With the Cardinals’ defense focused on Coffey, freshman Gabe Kalscheur took advantage with 17 of his 24 points in the second half, including four of his five three-pointers. Kalscheur will likely get the toughest defensive assignment in the backcourt to guard Winston, so he will need to avoid foul trouble to stay on the floor. Spartan guard Matt McQuaid probably should've been on the All-Big Ten tournament team with 27 points vs. the Wolverines in the title game. McQuaid, who had 18 points vs. Minnesota last month, is also a member of the all-league defensive team.

Transition defense – The Gophers are at their best running the floor and scoring on the fastbreak, but the Spartans might be the best in the Big Ten at scoring in transition. Winston doesn’t hesitate to push the ball up the court and Michigan State’s big men are basically thoroughbred getting out on the break. Minnesota was outscored 18-0 in fastbreak points in the 24-point road loss in East Lansing. Gophers coach Richard Pitino relies a lot on his starters (they scored all 86 points) and plays them heavy minutes, but they might need some rest if Saturday’s game becomes a track meet.

GAME INFO

Time: 6:45 p.m. CT, Saturday. Where: Wells Fargo Arena. Line: Gophers 11.0-point underdog. Series: Michigan State leads the series 70-60, including winning the last meeting 79-55 on Feb. 9 in East Lansing.TV: CBS. Online/Live video: NCAA.com Radio: 100.3 FM.

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA GOPHERS (22-13)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG 

G- Amir Coffey 6-8 Jr. 16.3

G- Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Sr. 9.2

G- Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 Fr. 10.3

F- Jordan Murphy 6-7 Sr. 14.9

C- Daniel Oturu 6-10 Fr. 10.9

Key reserves– Brock Stull, G, 6-4, Sr., 1.4 ppg; Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, Fr., 0.8 ppg; Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, So., 4.1 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Jr., 1.7 ppg.

Coach: Richard Pitino 130-105 (7th season)  

Notable: Stockman is not expected to play after a concussion suffered last week in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals vs. Purdue. Stockman, a Louisville transfer, became the Gophers’ most valuable bench player with nine points, six rebounds and a career-high seven blocks on Senior Night vs. Purdue … Redshirt sophomore Eric Curry had surgery recently to repair ligament damage with his right foot. Curry, who averaged 4.1 points and 3.1 rebounds in 18.7 minutes in 15 games this year, was the top frontcourt player off the bench as a freshman on the 2017 NCAA tournament team … The Gophers set a school NCAA-record going 11-for-27 from three-point range Thursday against Louisville. The previous record for threes made in an NCAA tourney game was nine three-pointers in the U’s last tournament win vs. UCLA in 2013.

MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (29-6) 

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G-Cassius Winston 6-1 Jr. 19.1

G-Matt McQuiad 6-5 Sr. 9.9

F-Aaron Henry 6-6 Fr. 5.5

F-Kenny Goins 6-7 Sr. 8.1

F-Xavier Tillman 6-8 So. 9.6

Reserves–Nick Ward, F-C, 6-8, Jr., 13.8 ppg; Foster Loyer, G, 6-0, Fr., 1.7 ppg; Gabe Brown, G, 6-7, Fr., 2.0 ppg; Thomas Kithier, F, 6-8, Fr., 1.6 ppg.

Coach: Tom Izzo 603-231 (24th season)  

Notable: Tillman is averaging 12.6 points and 8.4 rebounds in seven starts since Ward’s injury ... The Spartans are one of the most balanced squads in the nation, ranking 43rd in the country in scoring offense (78.7), 15th in field goal percentage (48.4), 38th in scoring defense (65.5) and 3rd in field goal percentage defense (37.9) … Guard Kyle Ahrens was sidelined for the rest of the season after suffering a Grade 3 ankle sprain in Sunday’s Big Ten tournament title game win vs. Michigan.

Fuller’s predictionMichigan State 75, Gophers 66. Spartans coach Tom Izzo complained about the NCAA tournament selection committee giving his team a 2-seed in the same region as top-seeded Duke. Still, Pitino has even more to be upset about having to face the Big Ten’s co-regular season and conference tournament champion in the second round. No two Big Ten teams have ever played so early since the NCAA tournament went to a 64-team field in 1985. This should be a much closer game than the one-sided affair in February, but the Gophers won’t be able to rely on their three-point shooting like they did setting a school NCAA-record with 11 three-pointers against Louisville.

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