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College Basketball Pick
When these teams played in Minneapolis earlier this season, the situation was almost the opposite. It was the Big Ten opener for both schools and the Gophers were ranked No. 9 in the AP Polls with one loss while the Spartans sat at No. 18 with two losses. This time around, Michigan State is ranked six spots higher and two games above Minnesota in the conference standings.
Even though the Gophers came out with a 13-point win in their previous meeting, it wasn't really that easy of a win. Minnesota had a 12-point lead in the first half, but the Spartans managed to get within one point by halftime. That run continued in the second half which saw MSU up by five points with less than 10 minutes to go. The Gophers would prevail on their home court, though, finishing the game on a 12-0 run in the final four minutes. It was an ugly ending for Michigan State and a sign that Minnesota would be a contender in the Big 10.
Since that game, the team's trajectories have switched. Minnesota lost four straight games in the middle of January including a road loss at Northwestern. Michigan State went on to win six straight after losing to the Gophers, with wins over Ohio State and Wisconsin.
Now, after two home wins for the Gophers, they are back on the road in East Lansing where the Spartans haven't lost all season. The big question heading into this game are the statuses of MSU guards Gary Harris (back spasms) and Travis Trice (concussion). Each was forced to leave the game last Thursday due to separate injuries. Both remained sidelined through the weekend, but are hopeful to play in Wednesday's game. If one or both of them can't go, freshman Denzel Valentine will get the minutes once again. He stepped up big against the Illini going for 14 points, a season-high, and maybe more importantly only had one turnover.
Still, it's not like beating the Spartans will be an easy task. Keith Appling and Adreian Payne are playing the best basketball of possibly their entire lives. While Appling was in foul trouble against the Hoosiers, he dropped 24 points to go with eight boards and seven assists against Illinois. He has taken his new captain role with pride. Big man Payne has always played with emotion, but now he's putting things together on both ends of the court. After never really taking a three-pointer in the past three seasons, Payne has made seven threes in the last six games. When you add Branden Dawson who's averaging 10 boards per game over the last four contests and Derrick Nix with his post moves, Minnesota will have to conjure up some more 12-0 runs.
The Gophers may have had four straight losses, but three of them were against Indiana, Michigan and at Wisconsin. Not a lot of teams would have come out with a positive record with that schedule. That's the main the reason Minnesota is still ranked No. 9 in ESPN's BPI rankings, 10 spots ahead of the Spartans. We'll get to see how legitimate those rankings are in this game.
Andre Hollins dominated the last time these teams played, going for 22 points hitting seven of his 10 shots. The Gophers actually shot 56.6% from the field which you don't see often against MSU. A similar game will be required to get this road win. With the way they've been playing, it's going to be harder than it looks. Minnesota needed an Austin Hollins three-pointer with 14 seconds left to take the lead on Iowa in their win on Sunday. The two Hollins' and Rodney Williams are Minnesota's main offensive threats, but Trevor Mbakwe will need to step up his offensive game, as well. The big man hasn't hit double-digits in three straight games, but managed a double-double in his first game against the Spartans.
This game should be back-and-forth just like in the previous matchup, but this time around the score should be much closer.
Predicted Score - Minnesota 65 Michigan St 62
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