Oddly, the NCAA committee placed two Big Ten teams next to each other in the bracket and this is what happens, a Big Ten matchup in the second round. Surprisingly, Minnesota had an easier time in its first Game, beating 7-seeded Louisville, while Michigan State struggled with 15-seeded Bradley most of the way. The Spartans still opened as decent -10 point favorites at 5Dimes Sportsbook.
When these teams met in early February, it was ugly from the start. Playing at home, the Spartans got out to a 10-point lead in the first five minutes and never looked back in a 79-55 win. Things will be a little different from that Game, though mostly for Michigan State because Kenny Goins only played seven minutes due to a minor injury and it also got 19 minutes out of now injured Kyle Ahrens. Minnesota has lacked depth all year, yet could be playing its best basketball of the season.
After beating Penn State and Purdue in the Conference Tournament, the Gophers brought that into the Louisville Game with the help of 11 made threes. To win this Game, that would be a big bonus as they went just 5-for-14 from deep in the first meeting. The two players that need to step up are Jordan Murphy and Amir Coffey, who combined for nine points in that first loss. The good news for Minnesota is that Murphy has hit double digits in the last six Games, while Coffey has turned up his Game with at least 14 points in the last seven.
The task of defending those two will go to a variety of guys. Matt McQuaid and Aaron Henry will likely switch time on Coffey, while Nick Ward, Xavier Tillman and Kenny Goins have to deal with Murphy and Daniel Oturu. The Spartans have the eighth most efficient defense in the country, but if Minnesota repeats what it did last Game, that may not matter. And while attention will go to the likes of Coffey, Murphy and Oturu, Dupree McBrayer and Gabe Kalscheur showed last Game they could be serviceable role players.
Maybe the biggest thing for Michigan State will be to get Ward going again, as he hasn’t played more than 14 minutes since returning from his hand injury (Four Games). He had 22 points and nine boards in that first meeting and got Oturu into foul trouble. If Ward or Tillman can get either Murphy or Oturu into foul trouble, that would change everything because the Gophers only have five main guys with backup big man Matz Stockman questionable due to injury.
That said, it’s the same case on the other side in the backcOurt with Cassius Winston, Matt McQuaid and Aaron Henry playing the entire second half against Bradley. again, early foul trouble is a major issue for both of these teams. The best player in this Game is still Cassius Winston, who dropped 26 points against Bradley. He’ll likely draw a lengthier McBrayer, but no one in the Big Ten was able to stop him all season. If Winston can’t be stopped, the Spartans get the edge and if someone else gets going like Ward or Tillman, that’s another issue.
Still, this Minnesota team can match up well due to its length and it’s only a matter of putting everything together. The Gophers did that against Louisville, but when the shots weren’t falling against Michigan in their prior Game, they were blown out. since MSU has great perimeter defense, threes may not fall again and Minnesota may have to rely on Murphy and Oturu a little more. The Gophers could stay close, but winning will be difficult unless the shots fall and they can get one or two guys into foul trouble.
Our Pick – Minnesota +10