Winning on the road in the Big Ten is an issue for everyone. Minnesota lost its first six road games of the season before beating Ohio State on Thursday, while Michigan State opened 2-0 on the road, but most recently has come out flat against both Purdue and Minnesota.
The Spartans are tied atop the conference, but if they can’t win on the road, that’s going to change soon. They were ran off the court by Purdue and then opened in a 15-point hole over the first 11 minutes before making it competitive in Thursday’s loss to Indiana.
The big thing for the Golden Gophers is that they haven’t lost at home in conference play, beating the likes of Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan, though the early loss to DePaul is somewhat of a stain on the resume.
The spread in this game is close and that’s probably how it will go despite MSU winning 74-58 at home on Jan. 9. That meeting was tight for a little bit in the first half, but Minnesota could never get over the hump as Marcus Carr battled foul trouble.
The other reason it will be close is because Minnesota doesn’t have the type of team that will blow out other legit opponents. Its defense ranks ninth in the conference in terms of adjusted efficiency, as it’s one of the worst at grabbing defensive boards and defending the three.
While the Spartans didn’t need threes in the previous matchup, they had 19 offensive boards, something that can’t happen again if the Gophers want to win.
Outside of Daniel Oturu, Minnesota doesn’t have one true advantage, which puts them in a hole. Oturu’s goal will be to not only win on the boards, but also draw fouls after he managed just four free throws in the prior meeting.
If he can get MSU into foul trouble, namely Xavier TIllman, that could go a long way. Marcus Carr is the other player who has to step up which he often does at home, scoring 48 points in the last two games.
If those two things happen, it’ll be up to everyone else to do the little things like Gabe Kalscheur and Payton Willis hitting threes or Alihan Demur working the boards.
The question is if the Minnesota defense can show up. Cassius Winston and Tillman did whatever they wanted in the first matchup, combining for 46 points, 20 boards and 10 assists. When those two are going, the Spartans are hard to beat and those performances came with little else from the role players.
Guys like Gabe Brown and Aaron Henry are as inconsistent as Minnesota’s second-tier players, but they play high-end defense which is the main difference between these teams.
Minnesota gets the edge playing at home, but there’s no doubt Michigan State will come out with a different mindset having looked lost early in recent road games.
That being the case, winning on the road is difficult for anyone and if Oturu and Carr are on their game, this could be another loss for the Spartans.
Minnesota 70 Michigan State 69