Gophers Basketball
See more of the story

Gophers men’s basketball at No. 9 Michigan State

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:

Replacing Curry inside – Redshirt sophomore starting center Eric Curry, who missed the first 12 games this season after knee surgery, is out Saturday with a calf injury. Curry, who is averaging 4.5 points and 3.2 rebounds in 19.5 minutes this season, was limited to two points and one rebounds in 28 minutes combined in the last two games against Purdue and Wisconsin. The 6-foot-9 Memphis native had been showing progress last month with an 11-point game in a Jan. 19 win against Penn State. Freshman Daniel Oturu, who is averaging 10.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and a team-high 1.7 blocks, will replace Curry after starting the first 18 games this season. If the Gophers want a chance to compete Saturday in East Lansing, then Jordan Murphy and Oturu need to do what they do best. Murphy grabbed 19 rebounds and Oturu had 11 rebounds in Wednesday’s 56-51 loss to Wisconsin. Murphy (3.6/game) and Oturu (2.9/game) are two of the top three offensive rebounders in the Big Ten. How often do you see Tom Izzo’s teams get dominated on the boards? Definitely doesn’t seem typical for Michigan State, which ranks plus-9.3 in rebounding margin this season. But the Spartans have lost the rebounding battle in two of their last three games. Indiana lost Juwan Morgan to a shoulder injury, but still edged Michigan State out on the boards 48-40 in the upset, grabbing 20 offensive rebounds. Earlier this week, Illinois grabbed 12 offensive rebounds and scored 24 points in the paint in the upset over Michigan State. The three-game slide all started with Purdue outrebounding Izzo’s squad 42-33 in a 10-point win in West Lafayette, including 15 second-chance points on 16 offensive rebounds.

Containing Cassius – Michigan State’s Cassius Winston might not be capable of putting up 40 points in a game like Purdue’s Carsen Edwards, but he’s just as dangerous as a scorer and even more of a facilitator. That’s why he was a frontrunner for Big Ten player of the year at one time before the losing streak. Winston’s averaging 23.3 points and 7.8 assists in the last four games, but he’s also averaging 4.8 turnovers during that stretch, including a career-worst nine of his team’s 24 turnovers against Illinois. The Gophers will try to put pressure on Winston with their size on the perimeter in 6-foot-8 Amir Coffey, 6-5 Dupree McBrayer and 6-4 Gabe Kalscheur.

Three and D – The Gophers had arguably their best defensive performance of the season in the first half of last week’s loss at Purdue. They held the Boilermakers to 1-for-13 three-point shooting. Edwards, who had come off a 38-point game with eight threes vs. Penn State, was 1-for-9 from the field against Minnesota by halftime. Repeating that effort Saturday will be just as important, especially with the Spartans ranking second in the Big Ten in three-point shooting percentage (38.4) and second in threes made per game (8.5). It wouldn’t hurt for the Gophers to finally have some success of their own from long distance Saturday. They’ve had some issues with that this season as I mentioned in game advance. But in the last three games, Purdue, Indiana and Illinois shot 30-for-73 (41.1 percent) against Michigan State.

GAME INFO

Time: 1 p.m. CT, Saturday. Where: Breslin Center. Line: Gophers 13-point underdog. Series: Michigan State leads the series 69-60.TV: ESPN. Online/Live video: WatchESPN Radio: 100.3 FM.

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA GOPHERS (16-7, 6-6 in Big Ten)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G- Amir Coffey 6-8 Jr. 15.8

G- Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Sr. 9.6

G- Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 Fr. 10.0

F- Jordan Murphy 6-7 Sr. 14.9

C- Eric Curry 6-9 So. 4.5

Key reserves– Daniel Oturu, C, 6-10, Fr., 10.7 ppg; Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, So., 5.1 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Jr., 2.0 ppg; Brock Stull, G, 6-4, Sr., 1.6 ppg; Matz Stockman, C, 7-0, Sr., 2.7 ppg.

Coach: Richard Pitino 124-99 (7th season)

Notable: Minnesota is vying for the first road win vs. a top-10 team since Jan. 12, 2012 in a 77-74 win at No. 7 Indiana. The U’s last victory at Breslin Center came 96-90 in overtime vs. the No. 25-ranked Spartans in Pitino’s second season in 2014-15.

MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (18-5, 9-3)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G-Cassius Winston 6-1 Jr. 18.9

G-Matt McQuaid 6-5 Sr. 8.3

F-Aaron Henry 6-6 Fr. 4.9

F-Kenny Goins 6-7 Sr. 7.3

F-Nick Ward 6-9 Jr. 15.2

Key reserves– Kyle Ahrens, G-F, 6-6, Jr., 5.9 ppg; Xavier Tillman, F, 6-8, So., 8.7 ppg; Gabe Brown, F, 6-7, Fr., 2.4 ppg.

Coach: Tom Izzo 592-230 (24th season)

Notable: The Spartans will be honoring the 40th anniversary of the 1979 national championship team on Saturday, which included the famously first played game between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird … Izzo’s depth took a big hit when starting guard Joshua Langford (15.0 ppg in 13 games) was lost for the season last month with a foot injury.

Fuller’s prediction: Michigan State 78, Gophers 70. The Gophers will put up a fight if they can stay competitive on the boards and limit Michigan State’s big runs. Curry’s health might keep him from being a factor, but that will give Oturu and Stockman more opportunity to make an impact. Pitino also mentioned giving Brock Stull more playing time to provide a boost to Minnesota’s lackluster three-point shooting. Win or lose, a solid game from Stull on Saturday would be beneficial moving forward with several more quality win opportunities.