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Gophers vs. Michigan State

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:

MURPHY vs. BRIDGES– One of the many Miles Bridges’ dunking highlights played over and over by Big Ten Network is of the star Michigan State freshman driving hard against Jordan Murphy and slamming the ball right over him. Murphy didn’t jump. He barely looked bothered at all. That’s the Murphy that was slumping. The Gophers’ All-Big Ten sophomore seems to be a different player now. He’s capable of doing the same thing against Michigan State with his athleticism and length. Murphy struggled in his last game in Sunday’s loss at Wisconsin. But he was averaging 17 points and nearly 14 rebounds in the seven previous games. Bridges, this year’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year, pointed to the last game against Minnesota as the turning point for him coming back from an ankle injury. The 6-7 forward has scored in double figures in 15 straight games since that Gophers’ game Jan. 11.

THREE-POINT DEFENSE– The Spartans broke a school Big Ten record with 10 three-pointers Thursday in a 78-51 win against Penn State in the conference tournament. The Gophers led the Big Ten in three-point shooting defense (30.8), which was the best mark in school history. But they allowed Wisconsin to shoot 10-for-18 from beyond the arc in Sunday’s 66-49 loss in Madison. That was only the second time in 18 Big Ten games that the Gophers allowed an opponent to make double-digit three-pointers in a game. No opponent during Minnesota’s eight-game win streak shot better than 35 percent from three. Clearly there’s a formula to winning for Richard Pitino’s team and defending the three is critical to that.

REBOUNDING EDGE– What is one thing Tom Izzo’s teams are known for the most? Probably rebounding. The Spartans haven’t been as dominant in that area as in years past, ranking fifth in the Big Ten in rebounding margin (plus-3.5). But when Michigan State is controlling the boards it can be nearly impossible to stop. In the Jan. 11 loss in East Lansing, Minnesota was outrebounded 42-29, which was the worst in any Big Ten game this year. Minnesota ranks first in the conference in rebounding offense (40.1), but it has struggled to keep opposing teams off the offensive boards. Michigan State set a tourney program record with 44 rebounds against Penn State Thursday, including 18 boards combined from Bridges and Nick Ward.

GAME INFO

Time: 1:30 p.m. CT, Friday. Where: Verizon Center. Line: Gophers by 2. Series: Michigan State leads-68-59; Spartans won last meeting 65-47 Jan. 11, 2017 in East Lansing. TV: ESPN. Online/Live video: ESPNapp Radio: 1500ESPN.

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA (23-8)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G-Nate Mason 6-2 Jr. 15.5

G-Amir Coffey 6-8 Fr. 12.0

G-Akeem Springs 6-4 Sr. 9.6

F-Jordan Murphy 6-6 So. 11.1

C-Reggie Lynch 6-10 Jr. 8.1

Key reserves– Dupree McBrayer, G, 6-5, So., 10.9 ppg; Eric Curry, F/C, 6-9, Fr., 5.6 ppg; Bakary Konate, C, 6-11, Jr., 1.7 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Fr., 0.8 ppg; Ahmad Gilbert, F, 6-6, So., 1.8 ppg.

Coach: Richard Pitino 92-73 (5th season)

Notable: The fourth-seeded Gophers have their highest seed ever in the Big Ten tournament, but they haven’t advanced to the semifinals since losing in the championship game to Ohio State in 2010. That was also the last time Minnesota played Michigan State in the conference tournament, winning 72-67 in overtime. The Gophers are 3-1 against the Spartans in games played on a neutral court. But they are 3-17 in the last 20 games in the series. Three of the last five meetings have gone into overtime, including in a 75-74 Minnesota loss at home in the Big Ten opener.

Michigan State (19-13)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G-Tum Tum Nairn 5-10 Jr. 3.7

G-Joshua Langford 6-5 Fr. 6.7

G-Alvin Ellis 6-4 Sr. 6.6

F-Miles Bridges 6-7 Fr. 16.5

C-Nick Ward 6-8 Fr. 13.7

Key reserves–Kyle Ahrens, G/F, 6-5, So., 2.7 ppg; Cassius Winston, G, 6-0, Fr., 6.9 ppg; Matt McQuaid, G, 6-4, So., 5.4 ppg; Kenny Goins, F, 6-6, RS-So., 3.3 ppg; Matt Van Dyk, F, 6-5, RS-Sr., 1.3 ppg.

Coach: Tom Izzo 543-218 (22nd season)

Notable: The Spartans defeated Penn State 78-51 on Thursday in the Big Ten tournament second round at the Verizon Center. It was tied for their largest margin of victory in a conference tournament game. The Nittany Lions were held to just 29.1 percent shooting, which was a season-low for an MSU opponent. Michigan State set school conference tournament records for most rebounds in a game (44) and most three-pointers (10).

Fuller’s prediction (27-4 picks record): Gophers 75, Michigan State 73. The Gophers were overmatched in their last meeting with the Spartans in an 18-point loss in East Lansing in January. But they were a much different team than emotionally. Minnesota had just been ranked for the first time in four years. Everyone was patting Gophers players on the back for a 3-1 start to Big Ten play and 15-2 record overall. They weren’t used to having that type of success after winning only eight games a season ago. Michigan State brought Pitino’s team down to earth. The five-game losing streak refocused the Gophers and motivated them again to prove everyone they’re legit. I think we’ll see that team take the court Friday in D.C.