Michigan State Basketball: 5 Keys to Getting Payback Win over Minnesota
Closing out 2012 with a win was the goal for the Michigan State Spartans on New Year's Eve.
However, they were met by a hungry—and then No. 9-ranked—Minnesota Golden Gophers team and were smacked with an embarrassing 76-63 loss at Williams Arena.
At the time, Minnesota was red hot; it's only loss of the year was an 89-71 setback to the then-No. 5 Duke Blue Devils.
By the looks of things—at the time, that is—Tubby Smith had his Gophers on track to be a surprise team in the Big Ten. People were talking about Minnesota, and a bright future was easy to forecast.
However, the Gophers have won twice in their past six outings. Michigan State, on the other hand, has trudged its way through a challenging conference schedule and is fresh off of an 80-75 home victory over the Illinois Fighting Illini, who led 37-27 at the break.
A scare is what the Spartans (18-4, 7-2) needed in order to get their minds concentrated back on the prize: a Big Ten title.
Was the narrow escape a fluke? Are the Spartans ripe for the picking after barely beating out an unranked foe?
What about the Gophers? Should they be feared, or should they be discarded as a flash-in-the-pan, once-hot team that has come back down to Earth?
There are a handful of factors that will surely dictate the outcome of Wednesday's showdown at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, but none are more important than the following five.
1. Spartans Need to Channel Sense of Urgency
Losing at the Breslin Center isn't something that Spartans coach Tom Izzo is accustomed to doing.
As a matter of fact, losing there rarely happens.
Izzo has a spectacular record on his home floor, winning approximately 91 percent of the time.
Nearly letting one slip away this past Thursday against the struggling Illini should have been a wake-up call for Michigan State.
Despite the fact that Minnesota (16-5, 4-4) has won twice in its past six games, the Spartans need to approach Wednesday's game like they're hosting a national title contender. At this stage of the season, Michigan State can't afford a loss to a middle-of-the-road club.
If the Illinois game was a must-win, the date with Minnesota is a must-must-win.
Having a rowdy Izzone will surely help the Spartans during their crusade. As one of the country's peskiest student sections, it'll be the Izzone's job to ensure that Minnesota doesn't feel at home. Illinois was just too comfortable; that can't happen on Wednesday.
Payback, served Izzone style, will boost the Spartans' confidence.
2. Michigan State Needs Travis Trice And/Or Gary Harris to Play
Travis Trice is arguably one of college basketball's top hustle guys.
He's in the trenches, despite being a modest 6'0", and frequently mixes it up with much larger players.
However, Trice's style of play invites injury. He was knocked out for five games with a concussion and broken nose after Michigan State's loss to UConn in Germany, and Izzo thought it would be wise to ease Trice back into the lineup.
That move was for the best, obviously.
When healthy, Trice bothers the opposition. He adds energy and rarely disappoints with a lack of effort.
Although his status for Wednesday's game isn't certain, it's safe to say that he may watch his team battle the Gophers from the sidelines.
Izzo recently told MLive.com that Trice "could be out for awhile."
Gary Harris is an elite frosh, not only in the Big Ten, but in the nation. He reportedly suffered back spasms and tweaked his foot against Illinois. He was able to walk on his own after the injury, but it's unknown whether or not he'll play against the Gophers.
Michigan State needs at least one to play. Harris is the likely candidate. The former 5-star Hamilton Southeastern phenom is a threat from anywhere on the floor. He knocks down 41 percent of his three-point shots and converts 77 percent of his attempts from the free-throw line.
If the Spartans are in dire need of a deep ball, Harris will come in handy. If a late-game free throw is in order, Harris can deliver.
3. Keith Appling Has to Command Tempo
Keith Appling makes the Spartans go; he's the fuel of the offense.
Also a respectable defender, Appling's presence and contributions are absolutely necessary on a game-in, game-out basis.
Appling lit up the Illini with 24 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and a block, However, he didn't take over the game until it was in danger of slipping away from Michigan State.
Controlling the tempo of the game—with or without 24 points—will be imperative for Appling. At times, he hides in the shadows. While his reemergence certainly makes for great theater, the Spartans could do without the dramatics against the Gophers.
Just as long as Appling is Appling—the consistent Appling—against the Gophers, the Spartans should be in good shape. He'll need to be the dominant player that he's capable of being, especially if Trice and Harris aren't available.
4. Limiting Andre Hollins, Trevor Mbakwe Is Important
Gophers sophomore guard Andre Hollins is one of the Big Ten's top producers. He averages 14 points per night, but he slammed the Spartans with 22 points on New Year's Eve.
If Hollins goes crazy on Wednesday, Minnesota could leave East Lansing with a win.
Hollins is the Big Ten's ninth-leading scorer, but perhaps more telling about his skill set are the two steals that he averages each night (second-best in the league).
He makes teams pay for mistakes. A timely steal-turned-layup could be the deciding factor. Izzo needs to put out an APB stating just how dangerous this kid is. He scored 20 points against Wisconsin, a team that plays defense in a similar manner as the Spartans.
Trevor Mbakwe leads the Big Ten with 8.6 rebounds per game; he had 12 against the Spartans on New Year's Eve.
Taking care of Minnesota's two-headed monster will be key.
5. Win the Battles on the Offensive Glass
This doesn't need to be said, but it'll be said anyway: Michigan State is always one of the better rebounding teams in the country.
Football pads and plenty of contact have been staples of Izzo's maniacal routines for years. That's just how he does things.
However, the Gophers are the kings of the Big Ten on the offensive glass, averaging 15.8 per contest. Compare that to Michigan State's 11.4 per game, and it's easy to see why efficiency in this category is important.
For comparison's sake, let's say that Minnesota's four extra rebounds result in eight points. Converting second- and third-chance opportunities won't happen every time, but play out this scenario: The Spartans, on average, win by 10.4 points per game. Minnesota, on the other hand, wins by just over 12.
The difference of just four rebounds could be the deciding factor Wednesday night.
Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix are good for about 15 rebounds combined during any given game. You better believe that they'll be counted on to rule the boards—on both ends—for the Spartans.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81