Most basketball experts earlier in the week felt that the Gophers were going to make a quick exit in the Big Ten tournament and didn’t have a chance at an NCAA at-large bid .
Minnesota opened the Big Ten Tournament by playing an outstanding game in the opening round and dispatching the Penn State Nittany Lions 76-55.
The Gophers were unselfish in dishing out 14 assists, and as a result eight Gophers scored six or more points. The Gophers took care of the ball in limiting their turnovers to eight while forcing the Nittany Lions into 14 turnovers.
The most impressive aspect of the game for the Gophers was the intensity they showed at the beginning of the second half.
At the 18 minute mark of the second half, Penn State trailed by eight points. In the next five minutes, the Gophers extended the lead to 20 points and never look back, as Penn State never made a serious run.
Can Minnesota now take the next step and upset the Michigan State Spartans? The Gophers will need to bring the same level of intensity that they brought against the Spartans in order to pull off the upset.
Coach Izzo has made winning the Big Ten Tournament a priority for his team, as it has been 10 years since the Spartans have cut down the nets. Coach Izzo’s team has heard him loud and clear.
"Coach is real fired up about this weekend," Kalin Lucas said. "We haven't won it in 10 years, so as far as him and as far as our team, we want to go out there and we want to win it this time .”
Draymond Green echoed Lucas’ sentiments about the need to end the dry spell for the Spartans. “When you're in a program like this, with all competitors, of course, it's going to come up," Draymond Green said. "We don't want it to keep living on for years and years to come, so we want to put a stop to it right now .”
Minnesota will clearly not be able to sneak up on the Spartans.
Minnesota comes to this game with the intention of creating their own tradition of being a perennial fixture in the NCAA tournament and one of the elite teams in the Big Ten.
Minnesota needs to beat the Spartans to have a shot at making the NCAA tournament. Minnesota needs to beat the Spartans to stake its claim as one of the elite teams in the Big Ten.
The Gophers played two competitive games against Michigan State this year; the Gophers lost on the road by seven and lost by one at home.
In analyzing their two previous meetings, Minnesota will need to improve upon the following three areas in their game in order to beat Michigan State.
First, Minnesota will need to limit its turnovers. In the two meetings with the Spartans, the Gophers averaged 12 turnovers. The Gophers need to have fewer than 10 turnovers to give themselves more shots and limit Spartan fast break opportunities.
Second, Minnesota will need to be willing to share the basketball and quickly rotate to the open man. The Minnesota coaching would probably like to see the Gophers dish out 19 assists again similar to the last meeting between the two teams.
Finally, the Gophers will need to box out on the defensive end to limit offensive rebounds by Michigan State. The Spartans are averaging 12 offensive rebounds a game against the Gophers. If the Gophers can keep Michigan State in the single digits for offensive rebounds, Minnesota will be primed for an upset.
Minnesota catches a slight break in that starting guard Chris Allen has been suspended from the team and will not play. The lack of the additional defensive perimeter player may create more open looks for Minnesota’s perimeter players.
Blake Hoffarber has not scored more than 10 points in Minnesota’s last six games. Hoffarber is due for a big game, and what better time than against the Spartans to put Minnesota in the semi-finals of the Big Ten Tournament?