By Jeff Ghiringhelli
The Big Ten tournament is in full swing (just ask Ohio State and Michigan), and one of the more important quarterfinal games features Michigan State against Minnesota. The Golden Gophers are in desperate need of a deep tournament run, and a loss tonight would effectively eliminate them from contention for an at-large bid. They got off to a strong start last night when they blew out Penn State 76-65, though they will face a much tougher team in Michigan State. The Gophers produced a balanced offensive attack last night, as four players scored in double figures. Devoe Joseph led the team with 15 points.
A win tonight might be enough to get Minnesota into the tournament, since they have already beaten Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Butler this season. The Gophers have been playing very well recently, winning five of seven overall. They also have played MSU tough in both meetings this season. While they lost both games, they only were defeated by one on their home court. The other contest was a seven point win for the Spartans in East Lansing.
Still, the Gophers know that they will have to play a great game tonight in order to pull the upset and keep their tournament dreams alive. Michigan State shared the Big Ten regular season title with Ohio State and Purdue, their second straight crown. It has been a season of ups and downs for the Spartans, but they have been back on the right track recently. After starting 9-0 in conference play, Kalin Lucas went down with a sprained ankle that led to a three game losing streak.
However, since that losing streak, the Spartans have won 5 out of 6.
Raymar Morgan has been a bright spot for MSU recently, averaging 16 points and 11 rebounds in his last four games. It seems as though the senior does not want to end his career with an early tournament exit, and if he continues to play well the Spartans become a very tough team to beat. Lucas, since returning from the ankle injury, has not been performing particularly well, averaging only nine points and shooting just 32 percent. The start of the postseason may be just what he needs to get back in the groove.
One giant question mark for the Spartans is the status of Chris Allen. Earlier this week, head coach Tom Izzo suspended the guard indefinitely for “not meeting his responsibilities to his teammates.” While Allen will not play tonight, his status for the remainder of the Big Ten tournament is unknown. He is one of MSU’s best pure shooters, and his ability to hit the three pointer will be missed in tonight’s game. It seems logical to think that Draymond Green, typically the first player off the bench for the Spartans, will earn the starting spot in Allen’s absence.
Expect Minnesota to play their hearts out tonight, which should lead to another close game between these two teams. However, Michigan State will prove to be a bit too much, as Morgan continues to play well and Lucas breaks out of his slump. Michigan State wins this one 75-67 and advances to the Big Ten tournament semi-finals tomorrow night.Follow paulmbanks