Michigan St.-Minnesota Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated February 21, 2012
Michigan State sits atop the Big Ten standings due in large to the play of Draymond Green, who is making a strong case as the conference's player of the year. Minnesota is well aware of Green's capabilities. The sixth-ranked Spartans seek a sixth consecutive regular-season sweep of the Golden Gophers by earning their fifth straight win at Williams Arena on Wednesday night. Michigan State (22-5, 11-3) hasn't won an outright regular-season conference title since 2008-09, when the Spartans eventually fell to North Carolina in the national championship game in Green's freshman year. Coach Tom Izzo believes he has one of his best teams in East Lansing - including his six Final Four participants - though he won't celebrate until the goals are accomplished. "We're happy where we are, but we realize we've got a lot of work to do if we're going to compete for this thing in the end," Izzo said. The Spartans are in control of their own destiny to win the conference title with the help of their senior captain. Green had his second consecutive 20-point, 10-rebound performance while adding a season high-tying seven assists in Sunday's 76-62 win at Purdue - Michigan State's fifth consecutive victory. Green leads the Big Ten and is tied for seventh in the nation with 15 double-doubles. "If you look at what he means to our team and look at all of the things he does ... he's so valuable in areas people don't even see," Izzo said. "The leadership has been unbelievable." Minnesota coach Tubby Smith has seen it all first hand. Green went 9 for 11 from the field and finished with 22 points, 14 rebounds and six assists in Michigan State's 68-52 victory Jan. 25 at the Breslin Center. Smith praised Green for another aspect of his game, though. "He's so good on the defensive end because he can guard multiple positions," Smith said. "He's that versatile. He's a guy who can do a lot of different things." The Gophers (17-10, 5-9) will look to slow Green while hoping to add another signature victory to a potential postseason resume desperately needing it. They have lost three straight after falling 64-53 at Northwestern on Saturday after committing 19 turnovers, their most in conference play. Minnesota played well in losses to Wisconsin in overtime Feb. 9 and to Ohio State on Feb. 14, though it came up short. Its biggest victory was 77-74 at then-No. 7 Indiana on Jan. 12. Julian Welch scored a season-high 21 points Saturday on 7-for-12 shooting, including 5 for 10 from 3-point range. "We're not capitalizing when we have opportunities," Smith said. "I guess it's just learning how to win and getting that killer instinct and learning how to close things out and finish games. It's been a combination of things." Michigan State has won 11 of the last 12 meetings, with the only loss coming 72-67 in overtime March 12, 2010, in the Big Ten tournament. The Spartans have taken four straight at Williams Arena, but Green averaged 5.5 points on 4-of-16 shooting in the last two visits.
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