Originally written on The Detroit Sports Site  |  Last updated 11/15/14
The Michigan State Spartans have had nearly a week to regroup after Illinois came to town and nearly took home a shocking win with them. A mighty second half effort bailed the Spartans out, keeping them within the top of the Big Ten race. With the Minnesota Golden Gophers visiting, a better start will be important. The Gophers handed Michigan State their first Big Ten loss of the year, and will be hungry to stay on the rebound following plenty of inconsistent play. What can Minnesota do to climb back up the standings? How can the Spartans get revenge? Spartan Jump Shots is ready for the first repeat match up of the year. Michigan State’s Key To Victory: Limit Andre Hollins. The Spartans had no answer for Hollins the first time, as he scored 22 points on 7-10 shooting. Hollins was also aggressive, attacking the basket getting to the line for seven free throws, all of which he made. The guard dominated the whole game, also collecting six assists and getting his teammates baskets. This time around, lockdown defense will be needed to limit Hollins. He cannot get to the hoop as often as he did, nor can he be allowed to roam free and knock down shots. If the Spartans cut his output in half and do a better job clearing the boards with their bigs, they will beat the Gophers easily. Keith Appling must win this battle. Minnesota’s Key To Victory: Deeper bench contributions. Hollins likely won’t be running wild in East Lansing. Other Gophers’ starters like Rodney Williams and Austin Hollins will find scoring a bit harder this time around as well. Considering this, Minnesota will need bigger contributions from their bench to win. In their first win of the year against Michigan State, only Julian Welsh and Oto Osenieks registered in the box score, contributing eight points. The bench did contribute 13 rebounds, which will be vital. Starters typically operate under different circumstances on the road than at home, so it will be up to the Golden Gopher reserves to put forth a good effort and provide the starters with support. Should that happen, it will be easier to score. The X-Factors: Adreian Payne and Joe Coleman Payne was a non-factor in the first meeting, only putting through four points and collecting seven rebounds in 24 minutes. The Gopher starters up front ran wild in Minnesota to the tune of 26 points and 18 rebounds. This time, Payne has to match their effort with a good one of his own. Derrick Nix also must elevate his game down low. A better offensive and defensive approach from Payne will set the tone, though. It’s no coincidence that the Spartans usually win big when he’s on point. Coleman was the only Gopher starter who didn’t hit double figures in the first meeting. He’s certainly capable, doing so in Minnesota’s comeback win against Iowa over the weekend to the tune of 12 points. Should Coleman provide his running mates with more support, the Golden Gophers will be a tough out, even in East Lansing. When watching both Andre and Austin Hollins, the Spartans must be careful not to forget about Coleman, because he can quietly burn teams. Most Important “State” Stat Of The Game: 12, the amount of rebounds Trevor Mbakwe collected in the last meeting, which was five more than any Spartan grabbed. Minnesota outrebounded the Spartans 38-24, and was paced by Mbakwe’s big afternoon. This time, the Spartans have to be ready to win the board war and take away some of Mbakwe’s boards. He cannot be allowed to dominate Payne and Nix again. The Spartans’ success depends on their ability to rebound and win individual battles. If Mbakwe, the leader, does this, Michigan State will probably lose. Intangibles: Second game scouting. Tom Izzo is the best coach in the country when it comes to preparing his teams for opponent’s they’ve already seen. His work is most appreciated in late February and early March, when repeat match ups become more prevalent in conference play. This time around, will the Spartans have a better plan of attack against the Golden Gophers? Many will forget that the Spartans did have a late lead before falling apart in Minnesota. With Izzo’s guidance, expect the Spartans to have a better start and finish to the game. He’ll find something in the tape which he didn’t see the first time around which helps his team exploit the Gophers. Prediction: Michigan State had a shaky performance against Illinois, but they’ve had some time to regroup since then. That can either work in their favor or hurt them, as legs might not be as fresh. The Spartans played the Gophers tough on the road before falling. Knowing that, they’ll put forth a much more solid defensive effort this time around, and Izzo will have his team motivated to find exploitable holes in Minnesota’s game plan. Nix and Payne rise up, and the Gophers don’t enjoy another Andre Hollins star performance on the road. The Spartans collect a big win. Michigan State 77, Minnesota 64 Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax
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