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Happy Pro Bowl Sunday! I know we’re all giddy to watch the NFL’s exhibition game with most of the sport’s best on hand in Orlando. You mean we’re not? I guess that means we need to look at college hoops again, eh?
Let’s go ahead and do that with our spotlight game between the Michigan State Spartans and Minnesota Golden Gophers. We don’t have any really late games on Sunday this week, so we have to pick one as far down the card as we can and this one just happens to draw a national TV audience on Fox. A new situational betting spots article will come out later today with an extended look at next week’s most interesting games.
Michigan State is favored by 3 on the road at Minnesota with a total of 140.5 at Bookmaker Sportsbook. We know that Big Ten home teams have had great success this season and the limited number of road wins have mostly been at Northwestern and Nebraska. The Spartans have a chance to get a nice road win today and strengthen their position in the minds of most bettors as the best team in the Big Ten Conference.
It won’t come easy. It did in the first meeting, when the Spartans won by 16 in East Lansing and had 1.126 points per possession to Minnesota’s .883 PPP. The Spartans have not been immune to the road woes of the conference. They were simply terrible against Purdue on January 12 in a 71-42 loss and then most recently lost on Thursday night at Indiana by four points.
Michigan State isn’t forcing enough turnovers on defense. Their 16.2% TO% on defense ranks 328th in the nation and they are even worse in conference play at 13.1%. They’re also turning it over quite a bit in conference play at 19.5%. That is second to Maryland as far as performance in conference games for the B10. This team has some problems. All the teams in the Big Ten do. The ceiling is likely the highest for Tom Izzo’s bunch and we’re still about six weeks away from March when his teams are at their best. But it hasn’t been a confidence-inspiring look to this point.
Minnesota is just 5-4 in conference games on the season, but they do seem to be trending up to a degree. It will come as no surprise that all four of Minnesota’s conference losses have been on the road. For some reason, playing away from home has just been brutal for the teams in this league. Of course, Minnesota did score a really nice road win over the wounded animal that is Ohio State on Thursday. That should inspire a little bit of confidence heading into this one.
Richard Pitino’s team is 15th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency per Bart Torvik and 16th for Ken Pomeroy. The Golden Gophers have had their share of issues on defense, but they are also down for the second-toughest schedule per KenPom, with the third-hardest slate of offenses and also the third-hardest slate of defenses. Torvik actually has Minnesota down for the hardest SOS in the nation. They’ve had to earn most of their wins the hard way and the miserable schedule is the primary reason why Minnesota is just 11-8 on the season.
It isn’t the only reason, but it is the primary one. Like Michigan State, Minnesota hasn’t forced many turnovers on defense. They are only 124th in 2P% and 176th in 3P%. Things also got off to a slow start with a neutral-site loss to Oklahoma and a road loss against a marginal Utah team. Minnesota hasn’t been terribly consistent this season, but this is still a pretty young team. Senior Alihan Demir is the only fourth-year player on the roster. Sophomores Daniel Oturu and Marcus Carr shoulder a tremendous load for this team with the highest usage rates by far.
Carr is the point guard and facilitator of the offense. Oturu is the chief scoring threat. He is shooting over 64% on two-point shots as the main focal point of the other team. The problem is that nobody for Minnesota has taken charge from beyond the arc. Junior Payton Willis is the best shooter from distance at 35% and Gabe Kalscheur has taken the most threes, but has only made 33.3% of them. Minnesota could use some more makes from deep to offset the lack of extra possessions.
Michigan State has several scoring threats. They are led by upperclassmen Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman, but sophomores Gabe Brown and Aaron Henry are also big contributors. Brown may need to be more of the offense going forward. He is shooting 57.4% on two-point shots and 35.9% on three-point shots, but has one of the lowest usage rates on the team. Getting him going consistently might be the way to get Michigan State going on a regular basis. His usage rate has been extremely low in conference play, even though he has been a solid contributor. This feels like an adjustment that should be made.
Michigan State’s defense should be the determining factor in this game. The Spartans are holding opponents to 28.2% from 3 and 43.2% from 2. Minnesota already doesn’t contribute enough from distance and Michigan State’s ability to collapse on Oturu should make the difference. Oturu had 22 points on 9-of-19 shooting in the first game and Michigan State still won by 16. Even if Oturu gets his again, it may not matter. I would expect Izzo to have made some adjustments down low to slow the big man.
Pick: Michigan State -3
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