East Lansing, MI (Sports Network) - A pair of teams hoping to find themselves at the top of the Big Ten heap come this time next month get together on Wednesday night, as No. 18 Minnesota comes calling on No. 12 Michigan State.
Minnesota opened the season a spectacular 15-1, but a four-game losing streak from Jan. 12-26 brought the team back to Earth. Since then however, the Golden Gophers have gotten back on track with a pair of wins over Nebraska and Iowa to improve to 17-5 overall and 5-4 in conference. UM is 3-3 in true road games, with each setback coming the last three times coach Tubby Smith's squad has played on enemy hardwood.
Michigan State comes in sporting an 18-4 record, which includes a 7-2 mark in conference play. The Spartans, who are just a game out first place in the Big Ten standings, have logged three winning streaks of at least five games this season, and the team has won all 13 of its home games, and 30 of the last 31 played at Breslin Center overall. MSU recently took out visiting Illinois in an 80-75 final last Thursday, giving it wins in seven of its last eight games.
Michigan State owns a 63-58 advantage in the all-time series with Minnesota, and the Spartans have won 12 of the last 14, 17 of the last 20 and 22 of the last 27 meetings. MSU has won 13 straight over UM at Breslin Center.
All that said, the Golden Gophers earned a 76-63 win in Minneapolis on New Year's Eve this season in the Big Ten opener for both teams. Andre Hollins scored 22 points to lead four Gophers in double figures, while Keith Appling had 15 for the Spartans in defeat. Minnesota shot a sizzling 56.6 percent from the field in the win, while Michigan State was just 44.4 percent efficient.
Producing at the offensive end of the court hasn't been an issue for Minnesota this season, the team averaging a healthy 73.2 ppg which ranks it third in the Big Ten. Andre Hollins (14.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.7 apg) leads the team in scoring, and help comes from Rodney Williams (12.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 32 blocks), Austin Hollins (11.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.0 spg), Joe Coleman (10.0 ppg) and Trevor Mbakwe (9.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 39 blocks). Defensively, the Gophers permit 61.4 ppg, which ranks in the middle of the Big Ten pack, and they lead the league in blocked shots (6.2 bpg) and steals (9.0 spg), while ranking second in rebounding margin (+9.1). Austin Hollins nailed the go-ahead 3-pointer with just over 11 seconds remaining in regulation, as Minnesota slipped past visiting Iowa over the weekend, 62-59. The Gophers shot 44.9 percent from the floor compared to 36.2 percent for the Hawkeyes, and the home team swatted away seven shots, two each credited to Mbakwe and Williams. Andre Hollins finished with 15 points and eight assists in the victory.
Michigan State's strength is its ability to shut down the opposition, doing so for just 59.4 ppg -- one of four teams in the Big Ten currently yielding less than 60 ppg. The team also fights for loose balls with the best of them (+7.4 rebounding margin), while ranking just behind Minnesota in steals (8.4 per tilt). When they have the ball, the Spartans put up 69.7 ppg in hitting 46.8 percent of their field goal attempts, which includes a 34.9 percent effort from beyond the arc. They do however, tend to get careless from time to time, coughing it up an average of 14.3 times per outing. Appling is one of three double-digit scorers for coach Tom Izzo's club, netting 14.0 ppg, and his 4.2 apg also pace the team. Gary Harris (12.8 ppg), Branden Dawson (10.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Adreian Payne (9.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 22 blocks) and Derrick Nix (9.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 26 blocks) round out a highly-productive starting five. Appling bounced back from a poor performance in MSU's loss to Indiana on Jan. 27 by logging 24 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in helping the Spartans overcome a 10-point halftime deficit and push past Illinois last Thursday. Overall, Michigan State shot a scorching 59.5 percent from the floor, while the Illini turned in a 45.0 percent effort. The Spartans, who also put three others in double figures, claimed a 24-12 edge in points from the foul line, as well as a 33-24 differential on the glass.