The Minnesota Golden Gophers and Michigan State Spartans open Big Ten Conference play on Monday afternoon, as the two teams put lengthy win streaks on the line at Williams Arena.
Tom Izzo's Spartans come into this contest with an 11-2 overall record. Michigan State has won six straight games, including a 67-56 win over Texas last time out on Dec. 22.
Tubby Smith's Golden Gophers are one better on the year, sporting a 12-1 record as the 2012 calendar year comes to a close. It marks the most non- conference wins in the Smith era. Minnesota's lone loss on the year came against now top-ranked Duke (89-71) and the team has won eight games since, including a 75-50 rout of Lafayette last time out.
This marks the 121st meeting between these two longtime conference rivals. Michigan State holds a 63-57 series advantage thanks to wins in four straight and 12 of the last 13 meetings, overall.
The Spartans are fueled by strong defensive play, as the team leads the Big Ten in field-goal percentage defense (.358). The team is yielding just 56.1 ppg and enjoys a +10.2 rebounding margin, hauling in just over 40 boards per game (40.2). Keith Appling is both the team's top scorer (14.9 ppg) and distributor (4.1 apg). Backcourt mate Gary Harris adds perimeter depth (12.4 ppg). Branden Dawson (9.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Derrick Nix (8.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg) and Adreian Payne (8.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg) give the team balance.
Nix led the way with a career performance, recording a double-double with 25 points and 11 rebounds (both career-highs), leading the Spartans to a nine- point home win over the Longhorns. Nix was 7-of-10 shooting from the floor and 11-of-13 from the free-throw line in the win. He was joined in double-figure scoring by Appling, who netted 14 points. MSU held Texas to just .365 shooting and outrebounded the Longhorns, 36-32.
Minnesota dominated Lafayette on the boards, outrebounding the Leopards, 46-25. The Gophers also held a 14-1 edge in points from the free-throw line. Joe Coleman led the way offensively with 12 points. Oto Osenieks came off the bench to tally 10 points in support.
The Golden Gophers have flourished at both ends of the floor this season, averaging 75.9 ppg, while allowing just 59.5. Much like Michigan State, Minnesota excels on the glass, grabbing 41.0 rebounds per game and holding a +10.2 rebounding edge. Offensive depth is apparent with four of the five starters boasting double-digit averages. Rodney Williams is a versatile player who leads the team in scoring (13.0 ppg) and ranks second in rebounding (6.1 rpg). Andre Hollins is a close second in the scoring column (12.9 ppg) and tops in terms of assists (3.5 apg). Austin Hollins (10.5 ppg) and Coleman (10.2 ppg) round out the top scoring threats. Trevor Mbakwe (8.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg) gives the team a formidable presence in the paint.