|Familiar foes Michigan State, Minnesota meet in second round|
DES MOINES, Iowa -- Less than a week after spending three straight days squaring off with Big Ten teams, No. 2 Michigan State will see a familiar face in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
That's because the Spartans, a 76-65 winner over No. 15 Bradley in the East Region on Thursday, will face No. 10 Minnesota in the second round on Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena.
"It'll be a grind, for sure," Michigan State junior guard Cassius Winston said. "This will be the longest Big Ten season ever, for sure. We're excited to play, and to advance, and I'm sure they are too."
Minnesota, which knocked off No. 7 Louisville, 86-76, on Thursday, didn't have the benefit of knowing its opponent until later in the day, but just advancing is a big deal for the Golden Gophers.
The victory over Louisville was the first tournament win for Minnesota (22-13) since 2013 after not having an official NCAA Tournament victory since 1990. So reaching the second round was a victory in itself.
"Obviously means a lot to us and it means a lot to our state and our fans and our program as well," senior Jordan Murphy said. "So, it's really significant to us, been in this position two years ago where we lost and now just being able to redeem that loss and win and keep moving and advancing and then going into the next game with a good mindset I think it's a pretty positive thing."
Michigan State (29-6) and Minnesota played just once in the regular season, a 79-55 victory at home for the Spartans in early February. Michigan State ended a three-game skid that day as Nick Ward scored 22 points and grabbed nine rebounds while shooting 9-for-14 from the field.
Ward broke his hand two games later and missed five games before returning for the Big Ten Tournament. Reintegrating Ward back in the lineup has been tough but seeing a bigger Minnesota team could help.
"We wanted to get Nick Ward more minutes, and we got him some," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "But because of some defense coverage that made it harder. He's just not quite there yet, not all his fault, a little bit ours. He was productive getting to the free-throw line and scoring a bucket and getting five rebounds. So I thought we got a little more out of him.
"Now we're going to play a team that has a couple bigs, that's more of a conventional team."
Gabe Kalscheur scored 17 in the last meeting, but he didn't get much help as Murphy was limited to five points and Amir Coffey had four. In the win over Louisville, the trio led the attack as Kalscheur scored 24 while Murphy and Coffey scored 18 each.
Minnesota also made 11 3-pointers against Louisville, its second-best effort of the season thanks to the support of a partisan crowd as the Gophers' campus is about a three-and-a-half hour drive from the arena.
"The crowd was awesome. The crowd was absolutely awesome," Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said on Thursday. "When I meet people, I try to explain to them about Minnesota and how much pride our fans have, not just for men's basketball but for the University. ... That crowd carried us. It was a big-time performance from them and hopefully we see them in a couple days as well."
--Field Level Media