(AP) — Something's gotta give on Saturday when No. 9 Michigan State hosts Minnesota.
The Spartans enter the game reeling, having lost three in a row for the first time in two seasons, and are now a full game out of first place in the Big Ten behind Michigan and Purdue. The Golden Gophers come in having lost two straight after feeling like they got the short end of the stick from the officials in a loss at home to Wisconsin.
One team will be feeling much better about itself by Saturday evening, and for the Spartans at least, the formula is clear.
"How do you think your team is?" Michigan State coach Tom Izzo asked rhetorically after practice on Thursday. "I thought we were awful (against Illinois). I didn't think we played with any of the three categories that we looked up, and we worked on it for two nights, the coaches did.
"We're not defending like we were. Teams were shooting 22 percent against us five games ago from the three, and they're shooting 37 percent against us now. That's an unbelievably ridiculous amount.
"No. 2, we were outrebounding teams by 13, now we're outrebounding them by one. That's No. 2. And because we didn't rebound we don't run. So, there's nothing about shooting, nothing about free-throw shooting, nothing about anything else. It's about defend, rebound, run. The way that Michigan State's done it, the way that championships teams do it, and that's what we got to get back to and that's what we tried to get after today a little bit."
There have been other reasons Michigan State (18-5, 9-3 Big Ten) is struggling, as well. The schedule had them at Purdue as the Spartans were playing their third game in seven days, while uncharacteristically poor free-throw shooting (8-for-22) bit them in an overtime loss at home to Indiana. The loss to Illinois on Tuesday included 24 turnovers, nine by Cassius Winston.
The constant, however, has been the rebounding, the start of everything for the Spartans, who rank 13th in the conference in defensive rebounding have allowed 32 offensive rebounds across the last two games. As a result, the fast break has ground to a halt while the opponent gets extra possessions. Against Illinois, the Fighting Illini took 15 more shots, as the Spartans attempted a season-low 43.
It led to Thursday's practice, which Izzo described as "probably the best I've seen in a while."
The best because the Spartans put for the effort Izzo has been looking for.
As senior Kenny Goins, the team's leading rebounder put it, "You either (man) up or shut up. What kind of (guts) have you got? It's time for guys to step up. It all heart and (guts) now."
For the Gophers (16-7, 6-6) the back-to-back losses sting. The first was over the weekend at Purdue, where they let a 13-point second-half lead disappear.
Then the offense disappeared on Wednesday with the loss at home to rival Wisconsin.
"Learn from this game and move on," Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said after the loss to the Badgers. "We still have many great opportunities moving forward, some great opportunities in this building, some great opportunities on the road.
"We finish with a lot of tough games, so we're going to figure out what we are doing wrong, what we are doing right, and then learning and growing from it. I think there's a lot of things we did well, but we've got to be able to be disciplined for 40 minutes, and we were pretty close today."
Saturday is the only meeting between the teams this season.
--Field Level Media