On Wednesday night, the Minnesota Golden Gophers and their spiffy new No. 24 ranking headed into East Lansing to take on the Michigan State Spartans. The first matchup between the two teams was a showdown, with Michigan State sneaking out of Minnesota with a 75-74 overtime win in late December.
This one was never close.
Michigan State jumped on Minnesota early, and the Spartans never eased up. The freshmen trio of Nick Ward, Miles Bridges and Joshua Langford combined for 38 points on 14-of-24 shooting. The Golden Gophers were as cold as the weather in Minneapolis, shooting just 33 percent from the field, including a disastrous 3-for-16 from three-point territory.
Let’s see what we learned from the game.
What We Learned
1. Miles Bridges Is As Advertised
Miles Bridges’ return last week from a seven game absence wasn’t quite as electrifying as the eight games he appeared in before being sidelined by an ankle injury. The freshman’s return to action was underwhelming, as he was limited to 17 minutes and only scored six points against Rutgers. In the following contest against Penn State, Bridges shot a woeful 2-for-8 from the field and only managed four points.
He had lost his luster. Then he came out in a highly-anticipated sequel with Minnesota and scored 16 points on an efficient 5-for-7 shooting, including 2-for-3 from the three-point line. He’s back. Not just back on the court, but back. His swagger has returned, his confidence. Look for him to regain his pre-injury form, where he seemed to be pouring in 20 points nightly.
2. Minnesota isn’t a top three Big Ten team
Playing in their first game as a ranked team in nearly four years, Minnesota laid an egg on Wednesday night. It was disappointing to many, as all signs pointed to the Golden Gophers coming out with their new vote of confidence and testing the Spartans on the road.
Minnesota still has some meat on the schedule with Wisconsin, Nebraska, Indiana and Maryland (twice) looming. The Golden Gophers likely won’t finish in the top three or four of the conference, but that shouldn’t keep them out of the NCAA tournament. Take a look around. The Big Ten is stacked and are poised to send at least six teams to the big dance in March.
All in all, this team won eight games last year. With the loss to Michigan State, they are now 15-3. This season is already a monumental step in the right direction for the program and coach Richard Pitino. Essentially, anything they do from here on out are just icing on the cake.
3. The Spartans Are Dangerous
Entering conference play, Michigan State didn’t appear to be as intimidating as they typically are around this time in the season. They had suffered five losses before playing a Big Ten opponent. But, it is imperative to keep in mind that four of those defeats were to teams ranked in the top-25.
Now, at full strength, Tom Izzo’s bunch is primed to make a run in the Big Ten. As it stands, the Spartans lead the conference with a 4-1 record. The freshmen duo of Miles Bridges and Nick Ward look like they can blossom into a defense’s worst nightmare with their length, athleticism and ability to score.