Michigan State Basketball: 5 bold predictions vs. Minnesota

Jan 7, 2017; University Park, PA, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard Eron Harris (14) dribbles past Penn State Nittany Lions guard Josh Reaves (23) during the first half at Palestra. Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State basketball takes on No. 24 Minnesota at the Breslin Center on Wednesday night and here are our bold predictions for the matchup.

Tom Izzo said in his weekly press conference that Minnesota might be even better than it was when the Spartans first took on the Gophers back on Dec. 27. That was only two weeks ago, but the general consensus is that the head coach is correct.

Minnesota has won three straight games over Purdue, Northwestern and Ohio State, climbing into the AP Top 25 for the first time this season. Richard Pitino seems to have finally tapped into the potential of his young team and he’s reaping the rewards.

The two teams match up again on Wednesday night at the Breslin Center in which the Spartans will be looking for a bounce-back win following a loss to Penn State at the Palestra. Michigan State and Minnesota are essentially battling it out for first place in the conference standings and this could be the game of the week.

Take a look at my five bold predictions for the matchup.

5. Amir Coffey has a career game for Minnesota

Amir Coffey put up big numbers against Michigan State in the first meeting between the two teams, scoring 17 points with three assists and three rebounds. He has been one of the best freshmen in the conference this season and might just contend with Miles Bridges and Nick Ward for Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

The first-year guard has been on a tear in Big Ten play, scoring at least 17 points in three out of four games and making nearly 50 percent of his three-point tries. He’s going to have another big game at the Breslin Center on Wednesday night.

Michigan State will get into foul trouble early on and that will lead to some uncontested layups for Coffey in fear of picking up third and fourth fouls for some of Michigan State’s guards and bigs. He’s going to break 20 points for just the second time this season and take another step closer to that seasonal award for the conference’s best freshman. He’s also going to light it up from long range.

Jan 2, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Gophers guard Nate Mason (2) and Michigan State Spartans guard Eron Harris (14) chase a loose ball in the second half Williams Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 2, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Gophers guard Nate Mason (2) and Michigan State Spartans guard Eron Harris (14) chase a loose ball in the second half Williams Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

4. Eron Harris bounces back for double figures

It’s been a long, winding season for senior guard Eron Harris and his play has been as inconsistent as anyone on the team’s. Coming into the season, he was supposed to be the leader and the top scorer, but he’s currently behind two freshmen on the team in points per game and he’s down about four percent with his three-point shooting from last year.

Harris bounced back against Rutgers after a slow start to Big Ten play, even coming off the bench against Minnesota in the conference opener. He scored just five points and had three rebounds in that one, basically as a non-factor.

To follow that up, he scored just four points against Northwestern and it looked like his role with the team was diminishing. However, he scored 24 against Rutgers and looked like his old self before taking another step back in a loss to Penn State, recording only eight points.

Against Minnesota on Wednesday, the Spartans are going to need him to be more of a scorer, especially if Tom Izzo goes with the same starting lineup he had against Penn State with all four freshmen and Harris. He’s got to be that guiding light and go-to guy on offense.

Expect him to have a nice game, making up for his first performance against the Gophers. Harris will score 17 and make four threes in the process.

Dec 10, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans forward Kenny Goins (25) gets a rebound against Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles forward Mason Ramsey (25) and guard Savonte Frazier (20) during the second half at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Spartans win 71-63. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 10, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans forward Kenny Goins (25) gets a rebound against Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles forward Mason Ramsey (25) and guard Savonte Frazier (20) during the second half at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Spartans win 71-63. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

3. Spartans struggle on the glass again

In the first meeting between these teams, Minnesota won the battle on the glass, 46-39. The Spartans were undersized in that matchup, but they now have Miles Bridges back, which should help matters. However, he didn’t make much of a difference on Saturday when Michigan State was out-rebounded against Penn State by 10.

Unfortunately, it will be the same story against Minnesota. Back on Dec. 27, the Gophers’ 6-foot-6 sophomore forward Jordan Murphy had the game of his career, scoring 12 points and grabbing 21 rebounds. Expect him to have another 10-plus rebound night as he will out-scrap the Spartans.

Nick Ward will have a nice game on the boards and so will Bridges, combining for 18, but Kenny Goins will struggle yet again and Matt Van Dyk will be out of place too often. Offensive rebounds will be an issue in this one just like they were on Saturday against the Nittany Lions.

The rebounding battle will be slightly closer than it was against Penn State, but the Spartans will still come up short and it’s going to infuriate Izzo who usually has some of the best rebounding teams in the country. This undersized Michigan State team is starting to struggle in the post in Big Ten play.

Nov 20, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard Miles Bridges (22) drives the baseline against Florida Gulf Coast Eagles forward Demetris Morant (21) during the second half of a game at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 20, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard Miles Bridges (22) drives the baseline against Florida Gulf Coast Eagles forward Demetris Morant (21) during the second half of a game at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

2. Miles Bridges returns to form

The first two games back from injury haven’t been the prettiest for true freshman sensation Miles Bridges. The superstar athlete has been relatively ineffective on both sides of the ball — outside of a major alley-oop against Rutgers and a devastating block vs. Penn State.

Bridges scored six points in his first game back in a month against Rutgers and just four against Penn State in 27 minutes on Saturday. Playing that much and only finishing with four points and six rebounds seemed to set off alarm bells around Spartan Nation, but the freshman will be just fine.

It’s unfortunate that he’s going through these struggles after waiting patiently for his turn to hit the floor again. He learned the game even more from the bench and the coaching staff made him take note of what was going on and almost become an assistant coach while he was out.

Sure, it was expected that he’d struggle to find his role with the team that was starting to click on all cylinders, but he will soon take over once again as the best freshman in the conference. That will start on Wednesday night when he becomes a matchup nightmare for the Gophers.

Bridges had just 10 points combined with 12 rebounds and three blocks in his first two games back, but I expect him to surpass some of those numbers against Minnesota. He’s going to finish with 14 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks.

Dec 27, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Michigan State Spartans head coach Tom Izzo reacts against the Minnesota Golden Gophers during the second half at Williams Arena. Michigan State defeated Minnesota 75-74 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 27, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Michigan State Spartans head coach Tom Izzo reacts against the Minnesota Golden Gophers during the second half at Williams Arena. Michigan State defeated Minnesota 75-74 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

1. Spartans use free throws to beat Gophers

Just like the Dec. 27 matchup between these two teams, the game will come down to the final minutes, but this one won’t need overtime to be decided. The game will be tied after a back-and-forth affair for about 35 minutes and the Spartans will use free throws to put the game away late.

Must Read: MSU Basketball: Game-by-game predictions for January

Nope, that’s not a typo. Michigan State is going to make its free throws down the stretch thanks to Harris and even Ward and the Spartans win this one by five, 72-67. It’s not going to be easy, but Izzo knows how to get the most out of his team and challenge them.

There are plenty of people out there who don’t think the Spartans stand much of a chance against the Gophers, even on their home floor, and that’s why Michigan State will rise to the occasion. Each season, there’s a game, or two, in which the Spartans take on a ranked team and it looks like a tough matchup, but Michigan State comes out red-hot and wins big.

Michigan State isn’t going to win this one big, but getting off to a quick start will happen. We all know what happens when this young team gets behind early — it doesn’t usually end well.

Expect the Spartans to finish strong finally and pick up a nice resume-building win against a ranked opponent with the Izzone back in full force.

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