No. 2 Michigan State begins critical road stetch vs. Minnesota (Feb 12, 2018)
Michigan State probably needs to win its remaining four games. It needs some help to capture the Big Ten regular-season title after an exhilarating home victory over Purdue on Saturday kept them in the race.
The Spartans hit the road for three of those games, beginning with a matchup against disappointing Minnesota on Tuesday night.
"We have some big games left and all of ours are on the road," coach Tom Izzo said. "But, at least we give ourselves a chance and I've always said that you want to be in a position in the last two weeks. You want to be in a position to mathematically be able to win a championship."
Izzo's club trails Ohio State by one game in the standings and the Buckeyes hold a tiebreaker advantage after winning the head-to-head meeting.
No. 2 Michigan State (24-3 overall, 12-2 Big Ten) is tied with the Boilermakers for second place.
Sophomore forward Miles Bridges made a game-winning 25-foot shot with three seconds left in that 68-85 victory. Izzo drew up a play to have Bridges drive to the basket but Izzo was happy with the outcome. Bridges gave up a chance to be a first-round pick in the NBA draft last June with the aim of winning a national title.
"I think he's really starting to become more aggressive, and he wanted that ball and I wanted to give it to him," Izzo said. "I just was happy for him. He came back to be in these kind of games. He came back to try and help us win a championship of some kind."
Bridges has scored at least 20 points in six of the last eight games and the Spartans will try to extend their eight-game winning streak against the Gophers.
"All road games are tough," Bridges said. "Minnesota's tough on the road. Northwestern's tough on the road. Wisconsin is going to be tough on the road. They're all going to be tough for us. We've just got to stick together like we have been."
Minnesota (14-13, 3-11) has lost seven straight and got blown out by unranked Indiana 80-56 on Friday.
Injuries and suspensions have devastated the Gophers.
"I don't think any college basketball team can sustain losing three starters and their first guy off the bench. I really don't," Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. "It's not an excuse, I think it's just reality. So, it's difficult but we got to keep our guys positive and keep them fighting."
Minnesota was expected to challenge for the Big Ten title. Forward Amir Coffey (shoulder) and guard Dupree McBrayer (leg) are questionable to play on Tuesday.
"Two years ago, we had to start over," Pitino said. "I thought that was the way to rebuild. I felt that we were kind of treading water our first two years, but I thought we had to get younger to rebuild in order to put us into a good position for year four and year five and that was evident. We had a great year last year. I remember watching Indiana our first game and looking at our record and we were 13-3, 2-1. Then all of a sudden, the bottom falls out."