EAST LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan State Spartans are reeling right now, formerly ranked No. 15 in the AP Top 25, now ranked No. 23 following two straight losses on the road against conference opponents Indiana and Northwestern.
But as MSU has faltered the past two games, Minnesota has been no different. The Golden Gophers dropped two in a row against unranked opponents in Michigan and Illinois. The two losses dropped the team from No. 12 in the country to No. 18.
And just like that, the game Wednesday at the Breslin just got a whole lot bigger for both teams.
The two foes face off at 7 p.m. Wednesday evening in a matchup that is suddenly as big as any game. A win for either could drastically calm the storm of conference play or create a typhoon that sends the season into a downward spiral.
Minnesota’s first loss to Michigan was a 17-point road takedown, then the Gophers lost at home to an Illinois squad that hadn’t beaten a Power 5 conference opponent this year.
Obviously, the two squads both need a win here, but only one can come out on top.
Minnesota has shown they can win at a very high level, beating Syracuse by four at home, then Wisconsin by 28 in Madison too. The team only has two losses and their record is buoyed by a 10-1 record at home.
The Golden Gophers are led by Kenisha Bell who is averaging just over 18 points a contest to lead the team, the 5-foot-9 guard had 27 points a few weeks ago against Rhode Island. Bell also leads a defense allowing the third lowest point per game average in the conference, she has 35 steals already this year.
Michigan State, on the other hand, needs to do some soul searching after two tough road losses, the latest coming against a now 14-1 Indiana team.
The team is an offensive juggernaut that is fifth in the nation in assists per game, while also scoring 82 points a game. Led by senior Jenna Allen who has practically doubled her scoring average from the previous year to lead the team with 16 points per game The senior also has a 20-point, 17-rebound game on her resume coming against Iowa’s Megan Gustafson.
MSU has struggled of late in the aforementioned assist category as well, struggling to move the ball as they did early in the season. The team overall just looks like an entirely different squad at home.
The Spartans nearly fell to Hartford on the road earlier this year, winning by eight in overtime against a team that was barely at .500 at the time,so the road struggles have been of little surprise to those covering the team closely. Although the injury to one of their top freshman, Tory Ozment, who was a key cog off the bench has definitely not helped the team.
It has been evident the Spartans feed off a home crowd that consistently ranks in the top 10 or 15 teams in the nation in attendance throughout head coach Suzy Merchant’s tenure.
The Spartans, who show much more gusto in the Breslin, are at a pivotal moment in their season. I wrote just last week prior to the Northwestern game that this team looked like a Big Ten championship-caliber squad, only for the Spartans to be led astray by the most important thing to get done during the college basketball season: winning on the road.
As the Spartans look to get back on track and completely swing the course of their season, Minnesota looks to save theirs as well in what should be a clash of mid-western titans.
Tipoff will be at 7 p.m. EST at the Breslin Center, the game can be streamed on BTN+.