B1G Game 1: Gophers Host Michigan State (12/9/20)

Ignatius L Hoops

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Diving Into the Deep End

After playing two non-conference games, Michigan State and Minnesota dive into the murky waters of the conference season. The Spartans easily handled St. Frances, 77-44, and Detroit Mercy, 82-45, while the Gophers slipped past Eastern Illinois 72-68 and were battered by Drake 99-66. In keeping with a covid year, there’s uncertainty surrounding both team’s lineups. Michigan State’s head coach, Suzy Merchant, mentioned in one of her post game pressers that she’s not coaching set plays as much as she used to because you can’t be certain who is going to be available to play. It’s a season for ball movement and motion.

Unfortunately, Minnesota just got run out of the Barn by a movement and motion team. Michigan State isn’t Drake; but they have plenty of mobile players likely salivating at the thought of attacking the Gophers D’s open lanes to the bucket.

Suzy Merchant, certainly can sniff out defensive weakness. In 13 Big Ten seasons her Spartans have won 61.6% of their conference games (136-86), appeared in nine NCAA tournaments and finished third or higher eight times. It has been a good run.

However, in each of the last two seasons the Spartans have been doing a bit of water treading while posting 9-9 conference records. The double nines in 2018-19 were good for a 6th place tie with Nebraska, Northwestern and Minnesota and a trip to the NCAAs. In 2019-20, a .500 conference season got MSU 8th place and, of course, no one played in the canceled NCAA tournament.

There were some notable similarities between the last two MSU seasons. In the first, forward Mardrekla Cook suffered a season ending ACL. In the second, Cook suffered a season ending ruptured Achilles. Also, before each season, Michigan State lost a post player to the transfer portal. Before 2018-19, highly recruited 6’4” post Sydney Cooks transferred to Mississippi State. That gave 6’3” Kayla Belles a chance to move into the starting lineup. Then, this Spring, Belles and her boyfriend, BYU’s men’s basketball player, Kolby Lee, caught the matrimony bug and Belles transferred to BYU to get married and play for the Cougars.

Then, last season, the injury bug bit MSU hard. Three key Spartans missed significant time during B1G play. Shay Colley played 4 conference games, Victoria Gains 2 and Cook 6. Four games into B1G play, the Spartans were 1-3 with the third loss coming at Penn State 73-86. It proved to be the Lady Lions only win and surely the low point of Michigan State’s season.

But the Spartans seem headed for a rebound. Although Gaines, Colley, Nia Hollie and Taryn McCutcheon graduated, Cook has rehabbed and returned to the starting lineup. The likely revival is led by junior point guard Nia Clouden and a quartet of sophomores who, owing to the injuries, received plenty of playing opportunities as freshmen.

Clouden and sophomore guard, Moira Joiner head up the guard corps. Last season, in 32.8 minutes/game Clouden led the team in scoring with 13.7 points while contributing 3.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. She was not much of a three point shooter 19-69 (.275%); but Merchant expects more from beyond the arc this year. Joiner is not only the defensive stopper, Merchant wants Joiner to shoot more-MUCH MORE. Last season Joiner was 31-77 (.403) from three in B1G play and contributed 8.7 points/game. The potential is there.

So far, Michigan State has employed a four out offense. 6’3” sophomore Taiyler Parks is the in. Parks has good hands and is adept at making space and sealing off defenders. Merchant thinks Parks just needs to increase her conditioning to stay on the court longer. 6’1” G/F Tory Ozment compliments Joiner as the three point threats. She was 24-75 (.320) in the B1G from behind the arc. Ozment is one of several multi-position players presenting match-up problems. Another match-up problem is 6’2” freshman Kendall Bostic who plays the four or five and can knock down the three.


And then Along Comes Janai Crooms:

Into this mix add the recently waivered transfer from Ohio State, 5’10” Junior guard, Janai Crooms. The Gopher game will be the first for Crooms who was valuable coming off the bench for the Buckeyes. She’s not a good 3 point or foul shooter and Crooms has almost as many turnovers as assists; but I’m assuming she’ll bring some needed speed and defense.



Highlights:

Here’s a compact highlight package featuring the all the key Spartans. Defensively, MSU played man in the first two games; but I’m hoping they have to work harder versus Minnesota. Nevertheless, the water appears a little less murky for Michigan State than for Minnesota.




Last Meeting

The Gophers and Spartans met once last season in a B1G Monday BTN game. In East Lansing, Minnesota couldn’t shoot straight in a 54-66 loss: the Gophers were 29% from the field, 21.7% from three and 64.3% from the line. MSU wasn’t much better: 36.8%, 21.7% and 68.8 %; but it was enough. The Spartans gained 2 points in the 1st, 2 in the 2nd, 3 in the 3rd and 5 in the 4th. It was a water torture defeat.

A positive for the Gophers was that Powell led Minnesota with 15 points, Adaschyk, Brunson and Scalia each finished with 8, Hubbard 6 and Taiye Bello with 5.

The Spartans were led by Clouden with 16 points, Joiner 9, Belles 8, Parks 7 and McCutcheon 5 on 1-10 shooting.



Injury Update:

MSU: 6’5” C So Cydni Dodd is out for the season. 6’4” C Grad transfer from Hawaii, Lauran Rewers, is playing although she has been hampered by a hip injury.

Minnesota: Who Knows?



Janai Crooms Ohio State Conference Stats:

MinPointsRebATO3 Point %FT %
Janai Crooms21.35.63.649d443-22 (.136%)10-29(.345%)


Probable Starters (Stats):

HGTPOSYRPLAYERMINAVGREB
5’8”GJrNia Clouden30.515.03.0
6’3”FSoTailyler Parks19.511.56.5
6’1”G/FJrTory Ozment26.510.53.0
5’10”GSoMoira Joiner25.07.52.0
6’0”FRSoMardreckIa Cook17.53.06.5


Bench (Stats):

HGTPOSYRPLAYERMINAVGREB
6’2”FFrKendall Bostic21.511.55.0
5’7”GSoAlyza Winston22.011.01.0
6’2”GSoJulia Ayrault23.09.05.0
5’8”GRSrLaurel Jacqmain15.04.02.0
6’4”CGRLauren Rewers10.03.01.5
 

Ignatius L Hoops

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MSU coach Suzy Merchant said the early stages will be a process for Crooms after spending basically two months of not being able to go 100%.

"It's only been a little over a week since she's been able to get after it in practice," Merchant said. "She's not where she needs to be from that high level conditioning piece, but she's really spent some extra time in the weight room the last few weeks to kind of get ready for this moment.

"It was a big deal (to get her cleared). I've known Janai since she was 15 years old. To have that kid in a uniform here was great, but to actually now officially get to put her on the court is a big deal."

Crooms, who spent the past two seasons at Ohio State, is expected to be a big factor in the guard rotation for the Spartans, who open Big Ten play this week with a road game at Minnesota on Wednesday and a home date against Iowa on Saturday. Her presence will allow for preseason All-Big Ten guard Nia Clouden and sophomore Alyza Winston to play some off the ball.
 

Ignatius L Hoops

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The Gophers, who played Drake with eight available players, should get highly-touted freshman guard Alexia Smith back for this game. It is possible G Sara Scalia and F Laura Bagwell-Katalinich could be available as well.
 

Ignatius L Hoops

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Since her team got back together in September, here is the number of times women's basketball coach Lindsay Whalen has had a full, healthy squad available to practice:

Zero.

None. Injury and illness have affected just about every team in the country — but perhaps, more than most, the Gophers. Multiple COVID-19 cases forced the program to pause all activities in early November. And then there have been injuries. Since Nov. 1, including Tuesday's rather long workout, the Gophers have practiced nine times. At one session, Whalen recalls, there were only three players available.

"It just is what it is," Whalen said Tuesday. "It's 2020. Everyone is dealing with it."

[...]
"Usually, by now, we would have that chemistry on the court," said senior Gadiva Hubbard. "But certain situations have happened. It's been very hard. People have not seen what we can do, what kind of team we can be. I promise you, when we get everybody back together, and in sync, people will see it."
 

Frink

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Although let's be honest, that new border is not maroon. As someone pointed out on the men's board it looks like the bought it second hand from Iowa St.

After the news about how little time Gophs have had to practice it's hard to know what to expect. I guess after the Drake game you just hope the younger players can grow up quick.
 

GringaGopher

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Nice to see Scalia . Powell with a rare air ball. Need to contain Clouden.
 

Frink

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Powell was really wound up early on. Looks like she was settling down, which they absolutely need.
 

Outsider

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Some defense would be nice? And 10 TO’s already, geez take care of the ball.
 

blkroll

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Perhaps we should have taken our first time out BEFORE we’re in an 11 point hole??
 

Katogopher

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Ok so they’ve only had one full practice, I’m guessing Powell driving to the basket was their offense and defense is...maybe for to tomorrow’s practice?
 

Outsider

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The turnovers are ridiculous. They can’t stay in front of anyone either.
 

whalenfan

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Well nice end to the half, Im not sure how this is only a 10 point game but if they can just cut down on the tos they can get right back in this.
 

Aesop70

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Alexia Smith's athleticism is nice. She's going to be good. Could become the starting PG by midseason if Powell doesn't eliminate all those turnovers.
 

EaganGopher22

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Turnovers and being out of sync is killing us. Even with a hard foul they where able to make the basket and convert the free throws.
 

Ignatius L Hoops

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Michigan State winning the game with only their guards scoring or, for that matter, shooting.
 

GringaGopher

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A couple of made 3's and we are back in this game. Time to key on Clouden and get some stops.
 

Frink

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Sissoko leaking out instead of going after the rebound resulting in Powell's third foul.
 

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Ugh then the fourth foul on Powe and we're done.
 

GringaGopher

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Hard to watch those replays as anybody who has ever played basketball can remember that feeling. Hope for a minor sprain .
 

EaganGopher22

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Looks like our top two scorers are out for awhile (Powell 4 fouls and Sissoko perhaps much longer with a sprain or worse).
 
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