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Michigan St., Minnesota headed in opposite directions


On January 26th, Minnesota was 16-4 and 5-3 in the Big Ten. They had wins over West Virginia, North Carolina, and Purdue. It looked a pretty safe bet that the Gophers would not only be dancing, but that they would be a lock for one of the Big Ten’s top five seeds in the conference tournament.

It only took one month for everything to change.

Playing without the benefit of a point guard -- Justin Cobbs transferred in the offseason, Devoe Joseph left for Oregon during the holidays, Al Nolen is out for the season with a foot injury -- the Gophers have collapsed.

They’ve lost six of their last seven games to fall to 6-9 in the Big Ten after Tuesday’s 63-58 loss to Michigan State in Minneapolis. I hesitate to say the Gophers are officially off the bubble with this loss, but things are looking pretty bleak.

The Gophers looked like they had finally pulled away. A 16-2 run spanning more than seven minutes in the second half allowed Minnesota to open up a 47-39 lead with just 4:15 left on the clock. The way Michigan State had been playing on the offensive end of the floor, that eight point lead looked closer to 18.

As bad as this loss was for Minnesota, it was an even more important win for the Spartans.

The bubble implications speak for themselves. Michigan State kept themselves on the right side of the bubble and proved that they were capable of winning a game on the road in league play. The Spartans have now won three of their last four games -- including another hard-fought win over a fellow bubble team on Saturday against Illinois -- with the lone loss coming at Ohio State. You’ve heard it 1,000 times by now, but it looks like all of us that didn’t count out Tom Izzo may end up being rewarded.

Kalin Lucas is finally playing like the Kalin Lucas that won the 2009 Big Ten player of the year award. Draymond Green and Delvon Roe continue to provide a tough, physical, and versatile front line. If there is a concern right now -- there is always a concern -- its Durrell Summers. The uber-talented wing has been no where to be found for the last three weeks.

In six games in the month of February, Summers is averaging a measly 6.0 ppg, including an 0-fer on 0-1 shooting he had against Ohio State. He’s shooting 26.0% from the floor during that stretch, going just 5-25 from three.

The Spartans can keep their head above water against the middle of the Big Ten pack without any production from the senior guard.

But if the Spartans want to knock off Purdue on Sunday -- and, in the process, all but punch their ticket to the dance -- they are going to need more than tonight seven points on 3-11 shooting out of the enigmatic Summers.