It seems ridiculous to think the Gophers men’s basketball team might possibly be looking past Wednesday’s opponent — defending Big Ten champion Michigan State — but Saturday’s face off with No. 12 Iowa also looms large on Minnesota’s horizon.
The Hawkeyes are 14-1 and have won 10 games in a row. Sixth-year senior Jess Settles has eased back into the lineup and freshman Joey Range is already garnering talk about playing in the NBA.
However, before the Gophers can worry about Saturday’s crucial home game with Iowa, they must first get by the 14th-ranked Spartans.
Michigan State (12-4, 1-1 in the Big Ten) has had some tough losses so far this season, losing to Duke, Connecticut and Wisconsin. And as the strong preseason favorite to win the Big Ten title, the Spartans’ slow start has been somewhat of a surprise.
ESPN analyst Quinn Buckner, who was in town for Saturday’s Gophers win over Penn State, said there is no clear-cut favorite in the conference. He added that Iowa’s play to date has surprised him, while the Spartans’ play has been a disappointment.
“Michigan State has definitely been down, but they still pose a threat to win the conference,” Buckner said. “I think the winner of the conference will end up with only 11 wins, and even 10 victories might do it.”
In Michigan State’s last game, an 81-67 win at home against Michigan on Saturday afternoon, junior point guard Mateen Cleaves got a rejuvenating pep talk from former Spartan Magic Johnson.
Johnson was in East Lansing for a celebration of the 1979 NCAA championship team on which he played. Cleaves responded with a season-high 25 points.
Gophers forward Miles Tarver said despite the Spartans’ early season doldrums, he thinks they are finally starting to look like the team that went to the Sweet 16 last year.
“They played good (Saturday) against Michigan, and we’re looking forward to playing them,” Tarver said. “And I’m sure they are looking forward to playing us because we knocked them out of the Big Ten tournament last year.”
Tarver continued his assault on reporters’ notebooks with another one of his patented post-game diatribes.
“The most electrifying man in NCAA history is here today,” Tarver said upon entering the interview room after the 15-point Penn State win. “The rhythm was all clicking because we listened to music before the game, and took a couple dance steps and everybody was cueing it up. We’re ready to go downtown and shake it now.”
During a trip down the court late in the game, Tarver and Lions forward Gyasi Cline-Heard were jawing at each other and had to be separated by an official.
“I was speaking Spanish and he didn’t understand me, so he was asking me what I was saying,” Tarver said with a smirk. “That’s when the ref told us to cool down, so I went and drank some water.”
Talking Tarver Take Two
Tarver is the subject of a bet on KFAN radio between on air personality Dan “The Common Man” Cole and a caller who goes by the moniker “The Skipper.”
Skipper annoys many listeners with his sanctimonious ramblings, his unabashed love for Eden Prairie football coach Mike Grant and his distaste for Tarver’s basketball acumen.
The bet is that if Tarver ends the season with more points than fouls, Skipper can not call the station for one year. If Tarver does end up with more fouls than points, however, Skipper will spend an afternoon on the air with Cole.
Tarver currently has 47 points and 26 fouls, and when told of the bet he presented a confident front.
“Put me down for that bet,” he said. “I want some of that action.”