Minnesota set to face Michigan State

Richard Pitino recruited Spartans star Gary Harris while at Louisville.

University of Minnesota head men's basketball coach Richard Pitino coaches from the sidelines during the game against Cardinal Stritch University on Friday, Nov. 1, 2013.

Lisa Persson

University of Minnesota head men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino coaches from the sidelines during the game against Cardinal Stritch University on Friday, Nov. 1, 2013.

Jack Satzinger

Richard Pitino has never faced Michigan State as a head coach, but heâÄôs pretty familiar with the players on the squad. Two years ago, the Gophers head coach was an assistant at Louisville constantly on the recruiting trail. ThatâÄôs where Pitino caught wind of Gary Harris, a 6-foot-5-foot guard out of Hamilton Southeastern High School in Indiana. âÄú[Pitino] recruited me when he was at Louisville,âÄù Harris said. âÄúIâÄôm happy for him, heâÄôs going to have his team ready.âÄù Harris spurned Louisville and other schools to play at Michigan State where heâÄôs quickly become a key component of the No. 5 team in the nation. In his sophomore season, Harris is averaging a team-high 17.8 points per game âÄì second in the Big Ten to IllinoisâÄô Rayvonte Rice. Harris scored just under 13 points per contest in a freshman campaign where he was hampered by shoulder injuries. Harris was still named Big Ten Freshman of the Year but has improved substantially since. âÄúI just really loved his upside, loved his size and lengthâÄù Pitino said of Harris. âÄúHeâÄôs just continued to get better.âÄù Almost all of his numbers are up from last season, from minutes per game to points, rebounds, and assists. Harris has also upped his defensive performance, tallying 1.75 steals per game âÄì sixth-best in the Big Ten. âÄú[Harris] is a much better defender than people realize,âÄù Pitino said. HarrisâÄô senior backcourt mate, Keith Appling, also records a steal per game. The Appling-Harris duo takes those steals and runs with them, creating fast break opportunities for the Spartans. âÄúI prefer to get up and down, especially with the team we have,âÄù Appling said. âÄúWe have a lot of athletes, a lot of guys that can do a number of things in the open floor.âÄù Those are exactly the kinds of players that Pitino goes after to suit his up-tempo style of play. And thatâÄôs one reason why Harris was such an attractive recruit two years ago. Now Pitino will have to focus on stopping Harris and Michigan StateâÄôs fast break which he calls âÄútremendous.âÄù âÄúItâÄôs fun,âÄù Harris said of playing up-tempo. âÄúItâÄôs what everybody likes to do. Getting out there, scoring points fast … getting dunks. ThatâÄôs what everybody wants to see.âÄù