Gophers 'night and day' difference since blowout loss to Michigan State in February

Minnesota takes on Michigan State in the Round of 32.
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If the Gophers play as well as they did against Louisville they'll have a great chance to knock No. 2 seed Michigan State out of the NCAA Tournament. 

The Spartans are extremely good and have one of the best point guards in the country in Cassius Winston, but this Minnesota team is playing at a much higher level than the one Michigan State whooped by 24 points back on Feb. 9. 

That 79-55 shellacking the Spartans put on Minnesota featured a defensive effort that limited Gophers stars Amir Coffey and Jordan Murphy to a combined 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting. 

In Minnesota's win over No. 7 seed Louisville on Thursday, Coffey and Murphy, who battled back spasms in the second half, combined for 36 points on 13-of-24 shooting. 

As Tom Izzo put it after Michigan State pulled away from No. 15 seed Bradley, Coffey is playing "night and day" from what he was in February. 

"That was not a very good team at the time. Offensively, we were really struggling, allowed them to get out on the break," said Gophers coach Richard Pitino during his Friday press conference. "Cassius (Winston) was very good. (Matt) McQuaid was very good. Nick Ward really hurt us down low."

Ward outplayed Murphy to the tune of 22 points and nine rebounds – one of his most efficient games of the season. 

That was then. This is now. 

"I think we've got some confidence going right now. Beat Purdue twice in 10 days, they're a terrific team. Went in and beat a surging Penn State team in the conference tournament and then beat a terrific Louisville team," said Pitino. "Probably a confidence factor, just feeling those wins, tasting them." 

If the Gophers can beat the Spartans they'll advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1997, the Final Four year that's been erased from the record books due to a academic scandal under former Minnesota coach Clem Haskins. 

Waiting in the Sweet 16 will be No. 3 seed LSU or No. 6 seed Maryland, who play Saturday at 11:10 a.m. If Minnesota, dare we say, reaches the Elite 8, there's a chance they could face No. 1 overall seed Duke and the likely No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, Zion Williamson. 

After a slow start Friday night, Duke smoked NDSU and will face No. 9 seed Central Florida on Sunday. The other Round of 32 matchup in the East Region is between No. 4 seed Virginia Tech and No. 12 seed Liberty. 

It's a long way out but anything is possible, especially if the Gophers can slay a March giant like Michigan State. 

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