Gary doesn't suck. - USA TODAY Sports
The first-ever top-five matchup in East Lansing.
I was in Pensacola.
You know where you were.
Every MSU fan remembers where they were for the 2007 Wisconsin game — MSU's first and only win over a No. 1 team in the regular season and just second ever. The opportunities don't come around that often, and victories are even rarer. MSU is 3-18 all-time against No. 1, the others being Indiana State in the 1979 National Championship and Louisville in the 2009 Elite Eight.
But there's so much more on the line Tuesday. At 11-2, MSU and No. 1 Indiana are atop the Big Ten standings, at least two games above the rest of the conference. A win Tuesday won't crown the conference champion, but it puts the winner one step closer with four games to go.
There's also the streak. The 17-game home winning streak against Indiana that dates back to 1991. Of all the long winning streaks against a specific team at Breslin, this one is the oddest. There have been some good Indiana teams and bad MSU teams in that stretch.
It's the biggest game in Breslin history — Whiteout 2 — and it comes one week after perhaps the loudest crowd in EL watched the Spartans pound No. 4 Michigan. MSU is up to No. 4 in the AP Poll and No. 5 in the coaches poll, making this the first-ever matchup of top five teams in East Lansing. And Hoosiers, if not for MSU, you wouldn't have the most recent undefeated season in college basketball.
Indiana brings in the No. 1 adjO in the country, and the Hoosiers do just about everything well on that side of the ball. They shoot 42.7 percent on 3s (No. 2) and 53.9 percent on 2s (No. 12) and hold onto the ball (19.2 percent, No. 117). They're No. 2 in the nation at getting to the free-throw line, averaging nearly one free throw per two shot attempts (insert comment about the Hall of Calls). When they're at the line, they make 74.6 percent of their free throws, which is No. 27. In conference play, they remain the top shooting team.
In the first meeting — a 75-70 Indiana win — the Hoosiers shot 50.9 percent, which is the second-highest an opponent has shot against MSU this year. Victor Oladipo led the way with 21 points on 8-for-12 shooting. The biggest problem for MSU in the game was that IU shot 59 percent on 2s, compared to 38 percent on 3s. This with Cody Zeller going 2-for-7 from the field. The problem was guards driving to the hoop, as well as some first-half turnovers that led to easy breakaway buckets. The box score gives IU a 14-8 advantage in fast-break points in that game, and MSU had 19 turnovers.
As a team, eight players average at least 10 minutes per game, and five average at least 10 points per game. There is no shortage of options. Oladipo (13.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.2 steals, 127.8 ORtg) might be the Big Ten POW frontrunner, and for good reason. He's an elite player on both sides of the ball. He's added the jump shot to his arsenal (52 percent on 3s), too. However, he sprained his left ankle against Purdue on Saturday and didn't return, though he didn't need to. He is expected to play, but his effectiveness is yet to be seen. If he's hampered at all, it would obviously be beneficial for MSU. He'll likely be guarded by Branden Dawson, who did a terrific defensive job against Tim Hardaway Jr. last week, but Oladipo is much better off the dribble.
Zeller (16.6 points, 8.2 rebounds) is actually No. 2 in the KP POY rating. As mentioned above, though, he struggled against MSU in the last meeting. Derrick Nix outmuscled him quite a bit, though Zeller did go 5-for-6 from the free-throw line. For his part, Nix went 4-for-8 and had four offensive rebounds. Given Nix is playing the best ball of his life in the past few weeks, this will be a very important matchup. MSU has been running the offense through Nix recently, but Indiana played a lot of zone in the previous meeting. If they go man, expect Nix to get a lot of touches.
Elsewhere, Christian Watford (13.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 49 percent from 3) is a threat both inside and out, and Adriean Payne will have his hands full. Watford went 5-for-9 from the floor in the first meeting, while Payne scored 18 on 7-for-10 shooting, including 3-for-4 from 3. Jordan Hulls (10.7 points, 48 percent from 3) can be lethal beyond the arc, and Will Sheehey (10.2 points, 51 percent shooting) is not short on confidence off the bench.
Defensively, Indiana is much better than they're given credit for. No. 12 in adjD (one spot higher than MSU) and opponent shoot 30.9 percent from 3 (No. 53) and 41.8 percent on 2s (No. 17). Those numbers go up a little bit in conference play, but are still top-four in the conference. The Hoosiers get to the free-throw line well and also prevent opponents from getting there (No. 14, No. 4 in conference play) with opponents taking about one free throw per four shot attempts. Since going 5-for-6 from the line at Indiana, MSU has averaged 24.8 free throw attempts per game.
Fouls were a big issue for MSU in the first meeting, and with Travis Trice likely out, it remains a point of focus. Keith Appling played just 19 minutes in the first meeting while dealing with foul trouble, and Trice played 30 minutes (although his numbers were less than pleasant). Denzel Valentine is the only player off the bench who can play heavy minutes, although Alex Gauna and Matt Costello have been serviceable in recent games. MSU goes as far as the starters take them, and KJ pointed out the balance on Monday.
But MSU's biggest playmaker in the first matchup was Gary Harris. While "Gary Sucks" chants rained down from the Assembly Hall crowd, Harris scored 21 points on 6-for-13 shooting, including 5-for-10 from three-point range. He's shooting 53 percent from behind the arc in conference play. His driving ability has been hampered by back and shoulder injuries, but he's been a sharpshooter from 3, and MSU needs it in this one.
The glass will also be an important battle. Indiana grabs 39.9 percent of its misses on the season, while MSU allows opponents to get just 27.7 percent. In the first meeting, the Hoosiers grabbed 33 percent. MSU's OR% on the season is 34.8, while Indiana's defense allows 29.6 percent. In the first meeting, the Spartans grabbed 36 percent. As for turnovers, MSU had things figured out before a rough first half at Nebraska. Indiana forces turnovers 22 percent of the time. Giving away some breakaway layups again is not advised.
KenPom predicts a 71-69 Indiana win, giving MSU a 40 percent chance of winning.
It's a matchup of two different basketball cultures. In Bloomington, they say, "In 49 states, it's just basketball, but this is Indiana." In East Lansing, they say, "Players Play - Tough Players Win." The Big Ten's historic power against the Big Ten's new age power.
It's all set up. A top-five matchup, a national TV audience, Dickie V, first place on the line, Magic Johnson as an additional guest analyst, the No. 1 team coming in with multiple NBA draft picks.
Nix and some MSU fans want more respect? Molon Labe.