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Indiana Preview - STOP THE BLEEDING


SUNDAY, JANUARY 30, 2011 - 6:00 PM EST
TV: Big Ten Network
ONLINE RADIO FEED: Spartan Sports Network

This game will tell if the Spartans are still engaged this season or if they've packed it in.  Michigan State desperately needs a win to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive, and this is one of the two best chances left on the schedule to get a victory.  The Indiana Hoosiers were flailing through their Big Ten Schedule until last Thursday when they picked up a 52-49 upset of Illinois.  The Hoosiers achieved the victory by doing two things uncommon to them all season - not fouling (the Illini had a 13.6 free throw rate) and field goal defense (Illinois made 25% of their threes, 36% of their twos).

Indiana's performance against the Illini was strange because their strength this season has been their offense, and more specifically, their shooting.  Indiana ranks 27th in the NCAA in effective field goal percentage (54.0%), and isn't bad at the foul line either (71.7%, 84th in NCAA).  Given MSU's struggles defending shots lately, that's probably not what you want to hear.  The one shooter State has to mark is Jordan Hulls - he's made nearly 50% of his threes this year and ranks second in the nation in true shooting percentage.  The good news for Michigan State is that the other factors in Indiana's offense mitigate their shooting.  They turn the ball over about as often as MSU does (20.9%, 195th in the nation), they don't get to the foul line too often (39.0% FTA/FGA) and they're only OK on the glass (34.4% offensive rebound rate, 106th in D1).

Even though Indiana's defense was good enough to win against Illinois, it's been mediocre for a majority of the season.  While their eFG%, TO%, and Off. Reb. % are slightly above average (124th, 114th, and 91st), their greatest weakness is their proclivity to foul.  There is not a single player on the Hoosier squad that commits less than three fouls for every 40 minutes played, and their opponents' FTA/FGA is 50%.  In other words, for every two field goals Indiana's opponents' attempt they attempt a free throw, which is 324th in the nation.  Three weeks ago this might have benefited Indiana, but now that Draymond Green has found his touch at the line and the centers aren't getting as much playing time, I think MSU needs to drive, draw contact and get to the line as much as possible.  

Two intangibles are playing to MSU's advantage in this game -- Indiana is coming off an emotional (but messy) victory over a tough opponent, and a regression to the mean for opponents' shooting has to happen sometime for MSU.  The worst defensive eFG% in the NCAA this season is 56.9% by Texas Pan American, and no team in the history of the KenPom database has ever had a defense porous enough to give up a 60% eFG in a season.  In other words, opponents can't keep shooting in excess of a 60% eFG against MSU because no team in tempo-free history has had a defense that bad.  The question is whether the mean regression happens against Indiana or at another time.

KenPom predicts a 73-65 victory for MSU, but be wary of that prediction since the data still thinks Korie Lucious is in the lineup.  In spite of all we've seen the past week and a half I still think MSU wins this game - Even if Indiana shoots the lights out that's their main weapon, and I think some of the weird bounces and contested shots that worked about 80/20 in Michigan's favor in Tuesday go more to a 50/50 split.  If MSU doesn't get a win here you can start inquiring to the ticket office about the NIT.  A win is the first step towards righting the ship, and also about leaving behind one of the worst, if not the worst two week stretch of MSU basketball I can remember.