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MSU Basketball Preview: Indiana

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The Spartans head to Bloomington for their lone regular season matchup with the Hoosiers

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Just when you think you have Michigan State figured out, you’re wrong. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

Coming off the Penn State loss, I figured they’d lose to an at-the-time scalding Minnesota team. Instead they ran em out of the gym faster than PJ Fleck runs a sideline 40. After that game, they headed to Columbus to face conference-winless Ohio State. I figured they’d keep momentum rolling and simply outlast the talented but shorthanded Buckeyes. Again, wrong. Nick Ward got into foul trouble, the team collectively played ZERO perimeter defense and consequently lost.

Today’s game against Indiana, like most games will continue to be in the Big Ten, is a complete crapshoot. Both teams are talented but each is also flawed. The side able to accentuate the former more than the latter will probably get the W.

Who will that be? Let’s take a look.


The Basics

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Indiana Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Numbers

  • Record: 13-6 (3-3 Conference / 11-2 Home)
  • Best Win: vs Kansas* (RPI: 4), 103-99 (OT)
  • Worst Loss: vs Fort Wayne (RPI: 127), 68-71 (OT)

Last Five Games

  • 1/18 — @ Penn State, W 78-75
  • 1/15 — vs Rutgers, W 76-57
  • 1/10 — @ Maryland, L 72-75
  • 1/7 — vs Illinois, W 96-80
  • 1/3 — vs #13 Wisconsin, L 68-75

*Neutral Site Game

For as up and down as Michigan State’s season has been, Indiana’s has been even more extreme.

They have some of the most impressive non-conference wins in the entire country, over Kansas and North Carolina — teams currently ranked #1/#2 and #9/#9 in the Coaches and AP poll, respectively — but also had a loss to Fort Wayne. That’s right, the team that knocked off the Tar Heels and Jayhawks also fell victim to the IPFW Mastadons.

(It’s hard to throw stones with a home loss to Northeastern on your resume, but you can always count on Tom Crean to get in on the “let’s shock and disappoint everybody” action. Thanks, Tom.)

Their Big Ten season has been even more unstable. Crean’s club enters today’s action with a .500 conference record that includes home losses to Wisconsin and Nebraska and a road loss to Maryland.

In this year’s Big Ten, none of those are shocking, but what is surprising is that two of them came in Assembly Hall, an infamously tough place to play. Surely, that has to give MSU hope, but IU is playing for more than just home pride and momentum today, they’re playing for one of their own.

Hoosiers To Know

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi Valley State at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
  • G #1 James Blackmon Jr. (6’4” 200, Junior) — 17.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.9 apg, 42.2% 3PT
  • G #4 Robert Johnson (6’3” 195, Junior) — 13.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.2 apg, 42.3% 3PT
  • C #31 Thomas Bryant (6’10” 255, Sophomore) — 11.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 55.7% FG

It was announced Thursday that forward OG Anunoby, the team’s best all-around player, will miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury. OG missed three games earlier in the season (IU won all three) but this is obviously much more serious.

Indy Star’s Zach Osterman covers the team and had some insight as to how the Hoosiers can fill the void left by the star sophomore

As Osterman notes, IU will have to turn to Juwan Morgan to pick up a lot of the slack. Morgan is comparable size wise (6’8”, 230) to Anunoby (6’8”, 235) but is dealing with a foot injury of his own, which particularly handicaps them in this game.

Anunoby is a top flight defender and would theoretically provide the perfect counter for Miles Bridges explosive athleticism. Instead, he’ll likely be checked by a gimpy Morgan. Bridges is already a tough cover for any defender, but especially one with a bum foot. Turnovers aside, Miles had his best offensive game of the year against Ohio State so expect him to get the ball early and often and go after Morgan or whoever draws his defensive assignment.

How Does MSU Match Up?

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

The Bridges-Morgan matchup is most favorable for Michigan State but IU presents some major problems, both on the perimeter and in the paint.

The Hoosiers boast one of the best guards in the Big Ten in guard James Blackmon Jr. The former MSU recruit is averaging over 17 points per game and shooting a lethal 42.2% from deep. His running mate, Robert Johnson, is no slouch, either, posting 13.8 points per game and 42.3% from three. These two are dynamic scorers but have to do most of their work on their own because, for the first time in at least four years, Indiana lacks a true point guard.

Josh Newkirk, a Pitt transfer, is leading the team in assists but is only averaging 3.3 per game. Compounding the problem is that Johnson is the only other player averaging over 1.9 apg. Contrast that with MSU who has two point guards averaging 4.0+ assists per game, and you see how stalled offense could become a problem for IU.

If the shots are falling, Blackmon and Johnson are the type of backcourt that could kill MSU’s poor perimeter defense. But if they are not, the lack of ball movement will be their undoing. Definitely something to keep an eye on.

Inside, it’s all Thomas Bryant. The near-7-footer and former five-star recruit is having a solid sophomore year, but hasn’t taken the huge leap Hoosier faithful had hoped to see. He’s scoring the same amount of points and averaging hardly over a rebound more than last year, but has added a three-pointer to his arsenal and actually shoots it quite well (12-for-30, 40%). Wild guess here, but I think if Bryant wants to leave the lane and let it fly from deep, Tom Izzo will happily let him do just that.

Bridges and Blackmon/Johnson represent major advantages for their respective teams, but the winner of the Bryant-Nick Ward showdown will go a long way in determining this game. Ward struggled with 7-footer Trevor Thompson’s size last time out and Bryant is just as big and physical. If Ward can prove that was a fluke and get Bryant into foul trouble, it will be enormous. If it goes the other way, Kenny Goins will see a lot of minutes against a monster aaaaaand yeah, that wouldn’t be GREAT.

Prediction

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Fun side note: I asked my best friend, and fellow MSU alum, for his brief rundown of the game. He gave me this terrifyingly accurate gem.

sure, here it is: talented but underachieving team with annoying fan base hosts young, inconsistent team

That’s called hitting the nail on the head. Ok, back to the #analysis.

I’m going against my better judgement and picking MSU to win this one. IU can score — like, a lot — and after watching MSU get torn to shreds by a much less offensively gifted team in Ohio State, Blackmon and co. are a scary proposition.

However, the lack of a point guard and injuries to Anunoby and Morgan are real reasons to think MSU can come out on top.

Izzo has had a week between games. I’m trusting that he has A) come up with a gameplan to keep Bridges rolling and B) gotten the point across to his guards that defense is required in order to play.

With the way this season has gone, this could be a nail-biter or a blowout, but I’m betting on Izzo.

MSU 77 Indiana 73