The grind of the Big Ten conference season has caught up to the Michigan State Spartans men’s basketball team, as it has lost two-straight games and is struggling to hold its position in the race for the conference title. A home game against the Indiana offers a chance to right the ship, but it won’t be easy against a stingy Hoosiers squad.
When: Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022, 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Breslin Center, East Lansing, Michigan
The state of the Indiana program
For a long time now, the Hoosiers are looking to regain their magic of the past, from the glory days of Bob Knight, Isiah Thomas or the Hoosier Hysteria, when the state’s heartbeat was synonymous with the bouncing of the orange ball. The latest name who failed to make good on promises made to the Hoosier Nation was Archie Miller, who only managed a .536 winning percentage during his four years in Bloomington. His tenure once again proved that the times have changed since every kid in Indiana had a hoop in his backyard and basketball reigned supreme in the minds of the state’s youth.
Nonetheless there is a big talent pool and great circumstances in Indiana, and while some romantic dreams of the past might not be all that reasonable in this day and age, IU — if managed correctly — should be able to become a powerhouse again. For that to happen, the Hoosiers turned to a “man from the past“ in Mike Woodson, a highly-decorated coach who has all his basketball roots in Indiana. He grew up during a time when IU was regularly on the big stage, he played for and cherished Bob Knight, plus he ended his Indiana playing career with over 2,000 points. After playing for 12 years in the NBA, he turned to coaching, won an NBA championship as an assistant for the Detroit Pistons and had rather successful stints as a head man in Atlanta with the Hawks and New York with the Knicks.
At 63 years of age now, it’s kind of interesting for Woodson to take the job at Indiana at this stage of his career, but it proves how much the university and the state both mean to him. He brings a world of experience, is known for being a good communicator and is someone who can relate very well to his players. His first offseason went well, as he kept the team together and secured some good recruits and transfers. Early signs look promising and for the foreseeable future, Woodson could get the program back on track. Maybe until he hands over the reigns to one of his assistants, maybe some guy named Dane Fife who Michigan State fans know well from his long stint with the Spartans.
How Indiana is doing this season
Indiana is currently sitting at 16-7 overall with a conference record of seven wins and six losses. The Hoosiers are ranked 41st in KenPom as of press time, and probably slipped back on the NCAA Tournament bubble with their recent loss to Northwestern, a game in which they only dressed seven scholarship players due to Rob Phinisee being injured and five guys being suspended for disciplinary reasons (they’ll be back for the game against Michigan State). Woodson made it clear that he is about building a culture at Indiana and that he wouldn’t overlook things for a short term gain, which is a great sign for the program overall.
Other than the team’s current two-game losing streak, Indiana is performing pretty well this year overall. The Hoosiers’ other losses to a bad Syracuse team, Penn State, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin mostly aren’t terrible (their worst loss is to 82nd ranked PSU), and they have two monumental wins against Ohio State and their in-state rival Purdue in the bag. The latter was a dramatic win that came from a heroic late game three-pointer by Rob Phinisee and should serve the Hoosiers well come Selection Sunday. Until then, though, Indiana clearly still have some work to do.
Projected Starting Lineup
PG Xavier Johnson (Sr, 6-3, 200 lbs, 10.6 points, 4.5 assists, 41.0% FG, 35.8% 3P FG)
SG Parker Stewart (Jr., 6-5, 210 lbs, 6.9 points, 2.0 rebounds, 42.7% FG, 45.1% 3P)
SF Miller Kopp (Sr., 6-7, 215 lbs, 6.2 points, 2.4 rebounds, 38.0% FG, 38.7% 3P)
PF Race Thompson (Sr., 6-8, 228 lbs, 11.5 points, 7.6 rebounds, 54.6% FG, 22.2% 3P)
C Trayce Jackson-Davis (Jr., 6-9, 245 lbs, 17.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 59.1% FG, 66.9% FT)
G Rob Phinisee (Sr., 6-1, 187 lbs) — Questionable with plantar fasciitis
F Tamar Bates (Fr., 6-5, 193 lbs)
G Jordan Geronimo (So., 6-6, 220 lbs)
C Michael Durr (Sr., 7-0, 250 lbs)
What to expect from Indiana
When he became the head coach at Indiana, Woodson stretched the importance of position-less basketball in the modern game and how he wanted to implement a four-out-one-in offense. He has made good on that promise as IU’s roster not only features a lot of guys who are capable of playing multiple positions, but they can also switch without losing a beat on defense and work fairly well in their offensive system. The centerpiece, though, is a more traditional back to the basket player in junior lefty Trayce Jackson-Davis, one of the best and most explosive big men in the entire Big Ten.
Jackson-Davis sets good screens, presents a big target inside and understands positioning very well. He loves to operate from the right block, often finishing over his right shoulder with his go-to left-handed hook shot. He is far from plodding, though, as he plays above the rim, can finish with authority and is very mobile for a player his size. He is a bouncy, active athlete who will run the floor and operate with a lot of tenacity. From the post, he‘s a solid passer and you can run plenty of offense through him, even if he doesn’t shoot much from outside the paint or offer a very dangerous right hand.
His frontcourt mate, Race Thompson, lacks the skills that Jackson-Davis has, but is playing with just as much, if not more, tenacity. A role player for most of his career, the undersized big man prides himself on his hard work and will challenge his opponent every time down the floor. Thompson works tirelessly for position, is active in moving the ball and will make plenty of cuts. His fundamental skill set is nothing to write home about, but he definitely makes up for it with his demeanor and work ethic.
Outside of their prominent frontcourt players, Indiana plays plenty of longer guards and wings who for the most part are fairly well-rounded players, understand their role and act inside a well-running system. Parker Stewart is a pure shooter who takes many three-point attempts (4.1 per game), but hits them at a great clip (45.1 percent), thus giving the Hoosiers much needed spacing for their inside players. Xavier Johnson and Rob Phinisee (if he plays) aren’t traditional point guards per se, but are more than capable of running an offense. They can attack off the bounce, are rather crafty going to the basket and can hit some shots from the outside. Johnson is clearly the more talented of the two players and can have an impact as a scorer.
Woodson believes in the motion offense, and even if it is his first year, you can already see how he left a footmark on the team’s offense. The Hoosiers run plenty of off-ball screens, will follow up plays with other sets and get a defense moving plenty. A lot will run through Jackson-Davis, but that doesn’t mean that his teammates will just stand and watch. Often times they look to exploit the space he creates and take advantage of their overall very solid spacing (despite not having all that many great shooters).
While the squad’s offense could be described as rather solid, yet unspectacular, and even if the Hoosiers aren’t a great rebounding group, Indiana’s defense is a clear strength of the team. The Hoosiers play a very aggressive man-to-man style, challenge the ball-handler and passing lanes, plus they will get physical all over the court. Rim protection is strong and overall the Hoosiers play with a lot of fire on that end. They will hustle after the ball and dive for loose balls, and you can tell that they embrace the idea of playing tenacious defense, something Woodson also referred to as one of his hallmarks.
Key matchup: Malik Hall vs Race Thompson
It seems that whenever Malik Hall is playing well it has a trickle down effect on the entire Michigan State team. As a super sub, he has decided quite a few games for Michigan State this season and the Spartans will look to get even more out of him down the stretch. In Thompson, Hall will face a player that won’t look like he can take over a game yet, but has a tireless work ethic, and at times unorthodox style, and will make a lot of plays that don’t show up in the stat sheet. Outside of these two “tweener” forwards going at it, the Spartans will have to get more from the point guard position where Tyson Walker and A.J. Hoggard have struggled to find any consistency recently.