Ten days ago, Indiana walked off the floor in State College PA, just after being trounced by the Nittany Lions in the soulless Bryce Jordan Center. Michigan State had just settled in at home after beating Wisconsin in Madison the night before. Each season seemed to be moving in opposite directions, and the green and white wave looked a lot more appealing than the crimson and cream.
Fast forward to today.
Indiana is riding convincing back to back Big Ten wins, and Michigan State has been on a roller coaster ride that requires a barf bag. The Hoosiers walked into Champaign and did what MSU couldn’t do; beat the Illini in their home building.
MSU’s multilayered win at Breslin against Rutgers was tremendous, and their ability to take Purdue to the wire was as encouraging as it was frustrating as it was surprising.
Then again, the loss to Illinois still stings, especially when Sunday brings another road game in an old arena on a midwestern plain.But back to the Rutgers win.
Because it was Rutgers, there will be a tendency to overlook just how good of a win it was for MSU. They’re #20 in the KenPom rankings even after the loss. The Scarlet Knights have lots of talent on their roster, which is currently tied for second in the conference. Because they’re Rutgers, the scarlet “R” still screams “inferior” to other fanbases, but it was probably the best resume builder the Spartans will be able to hold on to.
Indiana’s story is tied to one man - Trayce Jackson-Davis. Jackson-Davis is averaging just shy of a double double per game. The star forward is coming off a 35 point showing in Champaign, which should serve as a warning to other Big Ten teams of what can happen when you try to avoid double teaming him. After injuries forced him to miss practices and grit his teeth to get through games in December and early January, Jackson-Davis is healthy, and Indiana is reaping the benefits.
MSU finally gets a different challenge from the more straightforward centers they’ve faced in Zach Edey, Hunter Dickinson, or even Clifford Omoruyi, but Jackson-Davis will be no picnic for MSU’s frontcourt. Sunday would be a great day for the Mady Sissoko of the first couple weeks of the season to re-emerge, because neutralizing Jackson-Davis in the post will be one key to keeping Indiana in check. Obviously he can hurt you in other ways, but it would be best to make him do just that.
MSU shot tremendously well against Rutgers, and will need that kind of luck to continue in Bloomington. After failing to make a three pointer at Illinois, MSU’s shooting has been better since. Indiana doesn’t defend the three particularly well. If the Spartans can get shots to fall from deep, we can feel pretty good about the direction of the game.
Sunday’s matchup will help us know which direction either team is moving in - Indiana looks like they’ve righted the ship with a couple of solid wins and a healthy superstar. Michigan State bludgeoned one of the Big Ten’s best squads on Thursday night with excellent freshman play and a hot shooting night. We’ll see how the two forces look when they collide at noon.