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Michigan State

vs.

Indiana

College Basketball Pick

1/21/17

This game was supposed to be a battle of two of the conference's best, but that's far from what this matchup is. Michigan State and Indiana have been two of the more unpredictable teams in the country this season. One night the Spartans are blowing out Minnesota, the next they lose to Penn State and Ohio State. At a time the Hoosiers were beating the best teams in the country, but in Big Ten play have fallen apart.

Now, both teams are battling in mediocrity with an 8- or 9-seed in the NCAA tournament the likely outcome at this point. Getting over that hump starts with this game. The Spartans haven't been good on the road, losing at Ohio State last weekend and against Penn State before that. They scraped by Minnesota, but that was after being down 15 points in the first half. Winning at Assembly Hall will be harder than any of those previous games, considering the Hoosiers have finally picked it up a notch, winning their last two at home by at least 16 points. Of course, Illinois and Rutgers are a level below Michigan State.

MSU dominated this matchup a year ago in East Lansing winning by 19 points, but these teams are much different. Michigan State is one of the youngest teams in the country and leads the nation in bench minutes. But the main issue in this game is Indiana's defense, which has hurt them the most over the last month. The Spartans have the players to capitalize on that, but haven't been too consistent on the road.

Miles Bridges and Nick Ward are the main players to focus on, but both will have tough matchups. Thomas Bryant has been disappointing to say the least this season for Indiana, but going against the freshman Ward, Tom Crean will likely want to lean on that matchup. Ward had trouble guarding Ohio State's bigs last game. On the other end of that, if Bryant doesn't play tight defense, Ward's offensive game is one of the best in the post in the conference. The problem for the Spartans is that Bridges will have the able Juwan Morgan and OG Anunoby guarding him most of this game and he could have his issues. Bridges caught fire against the Buckeyes, but with Anunoby being one of the better on-ball defenders in the conference, that could lead to trouble.

So if those guys cancel each other out, it'll come down to the backcourts and that edge slightly goes to Indiana with James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson. Blackmon continues to be one of the best scorers in the Big Ten, averaging 17.5 points per game in just under 30 minutes. Johnson is in that same fold, but a little less at 13.7 points per game. Michigan State has good field goal defense, but that's purely a case-by-case scenario.

For the Spartans to have a shot, they'll need guys like Eron Harris, Joshua Langford, Cassius Winston and Tum Tum Nairn to match what Blackmon and Johnson do. And that's where the problems arise. Harris is the team's third-leading scorer, but he's played just 30 minutes total the last two games. Outside of him, no one else is averaging more than 6.5 points per game.

The Spartans haven't shown much in conference road games. Now at Assembly Hall with Tom Izzo still tinkering around his lineup, this is a game Indiana can jump out to a lead in and never give up as long as Bridges or Ward doesn't catch fire.

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