Even with how it’s looked in recent Games, Michigan State is still getting a lot of respect at No. 9 in the AP Polls and is a big favorite for this matchup. That’s mostly because of Indiana, which has won three straight, but is by no means an elite team in the conference.
Two of the Hoosiers wins have come at home against inconsistent competition and the other was a road win at Minnesota, the first Game for the Gophers in which they didn’t have two of their regular starters. Being 4-2 in the Conference is definitely better than some envisioned at this point, but this team still has to face MSU twice in addition Purdue and Ohio State in Four of its next six Games.
The biggest thing for the Spartans is that they figure out how to Scoreagain and that’s exactly what Indiana could help them do. The loss of De’Ron Davis hasn’t been a major issue for Indiana yet, but that’ll probably change in this Game since this team won’t have anyone taller than 6-foot-7 that sees real minutes. Clifton Moore, at 6-10, could get more time, but he’s a freshman that rarely sees the floor.
In all likelihood, the Hoosiers will go to a zone in order to mix things up against Nick Ward and Jaren Jackson because those guys could eat in the paint if not. Even then, Juwan Morgan, Justin Smith, Freddie McSwain and Collin Hartman aren’t the guys you want to have defending Ward in the post anyway. While Ward has had problems dealing with double teams, this is a great spot for him to find open guys on the perimeter because everyone else in the starting lineup can shoot at a consistent rate from deep. It doesn’t help that Indiana ranks as one of the worst teams in the country in three-point percentage on both ends of the floor. That’s not good news against the Spartans, who have three guys (Joshua LAngford, Cassius Winston, Jaren Jackson) all shooting above 43 percent from deep. Then there’s still Miles Bridges, who can catch fire from distance, but will also likely have a weaker defender on him like Zach McRoberts.
Still, covering this Game is more than possible for Indiana, especially looking at MSU’s last three Games. In addition to getting nothing going offensively, the defense has had trouble against speedier guards all season and that’s exactly what the Hoosiers bring. While this Game was at Assembly Hall last year, the speed of the guards was too much for Michigan State to handle in an 82-75 IU win.
Morgan will probably have trouble scoring against whoever guards him, but Josh Newkirk and Robert Johnson could have plenty of open shots, as long as they don’t settle for threes. Eighteen of Johnson’s last 25 shots have come from behind the arc and that needs to change in this Game. He’ll need to attack LAngford as much as possible and the same goes for Newkirk, who will have Winston on him. If both guards come out in attack mode against inferior defenders, that’ll at least keep the Hoosiers competitive in a tough spot.
Of course, if that doesn’t happen, Michigan State could run away early. This is a jump in class for Indiana and the last time it played someone on this level in Big Ten play was the trip to Michigan in which it lost 69-55. The only reason it was that close was because of Morgan, who had 24 points and likely won’t do that again if Jaren Jackson is defending him.
Our Pick – Indiana +14.5