USA TODAY Sports
It's the biggest game of the season so far--again--when Michigan State comes to Bloomington with the Big Ten lead on the line.
Michigan State Spartans
Current record Current RPI Current Sagarin
2011-12 RPI 2011-12 SagarinPomeroy scouting reportSeries: Head Coach TV
Once again, the biggest game of the season awaits for IU. Thanks to Wisconsin's surprising skid, IU, Michigan State, and Michigan remain the only Big Ten teams with one only loss. The Hoosiers host both of the teams from up north on successive weekends, beginning with the Spartans on Sunday. Because the schedule is so backloaded, any chance for IU to win the outright Big Ten title probably requires IU to be in sole possession of the league lead after the Michigan game. Before that, however, and before the trip to West Lafayette to play the improving Boilermakers, it's time for Indiana-Michigan State.
Last season, IU beat the Spartans in Bloomington in the second-to-last game of the Big Ten season, and it was Tom Crean's first win (either at IU or Marquette) over his mentor, Tom Izzo. This year's Spartans didn't have sky-high preseason expectations, but they have found their way into the Big Ten race, and thanks to having played one more game than 5-1 IU and Michigan, find themselves in sole possession of first place at 6-1. By now, the Spartans are fairly easy to identify by their Pomeroy numbers. They don't shoot overwhelmingly well or take particularly good care of the ball, but make up for it on the boards (particularly the defensive boards this season). Intriguingly, the Spartans are only #8 in the Big Ten in offensive boards so far, with a percentage of 31.8. So far, MSU is shooting very well from three point range in conference play as well (38 percent).
As nearly always seems to be the case, MSU has a balanced scoring attack, with five guys averaging between 8.5 and 13.8 points per game. Tom Izzo's continued recruiting success in Indiana is evidence, with freshman and last year's Mr. Basketball Gary Harris as the second leading scorer and the Spartans' most potent three point shooter, and with sophomore Branden Dawson, who I think of as Matt Painter's "Newman!" because of his late spurning of the Boilermakers, is the #3 scorer and also averages 6.1 rebounds per game. Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne are beasts down low and are tied for the team lead in rebounding with 7.2 each. It will be interesting to see how Cody Zeller bounces back from the lowest scoring output of his career last game. Against the Spartans last year, Zeller played poorly in East Lansing but pretty well in IU's 70-55 win in Bloomington. IU had a nice dose of Good Watford that night, and Victor Oladipo was unstoppable as well. IU has quietly become the #8 offensive rebounding team in the nation. If IU can match the Spartans on the glass, then MSU will have to play anomalously well in other areas to win. This goes without saying, but it's very important for Cody to stay out of foul trouble. Worry a bit if he gets any offensive fouls or any silly fouls away from the basket. The Spartans are tough, and now that the Minnesota win has been cheapened a bit this is yet another opportunity for IU to establish itself as a true contender.