It probably isn't the wisest thing to say that Indiana needs this game, not this early in the conference season, but it would be incredibly useful. Indiana's best bet at finishing in the top half of the conference is going to come from defending the home court. Also as we previously established, Michigan State falls #9 of the most difficult conference games. Meaning that to break .500 in conference this game will mean a lot.
If we're looking at this from a complete eyeball standard of these two teams, then we'd think that Michigan State is likely to come in and put a pretty good whooping on these young Hoosiers. Indiana has been inconsistent at best and Michigan State, despite battling injuries has been quite good. They spent a week or two at #1 but the injury bug bit and they never really did look to be the elite team the Kentucky game showed them capable of being.
They've showed signs of struggle against teams like Columbia and Portland while looking downright over their heads against North Carolina. All this goes to show that despite being a very good basketball team, they have been having some growing pains of their own. Just this past Tuesday they were down double digits to Penn State before coming out at half time and looking like an NBA team. They're vulnerable to a group of solid athletes which Indiana just so happens to have. Statistically Indiana appears to have a very good shot at this game as well. Pomeroy has Indiana as a 2 point underdog and Vegas has Indiana at +1.5, so this is expected to be a very good basketball game.
When we look specifically at match-ups the number one duel that should pop out to everyone is the upcoming battle of Yogi Ferrell and Keith Appling. In two games last season, Yogi absolutely shut down MSU's Appling. Though Yogi himself was not lights out by any means, Appling proceeded to do nothing in either game. Don't expect Appling to go so quietly this time around. Appling has been much much better this year and despite not being the go to or best player on the squad he's definitely the guy that makes them click. If Yogi can continue his history of crossing up Appling on offense then perhaps that difficulties in the back court can ripple through the whole Michigan State squad.
Outside of Appling/Ferrell the next most intriguing duel is Payne versus Vonleh. Payne like Vonleh, can step out and play a good bit on the perimeter. Luckily for Indiana despite their lack of post depth they at least have a guy that can physically match up with Payne and compete defensively on the perimeter. Adreian Payne doesn't see a lot of big guys capable of stepping out along with him. It will be interesting to see how he handles it. In the past year he's come into his own as one of the better players in college basketball. Can Vonleh prove his worth as a freshman and hang with the heady senior?
The final of the three biggest match-ups tomorrow comes in the form of one of the nation's best sophomores in Gary Harris and Will Sheehey. Again this one will be more of a defensive focus for the Hoosiers than anything. If Sheehey can keep a hobbled Harris off the scoreboard. Harris hasn't been the conference player of the year that many expected him to be, but he's still scoring 17.9 points per game. The terrifying thing about that is that he's had it rough. Struggling to hit shots with consistency I can't tell you whether he's due or if he's just struggling with shot selection as the go to guy. Either way, Indiana and its fans should be completely aware what he's capable of. His "inefficient" 18 points per game could turn into 40 very quickly. Sheehey, even if he doesn't show up huge on offense has to be the best player on the floor defensively tomorrow.
Adding to the Spartans starting lineup is a guy who is finally putting it all together in his junior year. Branden Dawson got a bit of the Jeremy Hollowell treatment last year as he didn't make the big jump that everyone was hoping and expected from him. A year removed from that improved but not great season he seems to have found his spot. He still can't shoot from range and he's seems to know that himself as he's yet to take a 3 this year, but he is a phenomenal rebounder and defender. Getting most of his shots around the rim the biggest thing for the Hoosiers will be keeping him off the glass.
Finally Michigan State starts a great role player in sophomore Denzel Valentine. Valentine shares the ball well and does a decent if not great job of being a tertiary option for the Spartans. Still a bit mistake prone as a sophomore he's easily the most vulnerable member of the starting lineup. Fortunately for Michigan State and unfortunately for everyone else MSU has Travis Trice to fill in and help out. Trice shoots very well from distance and plays great perimeter defense. Turnovers should very much be a concern with Trice on the court. He's heady and knows how to bait players into passes.
Speaking of Michigan State defending, Indiana's biggest thing is going to be figuring out how to limit turnovers. Currently the Hoosiers are the 108th team in the nation on offense and nearly all of that is due to the 27th highest turnover percentage in the nation. I'm not even asking the Hoosiers to cut their turnovers down to what a good ball handling team would do. Just get it into the top 200 or so makes this squad a completely different team. Luckily for the Hoosiers, Michigan State isn't a prolific team in forcing turnovers outside of 6th man Trice. Much like Illinois, this game is going to hinge not on handling pressure but making smart personal decisions.
In the end, I expect this game to be a battle. Michigan State doesn't get to the line very well and their rebounding isn't the greatest. The Hoosiers have ways to win this game, but it's going to hinge on smart decisions by IU. Keep the turnovers in the 15 and under range and I think Indiana will get the W. Remember Tom Izzo hasn't won in Bloomington since 2010. Let's hope the Hoosiers can keep that streak going into 2014.