IU has played horribly in its last three games, and the schedule offers no respite: tonight, Indiana hosts Michigan State, the defending Big Ten champion, 2009 NCAA runner-up, Big Ten program of the decade, and current Big Ten title contender. Spartan coach Tom Izzo is Tom Crean's mentor, and ultimately Crean hopes to have IU in the position that MSU has occupied since the late 1990s, but it's not going to happen in the immediate future. Still, as the scores above make clear, IU's less-talented 2008-09 team gave the Spartans a run for their money on Senior Night. IU never led in that game, but pulled to within 2 with 16 seconds remaining before the Spartans closed out the game with free throws. Despite Michigan State's excellence during Izzo's tenure, Izzo is only 3-9 at Assembly Hall, and last year's win in Bloomington was the Spartans' first since 2003.
Michigan State, as always, owes its success to rebounding. The Spartans don't overwhelm their opponents with stifling field goal defense, don't force many turnovers, and aren't overwhelmingly good at taking care of the ball. MSU succeeds, in large part, by limiting their opponent's shots (opponents rebound only 27 percent of their misses) while maximizing their own opportunities (the Spartans rebound 40 percent of their own misses). This year, MSU is shooting 52 percent from inside the arc and is among the nation's leaders in production generated from inside the arc (only 26 percent of MSU's attempts are from three point range (#304) and 60 percent of points are generated from two point shots (#18)). Rebounding has been a struggle for the Hoosiers at times, and Christian Watford, in particular, has struggled against physical teams. Here are the Spartans' individual stats:
The Spartans have a balanced scoring attack, and Kalin Lucas, now seemingly mostly recovered from an ankle injury leads the Spartans in points and assists despite some uneven playing time because of the injury. Lucas's shooting percentages (47% overall, 37% from three) are very good, and the Spartans have some shot-blockers, including Delvon Roe, Tom Pritchard's high school teammate. Believe it or not, tonight's game, behind the road trip to Iowa and the home game against Northwestern, is IU's best chance at a win, per Pomeroy, whose formula gives IU a 19 percent chance for victory. If it's any consolation, those were roughly IU's odds of success before the Minnesota and Penn State games, but neither of those teams was in the Big Ten title hunt. MSU, which dropped a home game to Purdue last week and still has to play at Mackey, cannot afford an unexpected loss. Still, Assembly Hall has been a tough environment for MSU, even MSU's best teams, and so we can only hope that IU shows some of the effort that was on display for the Illinois and Purdue games.