Northwestern's defense proved on Saturday that Indiana's offense is upsettingly bad. It's pretty darn unnerving how absolutely terrible this team can be on offense. Now they have to go into a hostile environment that is East Lansing and try and score 60+ points if they plan on beating Michigan State. Mind you, not only is Michigan State one of the best teams in the nation but they're also a top 10 defensive squad that also beat us at home by 17. In short, we're likely hosed.
Vegas set the opening line with Indiana being 11.5 point underdogs. Pomeroy says 16. I say 20. Yep, I've gone full pessimism on this team, mainly because Northwestern showed what Wisconsin inexplicably couldn't. To beat Indiana you just have to pack the lane and take away driving lanes. We've become the exact opposite of the 2011 Hoosiers. Those guys had defenses completely unconcerned about any threat in the post and instead spent all of their defensive focus on not allowing shooters to get free. On this squad, no one can shoot so you're more than welcome to sag off and just wait for the inevitable drive to the bucket. If you thought Northwestern did a hell of a job at doing that, wait until you get a load of Michigan State doing the same.
As we saw in the home game two weeks ago, Michigan State is very capable of not only forcing turnovers, but getting very easy buckets on the other end. As Gary Harris has gotten healthier, Michigan State has become more dangerous. Either though we're unlikely to see Adreian Payne on the floor tonight, Matt Costello will still fill in quite nicely. The defensive rotations will change somewhat, but Costello's a big kid that can clog the paint. We may get a token three from Vonleh on the perimeter because of the lineup change, but that will be about it. Defensively, I just expect to get absolutely smothered.
On the offensive end for Michigan State, we need to watch out for IU's biggest recruiting miss in the last decade. Gary Harris has and will continue to absolutely abuse the Big Ten until he hopefully goes pro in April. Harris dropped 26 points on Indiana in Assembly Hall and is likely to do something similar again in East Lansing. Despite his struggles shooting the three ball this year, Harris is still in the running for Conference Player of the Year and will get some All-American love as well. Troy Williams and Stan Robinson are obviously going to have their hands full. If the defense can hold Harris to under 15 points, I'd venture to say that Indiana will be in this game.
Of course, the Hoosiers also have to worry about Branden Dawson. Dawson isn't nearly as versatile as Harris, but he's become elite at the things he does well. A tenacious rebounder at 6-6, his crazy athleticism has him in the top rankings of shot blockers and steal percentage. He does all of this while avoiding fouling at only 2 fouls per 40 minutes. Due to his rebounding he's insanely efficient on the offensive end. He gets a lot of second chance points. Nearly 80% of his shots are at the rim and he hits 66.7% of them. Keeping him off the glass is going to be critical.
To round out the team, I'm not feeling a whole lot of concern about the other three. Indiana seems to have some sort of curse on Keith Appling, as I'm not certain he's ever had a good game against the Hoosiers in his career. He ended his game against Indiana in January with a high ORtg and 14 points but a ton of that came in garbage time after the game was over. He scored 11 of his 14 points in the final 6:30. At that point Indiana had a 3% chance of coming back. Before that he was mostly ineffective due to foul trouble.
Matt Costello and Denzel Valentine will fill out the rest of the starting lineup. Costello is mostly a warm body filler while Valentine is very hit and miss. He's turnover prone, makes a lot of poor decisions and doesn't score at a very high rate. However, he's the perfect role player for this lineup. As long as he remains within his role and not trying to do too much he's a very good wing. He rebounds, moves the ball well and provides quality minutes as the fifth option in a normal starting lineup.
In the end, this just doesn't feel like a game we should feel too positive about. Perhaps the loss in the easiest game on our conference schedule has taken the wind out of my glass half full approach, but an grossly inconsistent and young team against one of the nation's best on the road should not induce confidence. That's just the way it is. Still, we saw merely a week ago that Indiana is very capable of running with the best teams when they're focused and hitting their shots. Ultimately, Indiana fans should just enjoy the season for what it is and whatever happens, while thinking about the bevy of help that is on the way with quite easily the best outside shooting recruiting class in the nation.