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Game Preview: Michagain State Spartans

It's the season finale in a year that's starting to fell a lot more like the last year of 'Lost' than the last year of 'Breaking Bad.'

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

GAME INFO:

Who? Michigan State Spartans (20-10 (11-6), #20 KenPom)  v. Indiana Hoosiers (19-11 (9-8), #57 KenPom)

When? Saturday, March 7th, 12:00 PM, ESPN

Vegas? TBA

Pomeroy? MICHIGAN STATE by 1, 49% chance of Indiana victory

_______________________________________

State of the Season

Other Kyle (Robbins) and I had retaken our seats after halftime and watched the Iowa Hawkeyes slowly and agonizingly build up their lead. Multiple times throughout the half, Robbins turned to me and said "if this is double digits by the under-12 I'm getting up and getting a hot dog." Indiana made it to the timeout facing an 8-point deficit but not long after that lead was back to double digits and Robbins disappeared to the concourse to stress eat no less than six hot dogs. I don't know the actual number, I assume it was six because, to me, that's hilarious.

He got back in time to watch things really fall apart as Hoosier fans flooded the exits with over four minutes left in the game, those who remained electing to either boo or express a desire for Brad Stevens. The players' frustration was palpable, Tom Crean's even moreso. I stole a look at Fred Glass as we departed, who was vacantly staring up at the scoreboard as boos rained down and, I have to say, it was the ugliest scene I've been a part of in Assembly Hall. I was a student for Kelvin Sampson's debacle, and three additional seasons of 28 wins TOTAL as Tom Crean guided this program out of NCAA purgatory, and I'd never seen anything quite like I saw on Tuesday night.

I don't know how the administration is feeling about all this, and certainly reactions can be magnified in the moment, but this doesn't seem to be a workable model. Once there's a rift between the fans and the program, things can get messy awfully quick. But while these big picture evaluations of the program as a whole are important, they aren't questions I can address because I am a semi-professional blogger who doesn't have any answers. What we can focus on, however, is this season, in a vacuum.

The Hoosiers are one home victory away from 20 wins and a 10-8 Big Ten record. I can't think of one person who wouldn't have gladly taken those results after the events of Halloween weekend and the ensuing revelations of just how much of a nightmare this offseason was. Now, there is certainly a discussion that can / should be had about why expectations were so low to begin with and how that gets fixed moving forward, but that's not what I'm diving into quite yet. As far as this season and this season only is concerned: Indiana is still (barely) in the field of 68 and firmly in control of their own destiny, with at least one well-known bracketologist awarding Indiana "lock" status despite the recent backslide:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>no RT <a href="https://twitter.com/BrianAxt">@BrianAxt</a>: Do you see any scenario where IU misses the tournament?</p>&mdash; Jerry Palm (@jppalmCBS) <a href="https://twitter.com/jppalmCBS/status/573331497362579456">March 5, 2015</a></blockquote>
<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

There is no question that Indiana doesn't look like anything resembling a tournament worthy team at the moment, but I urge you to throw on some tape of the other teams on the back end of the at-large curve as a reminder that the "bubble" of college basketball always contains some hilariously flawed teams.

I was furious after the Iowa game, but I've since mellowed out a bit, thanks mostly to my remembering that whatever reaction I have to the team's performance is going to be insignificant in the grand scheme of things and we're all dying one way or the other. So I think I'm gonna stress-eat a handful of hot dogs and hope this team can squeeze a few more wins out of the year because, ultimately, that's why I watch this sport to begin with.

Y'all should join me.

HERE WOULD YOU LIKE SOME FACTORS?


Four Factors

eFG% TO% OR% FT Rate
INDIANA (Offense) 55.2% (16th) 17.2% (55th) 34.9% (57th) 33.1% (279th)
MICHIGAN STATE (Defense) 44.8% (14th) 16.9% (300th) 25.8% (15th) 38.1% (205th)

eFG% TO% OR% FT Rate
INDIANA (Defense) 50.6% (242nd) 16.2% (325th) 31.3% (187th) 31.0% (54th)
MICHIGAN STATE (Offense) 54.1% (21st) 18.2% (104th) 34.7% (68th) 32.2% (297th)

From a personnel standpoint, Michigan State hasn't changed that much in comparison to the first meeting. Their rotation is tighter and they could be without Branden Dawson, who suffered an injury after catching an elbow to the face from Purdue's Isaac Haas. That would be a massive swing for Indiana, as Dawson tormented them in the first matchup, as Dawson scored 14 points and pulled down 13 rebounds in a 20-point Spartan victory in East Lansing.

Michigan State remains one of the only teams in the conference, even with Dawson, that don't have the typical Big Ten size (233rd in effective height) which didn't have an obvious effect in the first meeting between these two teams but is always something to consider when discussing how Indiana matches up. Rebounding will be key, as the Spartans do a good job of preventing offensive rebounds and Indiana is horrible at doing the same. A game where Michigan State gets their fair share of second chances and Indiana doesn't will likely not breed a satisfactory result for the Hoosiers. This is a team that, rightfully or not, has had their toughness and competitiveness called out by many in the media / fanbase, and those are the two things they'll need to win the matchup on the boards.

Both teams excel at hitting shots but only Michigan State is able to pair that with a decent shot-making prevention unit. Turnovers will also be interesting to watch as both teams are among the nation's worst at forcing turnovers but the Spartans remain somewhat prone to the unforced error. The Spartans' perimeter defense has been the league's best during conference play and their perimeter offense is second only to the Hoosiers, who are 9th in defending the 3PT shot. Like many Indiana outings this season, the game could very well be won and lost based on their performance from the perimeter on both ends of the court.

Stuff to Watch For:

  • Please please please let Collin Hartman be healthy. While Hartman's absence cannot excuse the Hoosiers past two losses, it certainly hasn't helped matters. I haven't hesitated to call Hartman the team's "glue guy" and this team could desperately use him back and healthy for these all-important games at the end of the year. Tom Crean hasn't used much more than "day-to-day" to describe his recovery but he'll be close to two weeks removed from the injury by the time Saturday rolls around, we can only hope that will be enough time.

  • #CROWDSHOT. The self-proclaimed "best fans in college basketball" stayed home in droves for the Iowa game, as indicated by several posted pictures of an empty balcony / student section, and the team didn't do anything to make them regret the decision. The atmosphere for Saturday will be interesting, as the Hoosiers' can cement a tournament berth with a victory and StubHub prices remain over $140 at writing just to get in the building, which would lead one to believe there's somewhat of a market brewing for tickets. That said, the frustration with the program is well-documented and discussed, so perhaps the empty seats will be even more numerous, as many fans have chosen to mail it in for the remainder of this year. IF YOU ARE ONE OF THOSE FANS PLEASE SEND YOUR TICKETS TO KYLEASWICK AT GMAIL DOT COM THANKS IN ADVANCE.
  • Good lord is this shooting slump over with or what? The offense has been sputtering for a couple of games now, and what has been a top-10 unit all year is on the verge of falling out of that lofty ranking. Against Iowa, ball movement seemed to stagnate and a lack of aggression on the offensive glass by anyone not named Troy Williams made it difficult to compensate for all the bricks. James Blackmon Jr. is now 3 for his last 13, Robert Johnson is 4 of his last 16 (while Nick Zeisloft is the polar opposite, hitting 9 of his last 15). I can't help but wonder if Indiana's supremely talented freshman guards have hit the proverbial wall and the cumulative grind of the college basketball season has worn out their legs. Regardless, Indiana's long-distance shooting is the only thing that keeps them in games with top-flight opponents, particularly when their 2PT shooting is as dreadful as it has been (35.8% over their last two games).