1. Thanks for beating Purdue Wednesday night - something IU hasn't done in over two years now. What was the key to that victory?
Joe: I'm an analytics guy by nature, but the answer is grit. Isaac Haas and AJ Hammons got Gavin Schilling in foul trouble and knocked Branden Dawson out of the game early. The rotation of Matt Costello, freshman Marvin Clark and walk-on Colby Wollenman held Haas and Hammons to 6 of 17 shooting and generally bothered them all night, forcing several turnovers that led to easy transition opportunities.
Oh, and Travis Trice dropped 27 points, despite getting laid out a few times and bleeding. It was the most #B1G game imaginable.
2. During the game, star player Branden Dawson got hurt. What's his status for Saturday's game in Bloomington?
Joe: Up in the air. Post-game, Izzo was unsure of Dawson's status, and his description of Dawson's demeanor suggests to me that it could be a concussion. Everyone responds to head trauma differently, so it's hard to predict. It's a quick turnaround, and the tournaments are coming up, so I wouldn't be surprised if Izzo held out Dawson as a precaution.
If Dawson is out, you'll see significantly more of freshman Marvin Clark (there's plenty of room on the #FreeMarvinClark bandwagon, if you're interested) and Colby Wollenman (or #SWollenman). I guess we come up with a lot of hashtags over at The Only Colors. Anyways, Clark can shoot the ball from outside but can be suspect on the boards; Wollenman is limited athletically but is fundamentally sound.
3. Besides Dawson, who else has stepped it up for the Spartans during conference play this season?
Joe: Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice have both made significant leaps that have surprised nearly everyone. Both have taken major leaps in usage while maintaining efficiencies above 110; Trice leads the B1G in assist rate, while Valentine is an underrated defensive rebounder. I've been especially impressed by Valentine's ability to pick his spots, and when Trice was nursing a rib injury he came up in a major way against Ohio State (you may have noticed a Valentine's Day joke or two that day).
Depending on the night, center Matt Costello can also be a force. He did an unbelievable job on Haas and Hammons, tallying four blocks and playing terrific defense. He runs the floor nicely and rolls hard to the hoop on the pick and roll, but his post offense leaves something to be desired. There's no telling if he'll keep up that level of play against IU, however.
4. Sitting at 20 wins (and 11 B1G wins) this season, but having lost Gary Harris and Adreian Payne from last year's Elite 8 squad, would you say that this is one of Tom Izzo's best coaching jobs in East Lansing? And who are top recruits for Michigan State that are coming in next season?
Joe: Inconclusive. If this team makes the Sweet Sixteen, then yes. But there's a significant chance that this MSU team could lose in the first round (see losses to Texas Southern, Nebraska, and Minnesota). If that happens, it's a run-of-the-mill Izzo season. And that just means that we hold him to an impossible standard.
Deyonta Davis is the big freshman coming in next season. He's a long, athletic 4 with some range, and has been compared to Adreian Payne. I think he'll fill the starting 4 role with Dawson's graduation, and should have an impact right away.
The other major addition isn't a freshman, but West Virginia transfer Eron Harris. Harris is terrific creator and long-range gunner. I suspect he'll split time between the point and the wing, and should be able to lift the ceiling of this MSU offense considerably.
MSU is still in the running for Caleb Swanigan as well. I'm not holding my breath on that recruitment, but his addition would be major and give MSU some incredible frontcourt depth. Also, wings Matt McQuaid and Kyle Ahrens could play minor roles, depending on their physical readiness and ability to shoot from deep.
5. What is a reasonable expectation for how far this team will make it in the NCAA Tournament this year?
Joe: Depends on the seed. I think there are probably 6-8 teams in the country I'm scared of and probably be too much for this MSU team to handle. So If MSU ends up as a 7 through 10 seed, the expectation is probably a second round exit.
But if MSU gets to a 6 seed (this would require a win at IU and a little BTT run) then I think it'd be reasonable to expect Tournament Tom to get this team to the second weekend.
6. Football talk: Ohio State just won a title, and Harbaugh is in Ann Arbor, and so the B1G East has suddenly gotten very crowded. However, the Spartans finished last season on a high note thanks to an improbable comeback over Baylor. With QB Connor Cook returning, what are the expectations for Michigan State on the gridiron next fall?
Joe: The expectation is to compete for the B1G title. That's a tall task this year, with MSU traveling to Columbus and Lincoln. But with back-to-back Top-5 finishes, MSU should compete with anyone in the nation. That includes the Buckeyes.
With Oregon coming to East Lansing, I think 10-2 would be a pretty successful season. 9-3 would be on the low side, and 11-1 or 12-0 would obviously be great. But the schedule is pretty brutal.
Also, color me a little bit skeptical of the lord and savior Jim Harbaugh. Michigan will have to identify some talent, and quickly. Before we call them B1G East contenders, lets see them win a game or two.
7. Prediction time: Who wins the final game of the regular season for both teams on Saturday?
Joe: I think Indiana will be feeling the pressure of winning for their coach and their season. This MSU team is banged up after the slugfest with Purdue, where Dawson, Valentine, Trice, Nairn, and Wollenman all had to be looked at by the medical staff. If Dawson doesn't play or is limited, that could be a major issue against Troy Williams.
I think Indiana gets a lil' home-cooking and wins. MSU 63 - IU 67
Thanks, Joe! The Hoosiers and Spartans will play in Assembly Hall at noon tomorrow on ESPN.