Today, Indiana turned in their worst performance since Duke, and got rocked in East Lansing against a Michigan State team led by Denzel Valentine's 30 points and 13 assists.
Yes, I'm aware that it's also Valentine's Day. Sometimes the headlines write themselves.
Matt Costello also had a tremendous game for Sparty, adding 22 points and 11 rebounds. Despite the Hoosiers leading by double digits at one point during the first half, the Spartans eventually found their stride. MSU went on a 9-0 run to take a one-point lead at halftime, and as the second half began, the rout was on. This was an ugly performance in Breslin Center - a place where Indiana has only won once since 1991 thanks to some last-minute Victor Oladipo heroics in 2013.
Here are some takeaways after the 19-point loss:
1. Tom Crean still can't keep pace with his mentor - but to be fair, few coaches can
As most people know, Tom Crean was Tom Izzo's top assistant when Izzo was building the MSU program in the late 1990s. The two are still close, and Izzo still proved that he still has a few steps on Crean, especially in his home arena, where IU suffered a double-digit loss last year as well. This is less of an indictment of Crean and more praise for Izzo, who always seems to be rounding his team into shape around this time of year (Valentine looks fully healthy, and Tum Tum Nairn even got some playing time off the bench for the first time in a month). While MSU may not win a B1G title this season, Izzo has the Spartans right where he wants them with a month until Selection Sunday. Now with Bo Ryan retired, there's no debate Izzo is the best coach in this conference right now. His team reached the Final Four as a 7-seed last year, and barring a late-season collapse they'll get a much more favorable seed this year.
Never count out Tournament Tom.
2. Should Yogi Ferrell's slump concern Hoosier fans?
For the third straight game, Yogi Ferrell turned in a subpar shooting performance. Today, he finished with only nine points, and went 1-6 from the field. Perhaps fatigue has set in? Ferrell has played for 88.6% of Indiana's minutes during the B1G schedule, and been heavily involved down the stretch of some close contests. Despite the shooting slump, however, Yogi is still the most important player on this team, and I'm definitely not advocating for him to be benched. There's no player I'd trust more with the ball on Indiana, and hopefully this is not a trend of what will continue as the season wraps up, and that he can regain his shooting form in time for the postseason. Speaking of regression to the mean...
3. Is Indiana's defense regressing to the mean?
Indiana has now given up over one point per possession in each of its last three games. The Hoosiers' KenPom ranking has slipped from a top-50 ranking before Thursday to 63rd after today's game. Today, the Spartans were getting open looks all over the court, and made two-thirds of their two-point shots and over 43% of their threes. Valentine, Costello, and Bryn Forbes combined scored only three fewer points than the entire Hoosier team. The defense that was much-praised throughout the first part of B1G play looked like a shell of itself throughout most of the game today.
4. Regarding Troy Williams...
You gotta take the good with the bad when it comes to Troy. He had a goose egg and two turnovers and a few bad three-point attempts in 20 forgettable minutes today. But he also came up huge in the Iowa victory on Thursday night. He's inconsistent, but Indiana needs the good version of him. This is nothing new for Hoosier fans. It's up to the coaches to recognize when he's playing well and when he's having an off-night, though.
5. Despite the blowout, there were a few positive takeaways.
Max Bielfeldt, who got the start today over Collin Hartman, had a nice game for himself with 15 points. OG Anunoby had a posterizing dunk early in the game. Harrison Niego had eight mostly productive minutes as well. When the Hoosiers had a double-digit lead, they showed why they can be one of the most fun teams to watch play college basketball.
Also, while the loss stings, it didn't affect the the Big Ten title race too much, as Indiana is still 10-3 and controls its own destiny. Iowa is playing winless Minnesota right now, and so they'll likely take control of the conference standings after tonight. It's not an easy road ahead, but with games against both Iowa and Maryland left on the schedule, Indiana still has a chance to knock off the other title contenders.
If the Hoosiers have any hope to win the conference title - they'll need to continue to protect Assembly Hall, where they're undefeated this season. They'll have two chances to do so this week - first on Wednesday against Nebraska, and then next Saturday against Purdue.