The last time Indiana won four straight games against Michigan State, Isiah Thomas was running the show in Bloomington. Yeah, it’s been a while — 40 years, in fact. But IU, with wins in each of its last three meetings with Sparty, has an opportunity to match that streak on Saturday afternoon at Assembly Hall.
And really, the Hoosiers better.
It’s win-stacking time for Indiana, which has triumphed in three of its past four games and won’t see a more winnable matchup down the stretch than it will this weekend.
Hoo boy. Where to start?
Things are as bad as they’ve been on the court in East Lansing in a long, long time. The Spartans, NCAA Tournament regulars since 1998, are about to see their streak of 22 straight appearances end in a few weeks, barring any silly business. They don’t have a point guard. They don’t have a roster that really fits together. And they don’t have anything they can hang their hat on — offense, defense, or otherwise. It’s a firmly below-average team, the kind they aren’t too used to housing at the Breslin Center.
The point guard spot has been an adventure darn near all season. Rocket Watts had his moments early, like his 20-point performance at Duke in December. But it’s generally not a good sign when your lead guard says he no longer wants to be your lead guard midway through the season. A.J. Hoggard has intriguing size, length and athleticism, but he’s a freshman and not quite ready for prime minutes at the position. Foster Loyer, meanwhile, is a decent player to have on the roster, but not necessarily The Answer. Also, he’s hurt and unlikely to play for at least another week as he tends to a shoulder issue.
Tom Izzo’s best player right now is Aaron Henry, an Indianapolis product who leads the group with 14.3 points per game. Henry has scored in double figures 17 times this season, and he’s the only player in Division I averaging at least 14.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.3 blocks per game. That’s all well and good, but efficiency hasn’t quite been Henry’s thing. He’s shooting just 49% inside the arc and merely 28% from 3-point range.
Michigan State has, at times, gotten pretty good production out of veteran Joshua Langford, who averaged 15.6 points over a three-game span against Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska earlier this month. But he’s since gone just 9-for-28 from the field over his past three games against Penn State, Iowa and Purdue.
Beyond Henry, the Spartans have only one other player scoring in double figures — Marquette transfer Joey Hauser, who’s posting 10.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Hauser demonstrated some range during his freshman season in Milwaukee, shooting 42% from beyond the arc. This year, however, Hauser is making just 35% of his shots from long range.
Marcus Bingham and Malik Hall join Henry in the frontcourt, but neither player has provided much offensively. Offense, though, has been a roster-wide struggle for Michigan State, which ranks 13th during conference play in efficiency, last in turnover percentage (19.1%), second-to-last in effective field goal percentage (44.4%) and 2-point shooting (43.4%) and 12th in 3-point percentage (30.9%). The Spartans have managed to score more than one point per possession only three times in their past eight games.
Things to watch
Which backcourt is better?
Indiana has the better guards here, which isn’t always something you can say about the Hoosiers in conference matchups. Armaan Franklin, Al Durham, Rob Phinisee and Khristian Lander have all produced some very good moments over the past couple weeks, but the group is so streaky and inconsistent that it’s hard to give them the benefit of the doubt. It goes without saying, but this will be a slog without decent guard play from IU. And Indiana really can’t afford to get into a rock fight in this one.
Indiana posted its highest turnover rate (25.2%) of the season on Wednesday against Minnesota, committing 17 errors — nine of which came from the starting guards. Worst of all, the Gophers scored 25 points off of those miscues. One would hope this isn’t the start of a trend for the Hoosiers, who have totaled 32 turnovers over their past two games. On the other side, turnovers have been among the biggest problems for the Spartans, whose turnover percentage of 19.1% is the highest in the league.
Hey, do that again, TJD!
Trayce Jackson-Davis’ start to Wednesday’s game against Minnesota was exactly what Indiana needed. He — and Race Thompson, too, for that matter — was aggressive and assertive in the opening minutes, helping Indiana avoid one of its usual slow starts. Michigan State’s frontcourt is ... not good. So this ought to be a matchup where Jackson-Davis does his thing. The earlier, the better.
Game Info / How to Watch
Who? Michigan State (10-9, 4-9) at Indiana (12-9, 7-7)
Where? Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Ind.
When? Saturday, noon Eastern
Channel? ESPN | Jason Benetti (p-b-p), Dan Dakich (analyst)
Radio? IU Radio Network; Sirius 106, XM 196, Internet 958: Don Fischer, Errek Suhr & Joe Smith
Vegas? Indiana -6