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Q&A: Previewing Indiana men’s basketball’s matchup against Michigan State with The Only Colors

Ryan O’Bleness, Managing Editor of The Only Colors, answers our questions about the Spartans.

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana men’s basketball will face off with Michigan state at 3:30 p.m. this Saturday in East Lansing. Crimson Quarry reached out to Ryan O’Bleness of The Only Colors to preview the matchup:

What’s Michigan State’s biggest strength and weakness?

In terms of strengths, as is typical of a Tom Izzo team, Michigan State is at its best when it can run in the transition game and get quick baskets. Also, as per usual of an Izzo team, MSU ranks third in the Big Ten in rebounding (38.1 per game), however, the Spartans have not been quite as strong in that regard over the past few games.

Michigan State has also been solid at the free-throw line this season, ranking second in the conference at a 76 percent clip as a team. MSU also ranks second in the Big Ten in three-point shooting at 38.8 percent (although, the Spartans were awful from behind the arc in the last game against Wisconsin, hitting just three of 14 attempts). Defensively, MSU ranks first in the league in three-point field goal defense (30 percent allowed) and third in field goal percentage defense overall (40.6 percent). The Spartans also rank first in the Big Ten in blocks (5.78 per game) and third in assists (16.09 assists per game).

For weaknesses, the issue has been turnovers and consistency. The team averages the most turnovers per game in the Big Ten (14), and this has been a point of frustration for the team, coaching staff and fans alike. Michigan State is seemingly incapable of holding onto the ball, giving it away on unforced errors (or forced errors) far too often. This is easily the biggest issue for the Spartans this season.

Izzo has called the team “consistently inconsistent,” and he’s right. While this team lacks a superstar “go-to-scorer,” it is full of talented players and is very deep. Sometimes, the team just doesn’t show up or play up to its potential, which is why MSU is currently on a two-game losing streak and has lost three of its last five games overall.

Which player should Indiana fans worry about the most?

As mentioned above, Michigan State is a deep team with a lot of weapons, but maybe not one single player who can take over games at will. The closest the Spartans have to that as of late is forward Malik Hall. Hall comes off of the bench as a sixth man, but is a team captain and averages 10.1 points per game (second on the team) and 4.8 rebounds per game (third on the team). Over his past four games, however, Hall has upped his scoring and has averaged about 11.8 points per game, and scored at least 12 points in three of those four games. Izzo called Hall’s number on the final possession against Maryland on Feb. 1, and he came through with a game-winning layup.

Forward, and fellow team captain, Gabe Brown is the team’s leading scorer at 12.8 points per game, and can get hot in a hurry, but has been in a bit of a slump as of late. He’ll be looking to get going again on Saturday against the Hoosiers.

Read More: [Here’s what Mike Woodson said ahead of Indiana’s game against Michigan State]

Freshman shooting guard Max Christie has been a bit inconsistent, but is another player who can get hot at any moment. He averages about 10 points per game and has been praised for his defense for the most part throughout the year. He is a future NBA player, but hasn’t quite put it all together yet. Center Marcus Bingham Jr. is the other player to watch out for. He is a strong rim protector and averages close to 10 points per game, along with 6.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.

Michigan State can create an intimidating environment, will that be there for Indiana?

The Breslin Center is always a tough place to play at for road teams because of the presence of The Izzone. Some Michigan State fans have mentioned on Twitter or elsewhere at times that The Izzone hasn’t been particularly as raucous or energetic as previous years – perhaps it’s taken a little bit longer to get ramped up after spectators weren’t allowed inside the Breslin Center during the 2020-2021 season due to the pandemic – but the crowd has really stepped up for big home games, such as when archrival Michigan came into town in late January. While Indiana likely won’t have to deal with quite the same level of crowd noise the Wolverines did, I would expect it to be loud and rowdy for the Hoosiers, with The Izzone and the rest of the crowd desperate to help the Spartans end this current two-game skid.

Win/Loss prediction and why?

I think Indiana is a tough team, especially defensively where it only allows opponents to score 63.3 points per game (best in the Big Ten). Indiana already has shown to be able to compete with the best teams in the conference with wins over Purdue and Ohio State. I believe the Hoosiers will be a NCAA Tournament team. Indiana will also be back at full strength for Saturday’s game against Michigan State (well, outside of Rob Phinisee) after Mike Woodson reinstated the five players who were suspended for the Northwestern game.

With all of that said, I still think Michigan State is the better overall team and is looking to get back on track after its recent stretch of poor play. MSU needs this one badly to stay in the Big Ten title race and playing at home is a big advantage. I am going to go with the Spartans, but I expect the final score to be in the single digits – perhaps something like Michigan State 75, Indiana 67.

Game Thread [Men’s basketball at Michigan State]