Entering the season, most outlets projected Michigan State to finish somewhere near the middle of the pack in the Big Ten. Tom Izzo’s group struggled through the Big Ten last year before losing to Duke in the NCAA tournament and his 2022 recruiting class was near the bottom of the conference, coming in at 58th nationally.
The Spartans also had a gauntlet of a non-conference schedule, playing six Power Five teams before their matchup with Northwestern on December 4th. Though it hasn’t always been pretty, Izzo has this team in a good spot here in late January, as one of two Big Ten teams receiving votes outside the top 25 this week.
Like Indiana, Michigan State has had an up and down season, but enters the game in second in the Big Ten at 5-3. The Spartans notched an impressive win earlier this week too, knocking off number 23 Rutgers at home on Thursday.
Here’s what you need to know about MSU’s season to date:
At this point, Michigan State’s most impressive win, per KenPom, was Thursday’s 70-57 victory over Rutgers in East Lansing. In mid November, the Spartans beat then number four Kentucky in double overtime, but Kentucky has struggled since, falling out of the top 25 after racking up losses to South Carolina and Missouri.
MSU also went into the Bryce Jordan Center in early December and handled Penn State, beating the Nittany Lions 67-58 and holding them to 29% shooting from deep. Izzo is 2-1 in conference road games this year, with the other win coming in Madison against a Badgers team that’s struggled of late.
Wins against Villanova and Michigan may have looked more impressive in prior years, but both big name programs are having down years, which is reflected in MSU’s NET (37) and KenPom (34) rankings. Michigan State is .500 in both quadrant one and two, while going 8-1 in quadrants 3 and 4.
Unfortunately for Michigan State, their lack of true quality wins at this point is offset by some pretty bad looking losses. Izzo lost a couple in a row in late November and early December to Notre Dame and Northwestern before going on a winning streak that ended on January 13th in Champaign.
The road loss to the Illini doesn’t look all that bad at the moment, nor do MSU’s one point home loss to Purdue, a one-point neutral zone loss to Gonzaga, or even the 11-point neutral court loss to Alabama. When they’ve faced elite teams this year, Izzo has mostly had his guys up for the challenge.
Which makes MSU’s 18 point loss in South Bend earlier this season and home loss to the Wildcats look even more inexplicable. Even with the injuries that Mike Woodson and company have dealt with so far this year, Indiana has avoided quadrant three losses to this point, and appear to be on track to register some more quadrant one wins.
Michigan State has been without senior Malik Hall since the loss at Illinois. Playing in just nine games this season, he’s still fourth on the roster in points (9.9) and 3p% (38.9), and third on the team in rebounds (4.1).
After fearing he would be out for the season, Tom Izzo announced earlier this week that Hall would potentially be back in mid to late February, which means he’ll still be out for the Indiana game. Hall played both the three and four spots for MSU, so Izzo has been able to distribute his minutes among Joey Hauser, Jaden Akins, and Pierre Brooks.
Though listed as guards, Brooks and Akins are built like traditional wings at 6’6” and 6’4”, respectively. Both are above 35% in 3-point shooting, but MSU doesn’t shoot all that much from deep, getting just 30.8% of its offense on the three ball.
Senior Joey Hauser is having his best season in college so far, averaging 13.4 points per game and shooting 41.2% from deep. He averages 4.5 3-point attempts per game, which means whoever is filling in for Race Thompson will need to respect his perimeter game. His 85 attempts so far this year lead MSU.
Shooting guard Tyson Walker has been the leading scorer for Michigan State to this point, averaging 14.6 points per game and shooting 42.2% from deep. He has just two attempts fewer than Hauser from 3-point range.
Aside from the relatively low 3-point volume, Hoosier fans should be happy to hear that Michigan State has not forced many turnovers this year. The Spartan defense gets turnovers on just 14.5% of possessions, putting them at 356th nationally.
Both Bart Torvik and KenPom favor Indiana tomorrow, giving them a 65% and 67% chance of victory, respectively.